Read more Chattanooga History Columns
- Gaston: Paul John Kruesi was Edison's right-hand man
- Robbins: The old Richardson's house and the Civil War
- Gaston: James Williams was a man of the world
- Raney: Mason Evans, the 'Wild Man of the Chilhowee'
- Gaston: The legacy of Adolph Ochs endures
- Martin: Ed Johnson said, 'I have a changed heart,' the day before his lynching in Chattanooga on 1906
- Thomas: The inventiveness of Judge Michael M. Allison
- Moore: Chattanooga's first Chinese community
- Summers, Robbins: Chattanooga's Tuskegee Airman - Joseph C. White
- McCallie: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 says so!
- Gaston: John McCline's Civil War - from slave to D.C. parade
- Raney: Exploring Chattanooga businesses in the Green Book
- Elliott: Remembering the Freedmen's Bureau in Chattanooga
- Gaston: Nancy Ward was a beloved, respected Tennessean
- Martin: Prohibition - the noble experiment
- Elliott: 'A shameful, disgraceful deed': The destruction of the Sewanee cornerstone
- Gaston: Robert Cravens was ironmaster, Chattanooga area's first commuter
- Robbins: Dr. T.H. McCallie's Christmas 1863
- Robbins: Journalist writes of a trip to Missionary Ridge in 1896
- Summers, Robbins: Mine 21 disaster - gone but not forgotten
- Elliott: Collegedale incorporates to avoid Sunday 'blue laws'
- Gaston: 'Marse Henry' Watterson's journalism fame began in Chattanooga
- Robbins: Orchard Knob battle recalled in 1895
- Elliott: Chattanoogans joined in an 'orgy of joy and gladness' on Armistice Day, 1918
- Thomas: Noted service, speakers are marks of Rotary Club of Chattanooga since 1914
- Summers and Robbins: Remembering noted Tennessee author North Callahan
- Raney: 'I auto cry, I auto laugh, I auto sign my autograph'
- Gaston: Sequoyah's alphabet enriched Cherokees
- Robbins: A look at Sam Divine's life during the Civil War
- Robbins: Memories of a Confederate nurse
- Robbins: More notes from Bradford Torrey's 1895 visit to Chickamauga Battlefield
- Robbins: Journalist in 1895 details visit to Chickamauga Battlefield
- Elliott: Telephone exchange firebombing was distraction for grocery store robbery
- Gaston: Worcester brought Christ's message to Cherokee at Brainerd Mission
- Robbins: 1896 travel diary: 'A Week on Walden's Ridge'
- Gaston: Elizabeth Strayhorn, WAC Commandant at Fort Oglethorpe
- Robbins: The history of the Friends of Moccasin Bend National Park
- Moore: Do you own a Sears Roebuck home?
- Summers and Robbins: Camp Nathan Bedford Forrest in World War II
- Gaston: Hiram Sanborn Chamberlain remembered
- Elliott: Daisy the center of tile, ceramic manufacturing in Hamilton County
- Gaston: FDR inaugurates the Chickamauga Dam
- Summers, Robbins: Interned WWII Germans had it easy at Camp Crossville
- Elliott: A war correspondent on Lookout Mountain
- Gaston: Chickamaugas finally bury hatchet in Tennessee Valley
- Gaston: Chickamaugas in Chattanooga
- Robbins: The history of the Riverbend festival
- Raney: Sadie Watson, the first woman elected in Hamilton County government
- Moore: Remembering Chattanooga's Hawkinsville community
- Elliott: Welsh coal miners transformed Soddy after the Civil War
- Gaston: Chattanooga's best-kept secret
- Elliott: Cabell Breckinridge loses his horse
- Raney: Martin Fleming is the people's judge
- Gaston: The amazing career of Francis Lynde
- Martin: Hamilton County's Name Sake: Alexander Hamilton
- Summers, Robbins: The crosses at Sewanee
- Bledsoe: The fiery truce at Kennesaw Mountain
- Moore: Talented architect's life cut short by tragedy
- Rydell: Chattanooga's place in soccer history
- Robbins: Tennessee Coal, member of the First Dow Jones Industrial Average
- Raney: In the barber chair
- Lanier: Becoming the Boyce Station Neighborhood Association
- McCallie: John P. Franklin: Living history among us
- Barr: Chattanooga's first railroad: The Underground Railroad
- Summers, Robbins: Charles Bartlett was a Pulitzer Prize winner, Kennedy confidant
- Rainey: 'We have seen it'
- Elliott: Feinting and fighting at Running Water Creek and Johnson's Crook
- Gaston: The Spring Frog Cabin at Audubon Acres
- Raney: Wauhatchie Pike was moonshine motorway
- Robbins: Oakmont was home of venerable Williams clan
- Summers and Robbins: Rebirth of the Mountain Goat Line
- Elliott: Bad investments led to Soddy Bank failure in 1930
- Summers and Robbins: Pearl Harbor attack left football behind
- Gaston: Jolly’s Island namesake had long ties with Sam Houston
- Return Jonathan Meigs, Indian Agent
- Moore: Did you know about St. Elmo's other two cemeteries?
- Summers: Orme - Marion County's almost lost community
- Davis: Spooky revival at Sharp Mountain in 1873
- Robbins: The story of Longholm
- Raney: Women labored to help the U.S. win World War I
- Even in the city, the 'wheel' changed everything
- Murray: Confederate dilemma after Chickamauga
- J.B. Collins — Newsman extraordinaire
- Robbins: The Story of the Lyndhurst Mansion
- Chattanooga artist and wife lost on the Lusitania
- Chattanooga History Column: Battelle, Alabama and the Battelle Institute
- John Ross, a founder of Chattanooga
- Hamilton County casualties in World War I
- Chattanooga Power Couple
- 'Somewhere in France'
- The Ray Moss family
- Battery B from Chattanooga
- Ulysses S. Grant, Clark B. Lagow, and the Chattanooga Bender
- Songbirds Museum Timeline
- Hamilton County World War 1 roster
- The Soddy Girl and the Memphis Belle
- Blues icon Bessie Smith was the Empress of Soul
- Women's Army Corps at Chickamauga
- Emma Bell Miles' life at the top of the 'W'
- The Tivoli Wurlitzer is one of Chattanooga's priceless assets
- Chattanooga in struggle for freedom during Civil War
- October 1918, Chattanooga paralyzed by Spanish flu epidemic
- Eli Lilly and the Ditch of Death
- One hundred years ago, Chattanooga goes to war
- The legacy of Anna Safley Houston
- Harriet Whiteside was ahead of her time
- Southern Adventist University
- Chattanooga native's writings aided Civil Rights movement
- Zion College, Chattanooga's only African American College
- The North Shore's hidden past
- Mayme Martin -- Businesswoman and community leader
- Thomas Sim's epic struggle for freedom
- Top of Cameron Hill was price of rerouting interstate
- Cameron Hill has rich history
- Temperance movement included Harriman university
- The sweetest music this side of Heaven
- Conquistadors at Chattanooga
- Chattanooga and the 'General'
- Chattanooga's first Thanksgiving, 1863
- Chattanooga's greatest flood caught city unaware
- Opening the Cracker Line
- European trip in 1900 enlightens Sophia Scholze Long
- Sophia Scholze Long spoke out when others were silent
- Little South Pittsburg and its big silent movie stars
- Lot attendant recalls hottest job in Chattanooga
- Chattanooga's Forest Hills is final resting place for known, unknown
- Burritt College -- Pioneer of the Cumberlands
- Chattanooga's nicknames trace city's evolution
- The 25th annual meeting of the Tennessee Press Association
- Clemons Brothers Furniture Store
- The Short Life of the USS Chattanooga
- Ellen Jarnagin McCallie lived a truly remarkable life
- Dr. Jonathan Bachman was a revered city father
- Second guessing the Confederate failure on Missionary Ridge
- Nancy Kefauver, ambassador for the arts
- William Gibbs McAdoo kept his Southern roots
- Chattanooga's Secretary of the Treasury
- Howard Baker remembered as a statesman/photographer who snapped history
- Tivoli's last picture show
- The history of one of Chattanooga's oldest businesses
- Chattanooga's roller derby skaters
- Myths of Coca-Cola in Chattanooga
- Chattanooga's neighborhood grocery stores
- The tale of the Scottsboro Boys
- The people's history of Chattanooga
- Howard School is Chattanooga's reminder of Reconstruction
- Elevator operator, painter, mystery man: meet Rice Carothers
- Raulston Schoolfield made enemies amid his rise to power
- Website lets users peer into Chattanooga's past
- The flood of 1917
- Chattanooga's 'wickedest woman' buried at Forest Hills
- History of Cummings Highway
With the Emancipation Proclamation failing to end the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln ordered the wholesale recruitment of African-Americans for the federal army. Chattanooga's geographic location made it perfect for enlisting escaped slaves.
Union Maj. George Luther Stearns arrived at the headquarters of the Department of the Cumberland near Chattanooga on Sept. 6, 1863, to do just that. He had the highest connections to prominent abolitionists and politicians.
A successful businessman who had begun as a poor orphan, Stearns had a stellar career fighting for African-Americans and the end of slavery. He helped the anti-slavery movement in Kansas. As one of the "secret six" he armed John Brown's failed slave uprising at Harper's Ferry in 1859. And he helped found the Freedman's Bureau to benefit former slaves and poor whites.
Stearns recruited African-Americans for the famed 54th Massachusetts (and the 55th). In Maryland, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, he would recruit 13,000 men. He paid with private donations for his operations in opening camps, hospitals and schools for former slaves of both sexes.
Wagon trains of recruiters risked their lives moving across the countryside in search of enlistees. Public meetings recruited 500 men per week for the ranks of the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 40th, 42nd, 44th, 101st, 106th and 110th infantry and the 1st and 7th Heavy Artillery regiments.
The new regiments had white officers, but they received pay based only on former rank not their new responsibilities. So many volunteers came forward to fill those positions, however, that a board had to carefully screen applicants.
Those soldiers proved themselves, especially during the Nashville Campaign. Members of the 14th United States Colored Troops (USCT) repelled Joseph Wheeler's Confederate cavalry charge at Dalton, Ga., on Aug. 15, 1864, as their white comrades waved hats and gave three cheers.
One private, Henry Prince of Company A, seemed to speak for his whole regiment when he declared, "I am ready to die for Liberty." A bullet went through his heart. Those freedmen fought bravely at Athens and Decatur, Ala., and at Fort Pillow, Tenn.
The new black soldiers had problems, however. Transportation slowed the equipping of the new units. Civilian laborers received better pay than soldiers. Bounty agents cheated black soldiers until Gen. William T. Sherman and Gen. Joseph Dana Webster stopped the practice.
Some "99 percent" of white officers reportedly wanted nothing to do with blacks in the Army. Sherman saw them as cheap labor unable to take military training. Gen. George H. Thomas noticed, however, that black units had a remarkably low rate of desertion. Stearns found civilian jobs for their families.
New Union regulations prevented further recruitment of African-Americans from former Tennessee slaves. All other recruits had to come from other states as the federal armies moved south.
At Athens, Ala., and Dalton, Ga., white officers, against the pleas of their black soldiers, surrendered their commands to overwhelming numbers of Confederate soldiers. The ragged rebels robbed the black soldiers of shoes, overcoats and hats. Prisoners were shot and killed on any pretense. Soldiers of the 7th Heavy Artillery were among the victims in the Fort Pillow Massacre.
Black prisoners often suffered terrible fates. Some escaped slaves were reclaimed by their masters. Other prisoners rebuilt railroads and fortifications or were sent to horrible prison camps such as Andersonville. Placed "under guard and lash," a Confederate newspaper reported, "if any of them should live long enough, they will be reduced to their normal condition [as slaves]."
After the war, African-American military service qualified for federal pensions. Unscrupulous attorneys signed up gullible clients by falsely claiming that pensions also would go to former slaves.
At Chattanooga, the USCT made a beginning in the struggle for racial justice. Some units were allowed black officers. Black and white posts of the veterans' Grand Army of the Republic held conventions together. Some posts had members of both races.
African-Americans, especially the women, decorated the graves of Union soldiers on Memorial Day in cemeteries in Chattanooga and throughout the South.
For more information on Chattanooga's role in recruiting African-American soldiers in the Civil War see E. Raymond Evans, "Contributions by United States Colored Troops (USCT) of Chattanooga & North Georgia during the American Civil War, Reconstruction and Formation of Chattanooga" (2003).
Robert S. Davis is senior professor of history at Wallace State Community College in Hance-ville, Ala., and an award-winning author. For more visit Chattahistoricalassoc.org.