Serving the Union:
On August 25, 1862, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton authorized the enlistment of black troops into the Federal Army. Although enlistments began in 1862, it was not until 1864 that recruitment of blacks gathered momentum. Eventually, 178,982 men served in 166 regiments in the Union Army. These regiments, designated United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.), saw service throughout the South; however, the largest number in any one theater fought in the campaigns against the Army of Northern Virginia.
U.S. Colored Troops in the Retreat to Appomattox: The union armies under Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant would sever Confederate General Robert E. Lee's supply line to Petersburg on April 2, 1865. Lee would be forced to evacuate the Confederate Capital of Richmond and the fortified supply center of Petersburg thus beginning his final campaign of the war. While most of the United States Colored Troops in the Federal Army were involved with the occupation of Richmond on the morning of April 3rd, some did enter Petersburg when it fell on the same day. Brigadier General William Birney's second division, XXV Corps, operating south of the Appomattox River, would be among the first units to come into the city from the west. It was noted that the 7th U.S.C.T. regiment, recruited in Maryland, and the 8th U.S.C.T., from Philadelphia, were on the skirmish line that morning and with those who marched into the evacuated railroad center. The 7th's commander, Lt. Colonel Oscar E. Pratt, wrote, "I entered the city of Petersburg at 6 a.m., amidst the joyous acclamations of its sable citizens." There were seven black units (approximately 2,000 men, or 3% of the Federal force) which made the journey all the way to Appomattox Court House with Major General Edward Ord's Union Army of the James and arrived in time to be involved in the final fighting.
On their way they passed through the settlements Nottoway Court House, Burkeville Junction, Rice's Station, and Farmville after they stayed south of the Appomattox River and traveled via Walker's Church (present day Hixburg) to Appomattox. These regiments were of Colonel William W. Woodward's brigade, the 29th and 31st U.S.C.T., along with the 116th U.S.C.T., assigned to them from another brigade. Colonel Ulysses Doubleday's brigade, 8th, 41st, 45th, and 127th U.S.C.T., were also present. The first brigade, under Colonel James Shaw, Jr., would not arrive until the day after the surrender, having marched ninety-six miles in four days. His brigade was detached from the others and sent back to Sutherland Station for a period of time, causing their delay.
On the morning of the 9th at Appomattox Court House, the black units were sent forward to support other Federal units in the closing phase of the battle. Consequently, only Woodward's brigade participated in the final advance on the Confederate line. Some of Doubleday's skirmishers did proceed forward, and the only casualty for the U.S.C.T. brigades was Captain John W. Falconer of Company A, 41st U.S.C.T. - a white officer. He was mortally wounded and died on April 23rd. According to Surgeon-in-Chief Charles P. Heinchhold, "during the entire campaign, the U.S.C.T.'s lost 4 men killed, 1 officer (mortally) and 30 men wounded, a total of 35 casualties."
"We, the colored soldiers, have fairly won our rights by loyalty and bravery -- shall we obtain them? If we are refused now, we shall demand them." Sgt. Maj. William McCeslin; 29th U.S.C.T.