United States Colored Troops
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.Fredrick Douglass, “Should the Negro Enlist in the Union Army” July 6, 1863
After the Union captured New Bern, refugee African Americans from eastern North Carolina plantations found a new life and purpose in Civil War-era New Bern. Men and women worked for the military as laborers, cooks, seamstresses, and laundresses. The military government established schools and the Trent River Settlement that eventually became James City, which housed a vibrant community of freed African Americans. Some even became soldiers. In 1863, the First North Carolina Colored Volunteers (see the historical highway marker at the Academy Museum) had their first parade on the city green. Members had been encouraged to sign up by Abraham Galloway, a leader in the African American community.
The First North Carolina Colored Volunteers eventually became the 35th Regiment of the United States Colored Troops. The officers selected for the regiment included commanding officer Colonel James C. Beecher (brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe) second in command Lt. Colonel William Reed, formerly a major in the Imperial German Army (unofficially described as a mulatto), in addition to two black officers, Assistant Surgeon major John V. DeGrasse (the first black man admitted to a state medical society and the only African American doctor to serve in a Civil War regiment), and Chaplain John N. Mars, appointed to meet the spiritual needs of white officers and black enlisted men. The 35th was attached to Montgomery’s Brigade, District of Florida, Department of the South. As such, much of the action the 35th saw was in Florida, including participating in the Battle of Olustee. The Regiment was mustered out from Charleston, South Carolina in June 1866. In total, the unit lost a total of 205 men, mostly to disease.
In 2016, the Tryon Place Foundation received an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant to form an interpretative program based on the experiences of the United States Colored Troops during the American Civil War. As a result, the 35th U.S. Colored Troops interpretive unit was born. With a mission to promote a better understanding of the role of African Americans in the fight for their freedom, the 35th USCT gathers and interprets the stories of soldiers who served on the original regiment, some told by their actual descendants. The modern 35th USCT has traveled throughout North Carolina into Virginia and South Carolina, as well as by invitation to the African American Civil War Museum in Washington, DC. The group actively welcomes new volunteers to help tell the story. If you would like more information on joining the 35th USCT, please contact Sharon Bryant (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.