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    Civil War Defenses of Washington

    District of Columbia

The United States Colored Troops and the Defenses of Washington

Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States.
Frederick Douglass

On July 17, 1862, President Lincoln authorized the use of African Americans in federal service by issuing the Second Confiscation and Militia Act. It was not until the the Emancipation Proclamation, of January 1, 1863, however, that black men could serve in combat.

The United States War Department issued General Order Number 143 on May 22, 1863. This order established the Bureau of Colored Troops and it recruited many African American men into the Union Army. The regiments of the Union army that were were composed of African American men were called the United States Colored Troops (USCT).

Soon there were 200,000 black soldiers serving in the Union Army and Navy. These men were paid less than white officers, were given old and worn uniforms and poor equipment, and could not become officers. Despite the unfair treatment, black men volunteered to take part in combat.

The USCT suffered from racial discrimination despite serving the Union forces. Seldom seeing active battle, many troops were assigned as laborers, construction workers, and guards on fortifications throughout the Union, including the Defenses of Washington. The 28th Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops was one of the troops attached to the Defenses of Washington. This regiment of infantry was established on November 30, 1863 by Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton. Reverend Willis Revels of the African American Episcopal Church was the chief recruiting officer. The recruits trained for three months and on April 25 1863, six companies of the 28th left Indianapolis for Washington, D.C. where they were attached to the capital’s defenses.

Another regiment designated to the defenses was Company E, 4th U.S Colored Infantry. Below are two pictures of the regiment at both Fort Lincoln and Fort Slocum.

 
Photo of Co. E, 4th US Colored Infantry at Fort Lincoln
"Co. E, 4th U.S. Colored Infantry, Fort Lincoln.
Photo Courtsey of the Library of Congress
 
Company E, 4th US Colored Infantry at Fort Slocum
"Officers, 4th U.S. Colored Infantry, Fort Slocum, April, 1865.
Photo Courtsey of the Library of Congress
 

Did You Know?

map of WDC and Atlantic Coastal Plain and Piedmont Plateau

The Civil War Defenses of Washington exist because of geology and topography. The strategic high ground where the fortifications are located stretches between two considerably different geologic terrains: the Piedmont Plateau to the north and west and the Atlantic Coastal Plain to the east.