Considering December 1863, one year after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, US Colored Troops had become an important, if not essential, component of the Federal war machine. We historians say they’d proven their mettle at places such as Morris Island. However, questions remained in the minds of the more traditional line officers. But none could deny the ever growing number of USCT regiments and batteries joining the force.
Thus it is no surprise to see colored troops artillery units appear in the summaries. We’ve discussed a few along the way, in particular those from Louisiana and Mississippi. Initially, these formations carried designations referencing the states in which their muster took place. And these received a suffix descriptor of “A.D.” for “African Descent” in order to set them apart in the order of battle from unionist regiments recruited in the same areas. Eventually, all would receive designations within the USCT regimental system. But for the mid-war period, this presents a tricky “administrative” problem for those of us researching to find the stories from those USCT units. Just making a positive identification of a unit is often difficult.
And in many cases, clearly even the clerks during the Civil War were a bit confused. When reviewing a wartime reference to a USCT unit, one must often “beat the bushes” in order to get it right. A good example of this is from our next summary statement entry:
- Company L, 1st Artillery, A.D.: At Newport Barracks, North Carolina, with one 12-pdr Mountain Howitzer, on a return received on October 13, 1864.
Newport Barracks was a Federal outpost between Morehead City and New Bern, North Carolina. Protecting the valuable supply line inland, the post was important for maintaining the Federal hold on the eastern part of the state. And of course, into 1865 that supply line became Sherman’s resupply point. That said, Newport Barracks was not simply your run-of-the-mill remote outpost. There are markers around the location of the barracks and fortifications.
A nearby Civil War Trails marker highlights a February 2 action in which the Confederates, in conjunction with a larger attempt at New Bern, overran the Federal garrison posted to Newport Barracks. After which, the Federals reestablished the base, with even more security.
It’s the unit identification which becomes problematic here. There was a 1st North Carolina Colored Heavy Artillery (NCCHA) Regiment. We might start the story of this regiment in February 1864 related to the attempt on New Bern which was associated with the Newport Barracks action mentioned. In the crisis, the commander at New Bern armed civilians, including some free blacks, as the garrison braced against a Confederate attack. After the emergency, eyes turned to the contraband camps as a source for recruits. Major Thorndike C. Jameson received authorization to recruit a regiment of heavy artillery from the freedmen.
Jameson was an ardent abolitionist and pastor from Massachusetts. He’d initially volunteered as a chaplain in the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry. Opting for a more active role, he secured a commission and was later appointed major in the 5th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, then stationed at New Bern. With William Lloyd Garrison among his friends, Jameson had secured quick support for a plan to raise a colored heavy artillery regiment. The 1st NCCHA mustered in March 1864. However, all was not that simple. The recruiting process was flawed to say the least. I would recommend “Freedom for Themselves: North Carolina’s Black Soldiers in the Civil War Era” by Richard M. Reid for a detailed examination.
Specific to our discussion, the 1st NCCHA was not up to full strength even into the fall (for that October reporting date). The regiment remained at New Bern, mostly performing fatigue details. During a Yellow Fever outbreak, the 1st NCCHA was assigned to provost guard duties. Only after suffering through the summer under the pandemic was the regiment assigned to actual “artillery” duties. In January 1865, the regiment transferred from the Sub-District of New Bern to the Sub-District of Beaufort. As such, they were assigned to defend the bases of Morehead City and Beaufort.
While Newport Barracks was part of that command, sources are not clear in regard to the 1st NCCHA being assigned there. Furthermore, we have date issues here. The heavy regiment was not in existence at the end of December 1863. And if we postulate this was a “post dated” report sent in October 1864, we still cannot reconcile that with the 1st NCCHA’s service at New Bern. And by the way, the regiment became the 14th US Colored Heavy Artillery Regiment in March 1865.
So if it wasn’t the 1st NCCHA, then who? There was another colored “1st” regiment from North Carolina – the 1st North Carolina Infantry, African Descent. The regiment later became the 35th US Colored Troops. Formed in June 1863 around New Bern and Plymouth, this regiment was part of Wild’s Brigade and served in South Carolina during the Morris Island Campaign. They spent the rest of the war in the Department of the South. However a detachment of the regiment was left behind at New Bern and saw quite a bit of service. They would be a candidate for this entry line, except for again the location. The 1st NC Colored Infantry detachment does not appear to have served at Newport Barracks. Nor do we find any connection for the unit to any mountain howitzers.
But there’s one more “1st” from North Carolina to consider. The 1st North Carolina Volunteers, or what we today call the 1st North Carolina (Union) Infantry, must also be considered. Authorized in May 1862, Colonel Joseph M. McChesney commanded the regiment. The regiment formed within Federal lines in North Carolina, with volunteers reflecting the complicated experience in the coastal region. Some men were union men to the core. Others were fence-sitters motivated by personal gain or simply looking for a measure of security. And some of the ranks were deserters from Confederate service. As such, there were misgivings within echelons of the Federal command about this regiment. Early on, the regiment provided guards for outposts and garrisons, with some companies detached from the main body. However, a few companies from the regiment earned a reputation for efficiency and good order when assigned to patrols.
From formation through the end of 1863, most of the command was assigned to the Sub-District of the Pamlico, with the Washington, North Carolina, garrison. But later in 1864 the regiment transferred to Beaufort and was assigned to outposts which included Newport Barracks. In fact, Company L of the 1st North Carolina was assigned to Newport Barracks in October 1864. Captain George W. Graham commanded the company. And there is some indication of a howitzer section, at least temporarily, assigned and managed by Lieutenant W.W. Alexander of the company.
The “clincher” in this case, I believe, is to fast forward to the next quarter… which I hate to do here. For the 1st quarter of 1864, we find this line under North Carolina:
Company L, 1st Volunteer Infantry…. that has to be Captain Graham’s. Same location with the same mountain howitzer. We are left to conjecture about the clerk’s entry indicating “artillery” and “A.D.” At a minimum, at least they provided some justification for this lengthy blog post!
All that established, there was ammunition for the mountain howitzer:
- Company L, 1st North Carolina Infantry: 26 shells and 142 case for 12-pdr mountain howitzers.
And more on the next page:
- Company L, 1st North Carolina Infantry: 31 canister for 12-pdr mountain howitzers.
There are no other entries for this line on the pages that follow. And we know that is typical for “sectional” artillery assigned to infantry formations.
Concluding this post, I hope the readers recognize my “blogger’s indulgence” with a rather lengthy post going down different “rabbit holes” to demonstrate what I’d consider the likely explanation for the entry line. But the explanation allowed me to demonstrate what I figure as the proper approach to interpreting the entry line and significance. This also allowed me to discuss, at least within a few brief paragraphs, the service of two North Carolina units which may be unfamiliar to readers. The 1st NCCHA and the 1st North Carolina Volunteers had very different service stories in some regards. Yet, given the postings and duties, perhaps similar wartime experiences in the same operational area. I submit once the clerks committed to writing that “A.D.” on the line, we here in the 21st century had to discuss both units.