Past is Prologue

Clint Schemmer writes about history, heritage preservation and the American Civil War.  On Facebook: Past is Prologue  On Twitter: @prologuepast  ContactEmail Clint or call 540/374-5424.

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NPS historian Eric Mink to talk May 17 on U.S. Colored Troops

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Unless you’ve seen the film “Glory,” via Netflix or in the movie theater 20 years ago, you may be unfamiliar with the U.S. Colored Troops who fought for the North during the Civil War.

And, even if you’ve heard of the USCTs, you may not know that many of their regiments came from Virginia. Or that the first combat seen by a USCT regiment in Virginia north of the James River happened in Spotsylvania County, on ground that still looks very much as it did then, 146 years ago this month. (That link is to a fascinating post by National Park Service historian Noel Harrison.)

This Tuesday evening, Harrison’s colleague–NPS historian Eric Mink–will explain all that, and more, during a free public program at the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center. Mink has recently spent many weeks at the National Archives in Washington, doing ground-breaking research on the local connections with African Americans’ military service during the bloodiest war in American history.

Mink’s 7 p.m. talk is part of the museum’s spring “Evening with an Expert” lecture series. Titled “We, Too, Shall Fight!” the series is based on the museum’s new exhibition, “Take Our Stand: The African American Military Experience in the Age of Jim Crow,” and highlights the accomplishments and experiences of African Americans in the Civil War and World War II.

[Update: Be sure to see Virginia historian Jimmy Price’s website on USCTs–The Sable Arm–and the soldier’s portrait that John Hennessy, the park’s chief historian, posted Sunday evening on the Mysteries and Conundrums blog. Price, who is writing a book on the Battle of New Market Heights, has a wonderful post on the 23rd Regiment, USCTs, here. That unit saw its first combat in Spotsylvania at Alrich Farm, and included several men from the Fredericksburg area. Now, local residents are forming a re-enactment unit to represent the 23rd, as Spotsylvania historian and blogger John Cummings writes.]

The museum’s three-part “We, Too, Shall Fight! lecture series will conclude on June 21 with a talk by Walter Morris, a paratrooper in WWII’s “Triple Nickel ” unit, the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion. Morris will share his experiences as an African American in the military during the segregation era.

Mink’s talk will be held in the Mansard Gallery of the museum’s Catherine W. Jones McKann Center, 1001 Princess Anne Street, with a free reception to follow.

“Take Our Stand” is a traveling exhibition from the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar.  It will be on view through July 31.

The lectures and the exhibit, which is in historic Town Hall across the street, are made possible by Fredericksburg resident Walter Jervis Sheffield, trustee of the Paul and Jane Jones Trust. The exhibition chronicles the black military experience from the Spanish American War to the desegregation of the U.S. military in 1948.

The Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center’s mission is to collect, interpret and present the history of the Fredericksburg region. For more on the lecture series or the Museum, call 540/371-3037, ext. 140, or visit its website.

Photo: African-American soldiers at an abandoned farmhouse in Dutch Gap, Virginia, 1864. From the Library of Congress.