Georgia’s African Brigade

by: Lonnie J. Davis

Georgia’s African Brigade, from 1861 to 1865, the American Union was broken as brother fought brother in a Civil War that remians a defining moment in our nation’s history.

During his march through Alabama, Union General Wilson ordered each of his three division commanders to recruit and organize a regiment of former slaves. Colonel Robert Minty began to recruit slaves for the regiment assigned to his 2nd Division, and appointed Major Martin Archer to command it. By the time Col Minty’s division reached Columbus, the regiment had recruited 1,400 former slaves, of whom about 1,200 were mounted on horses and mules. Upon arrival in Macon, the number of former slaves recruited by McCook’s 1st, Minty’s 2nd Division and Upton’s 4th Division was now well over 3,500. On 24 and 25 April, all of the former slaves recruited by the Corp were examined by the surgeon and organized into three regiments consisting of 1,100 men each. They were outfitted with captured Confederate uniforms and equipment and on 1 May ordered back to their respective divisions.

On 18 May Secretary of War Stanton sent a telegraph message to Wilson approving the organization of three colored units and directing him to muster them in for three years. The unit assigned to the 1st Division was designated as the 136th Infantry Regiment USCT, the 2nd Division was designated as the 137th Infantry Regiment USCT and the 4th Division was designated as the 138th Infantry Regiment USCT. On 21 May the three regiments were organized into the African Brigade under the command of General Andrew J. Alexander.

Racial and ethnic groups played an important role in both armies during the Civil War. Many black soldiers fought for the North, enraging Southerners on the battlefield. 
Unfortunately, it would be decades before significant numbers of Americans recognized the considerable contributions of black soldiers that had suffered chronic discrimination and had been alternately enslaved, segregated, or ignored for more than 200 years.

The most enduring accomplishment of the men of Georgia’s African Brigade was to assert their right to full citizenship and, by extension, that of all their kin. This sentiment was summed up by Sgt. Henry J. Maxwell at a convention in August 1865 when he stated “We want two more boxes, beside the cartridge box… the ballot box and the jury box.” In the years to come, black veterans in other parts of the country would base petitions for full civic participation on their military service during the war. They had answered fully the question that Treasury Agent Edward Pierce had posed in the summer of 1863:
“Will they fight for their freedom?” Another century and five more wars would pass before most Americans began to acknowledge the answer.22

22 Basler et al., Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 7: 243; Colored Tennessean (Nashville), 12 August 1865; Edward L. Pierce, “The Freedmen at Port Royal,” Atlantic Monthly 12 (September 1863): 291–315 (quotation, p. 291). Petitions of black veterans and remarks of black orators are in Berlin et al., Black Military Experience, pp. 817–18, 822–23; Leon F. Litwack, Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery (New York: Knopf, 1979), pp. 532–33, 537–38.