Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The 62nd & 65th Regiments, United States Colored Infantry--They Had a Dream

Abraham Lincoln took two provocative steps in 1863: first, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves in parts of the Confederacy not yet under Federal control; then, he decided to actively recruit blacks into the Union Army.

The War Department formed the Bureau of Colored Troops and mustered into Federal service individual black men as well as black units formed in the States. Eventually, about 178,000 black Americans served in the cavalry, infantry, and artillery regiments of the United States Colored Troops (USCT). The regiments were commanded by white officers and for a while, black soldiers were paid less than their white counterparts.

Missouri was the home base of seven USCT regiments. The 1st Missouri Colored Infantry Regiment was organized at Schofield Barracks near St Louis in May 1863. The 2nd Missouri Colored Infantry Regiment were organized at Benton Barracks near St Louis in 1864. These units came into federal service as the 62nd Regiment and the 65th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. The 62nd was deployed to Louisiana in March, 1864, then to Texas in September of that year. In May, 1865, the regiment, then part of a force under the command of Col. Theodore H. Barrett, participated in the last battle of the Civil War at Palmito Ranch, Texas. In the meantime, the 65th U.S. Colored Infantry, also originally a Missouri unit, remained in Louisiana for most of its wartime service.

While the 62nd was in Louisiana, the regimental commander, Lt. Col. David Branson, issued an order that required all non-commissioned officers to learn to read or be replaced by soldiers from the ranks who could read. This was an exceptional order considering that in most places it was against the law to teach blacks to read. According to one account, Branson later demoted five NCOs who had not learned to read and replaced them with lower ranking soldiers who had learned to read.

Following the end of hostilities, the 62nd was stationed at Fort McIntosh, Texas, while the 65th was in Louisiana. Perhaps emboldened by their new found literacy, the men of the 62nd began discussing the creation of a school of higher learning for the recently freed slaves and their descendants. They called the school "Lincoln Institute." The soldiers collected a total of $5,000.00 from their pay to start the school. The soldiers of the 65th desired to participate and collected $1400.00 for the cause. The soldiers made the following stipulations:

1. The institution shall be designed for the special benefit of the freed Negroes;
2. It shall be located in the state of Missouri;
3. Its fundamental idea shall be to combine study and labor.

On September 17, 1866, the soldiers' dream came true when Lincoln Institute opened its doors to its first class in an old building in Jefferson City, Missouri's capital. Three years late, it moved to its present site in Jefferson City, and in 1921, the name was changed to Lincoln University.

A primary mission of Lincoln University was teacher training. In 1949, Lillian Gines of Kansas City entered Lincoln to pursue a degree in elementary education. In 1951, Harold Manson of Houston, Texas, arrived to study journalism--Lincoln had an outstanding School of Journalism that had been established in 1942. They met, dated, and after Lillian graduated in 1953, married. They became my parents a year later.

In 1890, Lincoln had become a land grant university. That meant it had to offer "military tactics" or ROTC. Lincoln's Blue Tiger ROTC battalion has honored its roots by producing a number of distinguished African-American officers. That number includes my dad, who was inducted as an original member of the Lincoln University ROTC Hall of Fame upon his retirement from the Army as a lieutenant colonel in 1975. He was a direct beneficiary of the foresight of the soldiers of the 62nd and 65th Regiments, United States Colored Infantry. And my brothers and I were indirect beneficiaries. Had the black soldiers of the USCT not acquitted themselves well in battle and had the soldiers of the 62nd and 65th Regiments not had a dream of educating freed Negroes, we would not have had the careers we had. So we honor them always. You see, all history is personal . . . .

Heirs to the legacy of the 62nd and 65th U.S. Colored Infantry. (One of only two photographs of us together in uniform).
Center: LTC Harold V. Manson, US Army (ret); Left to right: 2d Lt (later, MAJ-ret) David Q. Manson, US Army; Capt (later, Col-ret) Harold Craig Manson, US Air Force; Capt (later, MAJ-ret) Terry Manson.
Photo June 1981

 has recently added military service records for the U.S. Colored Troops. These are among the best military records available on Ancestry. The records include enlistment papers, mustering-out papers, pension documents in some cases, and much more.

Here are some links for more information on the U.S. Colored Troops:

The Civil War Archive

United States Colored Troops in the Civil War

United States Colored Troops Institute for Local and Family History

Lincoln University, Jefferson City, Missouri

62nd & 65th Regiments, USCI (has a list of members)

The National Archives

Missouri State Archives


Miriam said...

Incredible story, written so well. I love the personal tie-in, as well as your concluding statement. Looking forward to more!

Craig said...

It's always great to encounter another Craig. I appreciate your information and the links you have here to the history of U.S. Colored Infantry units. My great great grandfather is the lead actor in my blog. He helped liberate Mobile in the last days of the Civil War.

I wrote a post recently concerning the role of the Colored Infantry at the Battle of Fort Blakely and their battle cry, "Remember Fort Pillow". A focus I'd like to pursue is the German officers, particularly 48ers like Adolph Dengler, and the part they may have played in making the Colored Infantry a reality.

Dengler was 'mit Sigel' when the war began in Missouri. He talked at one point about organizing and leading a Colored Infantry unit a year or more before the Proclamation was signed. Instead he was assigned to lead the 43rd Illinois at Vicksburg, then in Arkansas and finally at Mobile.

Generally, I'm curious to know more about the genesis of the Colored Infantry as a concept.