Author: Andre Fleche

a professor of United States and Latin American history at Castleton State College

United States Colored Troops, The

The United States Colored Troops (USCT) was a branch of the United States Army founded in 1863 to recruit, organize, and oversee the service of African American soldiers during the American Civil War (1861–1865). USCT regiments consisted of Black enlisted men led in almost all cases by white officers. By the end of the Civil War, more than 185,000 men had served in the USCT, including more than 178,000 Black soldiers and approximately 7,000 white officers. At least 5,723 Black soldiers were mustered into service in Virginia, although Virginia-born and -raised Black troops—especially formerly enslaved men who may have fled from the state or been sold to other parts of the Confederacy—likely joined in other locations. The administration of President Abraham Lincoln initially did not approve of Black soldiers and used them only as laborers. As the war dragged on, however, attitudes began to change, and the Final Emancipation Proclamation (1863) provided for the enlistment of African Americans. Once in uniform, the men of the USCT saw action in every major theater of the war, with five Virginians being awarded the Medal of Honor. In addition to making significant contributions to the war effort, they were also subjected to racially motivated atrocities. At war’s end, many Black veterans continued to serve in the South during Reconstruction (1865–1877) while others became leaders in their communities.