CHAS: The California Historical Artillery Society-Part 2

Continuing my interview with Judith Boling from the California Historical Artillery Society …

MG: What is the most common question asked during your demonstrations?

JB: “How does CHAS train the horses to stand the gunfire and commotion on the battlefield?” (apparently, I am not very original in wondering …).

MG: How far “East” have you been? What sort of interactions did you have with other artillery companies?

JB: A group of members of California Historical Artillery Society went to Gettysburg for the 150thanniversary of that battle in 2013, but they were unable to bring the horses.

We frequently interact with other artillery batteries throughout California, falling in with them when we have a low turnout at events. We also have artillerymen from other batteries fall in with us when they are visiting from other parts of the state or country.

MG: What kind of “horse sense” should a visitor to your artillery exhibit show?

JB: Stay calm. Don’t make furtive movements. Never approach the horses on your own. Always seek out a club member to accompany you to visit the horses

MG: How can the general public get involved in helping support the living history you portray and the great work you do with former trotting racehorses?

JB: The public is cordially invited to sponsor one or more horse(s) to help with the costs of caring for them. The sponsorship form is available on our website,

All of your readers in Northern California may want to travel to Fresno on August 20 & 21, 2018 to see the teams in action. The Fresno Historical Society will be hosting Civil War Revisited that weekend. Additional information and directions to the event may be found at

MG: Why exactly did your group choose to portray the 3rdU.S. Artillery?

JB: California Historical Artillery Society portrays the 3rdU.S. Artillery, Batteries L & M, consolidated.

The 3rdU.S. Artillery of the mid-nineteenth century had been sent west to fight in the Mexican War. At the conclusion of that war, they moved into California and were posted in Monterey and San Francisco. After the Civil War had begun, Batteries L & M, consolidated returned to the east coast and participated in many major battles.

It was a natural fit for a field artillery reenacting group, then based in Salinas, California, to select this impression.

MG: A word about Dennis Winfrey?

JB: Dennis Winfrey is a charter member of CHAS, and was our benefactor for more than twenty years. He purchased most of our equipment and the horses. Dennis had a vision of CHAS eventually portraying the entire regiment, infantry, cavalry, and artillery, along with all of the support units.

MG: Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers of Emerging Civil War?

JB: CHAS always welcomes new recruits. Membership dues for the first year are $15.00 for an individual and $30 per family living in the same household. Membership applications can be found on our website,

A reenacting battlefield is a dangerous place. Therefore, CHAS requires a person to be 14 years or older to be part of our military impression. In addition to the field artillery impression with cannoneers and horse team drivers, we also have signal corps, ambulance, and artificer impressions.

The signal corps use flags and fire to relay orders to officers across the battlefield.

The ambulance impression includes long line driving a team of horses, as well as ambulance attendants who take the “injured” off the battlefield to a field hospital.

The artificers were trained blacksmiths, farriers, coopers, and cobblers. They were responsible for repairing all artillery equipment and tack, as well as keeping the horses shod. CHAS owns a traveling forge from the era, one of only a handful left.

We understand that military life isn’t for everyone. CHAS also offer membership for men, women, and children wishing to portray townspeople, merchants, artisans, newspaper correspondents, and people working for and with soldier relief organizations such as The U.S. Sanitary Commission, and The Christian Commission. Children 13 years and younger must participate as civilians.

MG: Thanks so much for your time, and much good luck in the future. I hope to see your group in October.

  *     *     *

One more thing I was curious about was how to help and encourage groups such as CHAS. Their website contains several suggestions, but the one I like best is “Meet the Horses.” There are four donation options, all of which offer the opportunity to get to know some of the “mighty steeds” of the California Historical Society:

  • $25.00 Donation Package includes a Personalized Certificate of Appreciation and a color photo of your sponsored horse

o  $75.00 Donation Package includes the above plus a free pass to any CHAS event

o  $100.00 Donation Package (supports 1 horse for 1 month) includes the above plus two free passes to any CHAS event

  • $1,200 Donation Package (supports 1 horse for 1 year) includes all of the above plus 4 free passes and recognition on the CHAS website for a year.

There are organizations nationwide that seek to give the public an accurate portrayal of the men, women, equipment, and horses that have represented our country in war, from the colonial era forward. CHAS is doing double duty by not only portraying Union artillery and medical corps but also by saving horses. These folks deserve our support. If you are in California next month, I hope to see you in Fresno, and if you are on my Christmas List, be prepared to get a horse photo.

CHAS: The California Historical Artillery Society-Part 1

There is nothing more exciting at a Civil War reenactment than seeing horses doing what horses used to do, and doing it well. One organization in California has dedicated themselves to presenting this type of experience for onlookers, and to saving horses. Quoting from their website:

            The California Historical Artillery Society (CHAS) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) educational organization dedicated to preserving the life and times of the military horse with emphasis on horse-drawn artillery. CHAS offers educational    opportunities with its horse-drawn artillery detachments and gun demonstrations through living history events, school talks, parades, and other events. CHAS proudly uses retired Standardbred trotters to work in teams pulling light artillery   cannons. These former harness racers were rescued from California’s harness racing industry. We are one of only a handful of units in the world to portray how light artillery historically operated.

Warhorses have always entranced me. When I saw them at events or in parades, I wondered just how a modern horse is trained to withstand the noise of a large battle reenactment. When ECW ran a month of artillery posts, I began looking for an answer to my question. Luckily, I found Judith Boling and the California Historical Artillery Society (CHAS). Ms. Boling is the Corresponding Secretary and Membership Clerk for CHAS. I approached her for an interview, to which she graciously replied with a resounding “Yes!” Hopefully, this will help us all understand how a 21st century Standardbred becomes a warhorse, along with a lot more information.

MG: Judith–welcome to the virtual pages of Emerging Civil War. Thank you for your time. Let’s just jump right in–How did you come to this “calling” of both saving animals and portraying the 3rdU.S. Field Artillery?

JB: The field artillery impression came first. We were originally a battery for the Union artillery in National Civil War Association (NCWA).

Our horse rescue started in the 1980s when one of our members, Dennis Winfrey, went to a reenactment to ascertain how Civil War-era harness was used to move the cannon on the battlefield. Instead of horses, however, he found pickup trucks, and manpower moving the cannon. He proposed purchasing the tack and using his pair of draft horses to do the job. This worked well, but the draft horses didn’t meet the U.S. Army specifications for artillery horses of the 1860s. It occurred to Dennis that American Standardbreds best met those specifications.

Standardbreds are used for harness racing in trotting and pacing forms. Dennis started looking around for Standardbreds to go with the one he already owned. He discovered he could acquire retired harness racing horses for good prices, sometimes at no charge. While talking to the owners, he learned that the horses we didn’t buy could be sold by the pound for dog food. He also invested in the tack, as that purchased for the draft horses was too large.

After the new horses, and drivers, were trained, Dennis began thinking bigger and started acquiring more horses, and tack. Our herd is much smaller now, but at one time, we had more than 30 horses—sufficient to field four teams and cannon, as well as the ambulance, a wagon, and outriders.

MG: What kind of horse is best for pulling a cannon in the 21stcentury?

JB: We found that American Standardbreds are the most like the artillery horses specified by the U.S. Army during the Civil War. These are also the horses most used by the Amish to pull their carts.

MG: Pulling a cannon in tandem with other horses is quite a bit different than pulling a sulky. How do you help these horses make the switch?

JB: As more horses were acquired, CHAS developed a training program. Since the 1990s, we have used the following program:

Initially, new horses are introduced to the herd by placing them in a pasture adjacent to that of the free-range herd. After a period of time, the gates are opened and the newcomers are allowed to integrate themselves into the herd, allowing them to acclimate into the pecking order. Horse herds maintain a definite hierarchy.

Once they’ve sorted themselves, we watch them to ascertain the best pairings for the team. We then take a new horse to an event and let it stand on the picket line, allowing it to accustom itself to the people and noises of a reenactment. If the horse is not bothered with battlefield noises, we will then take it to stand at the edge of the battlefield. With that test passed, the horse is inserted into a team of veteran horses as the off, or non-ridden, horse of the middle pair of a six-up team. They may eventually be moved to the left side and tried with a rider.

Our training program is designed to minimize the anxiety the horse may have with this new experience. It is also safe for the other horses, and the drivers.

MG: How do you teach a horse to withstand cannon fire? Firing of any type?

JB: We have found that keeping the team moving during the first firings on the battlefield helps with any anxiety the horses may feel. By keeping them occupied with movement and maintaining pace with their teammates, the cannon and rifle firing isn’t as frightening. Over time, the noise becomes second nature. The horses stand still, gunfire all around them, with few reactions. Some of the horses have been known to fall asleep on the battlefield until called upon to move again.

Not all horses are cut out to be army horses. Some simply never become accustomed to the noise and commotion around them. We give a horse a year to become acclimated. If, after that period of time, the horse is not able to remain calm, we no longer put it on a team and look for a new home where it can live out its life in an environment better suited to its demeanor. Many of these horses are sweet and make good saddle stock. They simply are not cut out for an army life.

MG: How did the decision to include the Ambulance Corps in your impression come about?

JB: Dennis Winfrey found an ambulance for sale, and purchased it. Once it was repaired, Dennis started driving it at events. The ambulance impression includes long line driving a team of horses as well as ambulance attendants who take the “injured” off the battlefield to a field hospital.

MG: Umm–pardon my ignorance, but what is “long line driving?”

JB: Long line driving is when you drive a team from the driver’s box on a conveyance— think stagecoach or wagon.

    *     *     *

At this point, I will let readers contemplate what has been discussed. We will continue the interview with Part 2. Personally, I am going to to send a bag of Purina Apple & Oats flavored horse treats (in the green bag) to Ms. Gumdrop, a “level-headed mare” that pulls the ambulance.

Ms. Gumdrop

Freedom’s Forts

Emerging Civil War welcomes back guest author Steve T. Phan

“The Red-Legged Devils have returned” was the battle cry as elements of the modern Co. A, 5th New York Infantry, “Duryee’s Zouaves,” arrived to Fortress Monroe National Monument in 2017. The living history group followed in the footsteps of the original historic regiment that disembarked off the tip of the Virginia Peninsula on May 18, 1861. The original gaudy-clad soldiers arrived to reinforce the isolated Federal citadel and immediately began scouting operations in enemy territory north of the brick bastion. Members of the regiment also witnessed the aftermath of the war’s first interaction between enslaved African Americans and the Federal armies during the Civil War. It was this consequential interplay involving the forces of slavery and freedom that inspired the living history group to attend and portray the events of 1861 a century and a half later.

Major General Benjamin Butler’s astute “Contraband Decision” during the war was the inspiration that brought the 5th New York living history group to Fort Monroe National Monument. I fell-in with the living history unit in November 2017 during the annual Remembrance Day Parade in Gettysburg and soon joined as an official member. The lead park ranger at Fort Monroe and a National Park Service colleague reached out and invited the 5th down to Hampton, Virginia for the annual “Contraband Decision” program. It is organized as a first-person living history act, where uniformed volunteers portrayed characters and units while visitors listened and observed the dialogue. The first living history station provided visitors access to Quarters No. 1 where they witness Maj. Gen.  Butler’s interview the three enslaved African American men who fled to the fort on 23 May 1861: Frank Baker, Shepard Mallory, and James Townsend. Their testimony before the Massachusetts politician include details about constructing Confederate forts and earthworks up the Peninsula. The lawyer turned volunteer general resolved that he would hold the slaves— property being used against the United States—as contraband of war, setting a precedent that reverberated across the Union armies.

For the 5th New York living history station, news of the Contraband Decision arrived to our encampment by a civilian. George Templeton Strong—lawyer, diarist, and co-founder of the United States Sanitary Commission, (a private relief agency that supported sick and wounded soldiers), visited Fortress Monroe to observe conditions on the ground. Our station portrayed Strong spending time with the regiment’s officers. Over a meal, Strong relayed a conversation he had with General Butler concerning the enslaved men fleeing to the fort. Strong believed Butler’s decision to provide sanctuary for the three men was just a small drop before the tidal wave of African Americans fleeing to Federal lines. He was correct. Within days of the contraband declaration, dozens and then hundreds sought refuge at the fort. From the regiment’s perspective, Butler’s decision was secondary to the men’s desire to launch offensive operations against the enemy beyond Hampton. The first major land battle of the Civil War in Virginia occurred in early at Big Bethel on June 10, 1861, where the 5th saw action and performed well despite the Union defeat.

The Contraband Decision programs were quite provocative. As a frontline interpreter, I noticed how deeply fascinated many of the visitors were to the dialogue, especially the interaction between General Butler and the three men. It got me thinking about my work.

The Civil War Defenses of Washington were comprised of 68 major forts by the end of war. The first defensive strongholds were erected after the Federal army crossed the Potomac River and occupied the Arlington Heights and subsequently Alexandria (Virginia) in May 1861. Consequently, the forts became the testing ground that witnessed the complex struggle between slavery and freedom in the Nation’s capital. An estimated 40,000 African Americans fled to Washington D.C. during the Civil War, mostly from Virginia and Maryland. Before reaching the confines of the city, the refugees ran into direct contact with Federal forts, encampments, and soldiers. Exactly what this interaction entails has become the focus of my research and programs.

I have been developing History at Sunset programs for the Civil War Defenses of Washington (NPS). The first program details the evolving interpretation of freedom at Camp Brightwood, a large Federal encampment and logistical area located south of Fort Stevens. Finding accounts from Federal soldiers vividly describing the scene as African American came into Federal line from Maryland, I realize I’ve merely scratched the surface of this subject. There will be more detail of this research in my next post. Stay tuned!

A Conversation with Dave Ruth, Richmond’s Retiring Superintendent (part one)

Ruth, Dave-NPS(part one of five)

I recently heard Dave Ruth described as “the last of the great, old-guard superintendents.” For more than thirty years, Dave has made Richmond National Battlefield his life’s work, overseeing the park’s growth from 754 acres to just under 4,000.

With stories from the 1862 Peninsula Campaign overlapping with stories from the 1864 Overland Campaign and Bermuda Hundred Campaign—plus stories related to the city’s position as the capital of the Confederacy—Richmond National Battlefield preserves and interprets a complex historical tapestry.

After a distinguished career of more than four decades, Dave retires today—January 2, 2018. During his last weeks on the job, I had the privilege of sitting down with Dave to talk with him about his remarkable run. I’ve lightly edited our conversation for clarity, with Dave’s approval. 

CHRIS MACKOWSKI: I know you said you started, once upon a time, at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania under Bob Krick, and then you went to Fort Sumter. Could you just sketch your career out for me a little bit?

DAVE RUTH: During summers in college I was working in a slaughterhouse in Pennsylvania, and participating in reenactments with a fife and drum corps on weekends. At an event, I was approached about participating in a living history program at Chancellorsville portraying a Confederate musician—and it didn’t take but three seconds to figure that working on a kill floor was something I would give up immediately to do Civil War living history! So in June of 1973, I showed up at Chancellorsville and was indoctrinated into a 24/7 experiential living history program, which was really cutting edge interpretation. We felt like we were breaking new ground, and in many ways it is interesting to think back at what we did accomplish.

I worked for several seasons at Fredericksburg, until 1977, in various capacities in maintenance and interpretation. Then in 1977, I transferred to Fort Sumter as a seasonal ranger, and spent a few months there before going to Philadelphia for my first permanent NPS position. My tenure there was short, and my wife has it timed down to the hour—but my memory is that I spent 5 months, 2 weeks, and a couple days working at various sites at Independence park. Then one day I got that call: “We have a job open at Manassas—you interested?” I was on the next moving van south.

Manassas was probably one of my most fun assignments, doing historical interpretation in one of the greatest Civil War parks and working with folks who would become life-long friends. That assignment, which began in 1978 lasted until 1981.

The only thing that could tear me from Manassas was the chance for a promotion, and that came at Fort Sumter where I returned for my second tour as interpretive chief. Working in Charleston and exploring all facets of the siege history was incredibly fun, but another opportunity for advancement came in 1991, which is when I transferred to Richmond, where I’ve been ever since.

CM: So when you made the decision to retire, how’d that feel?

DR: I actually made the decision while walking the fields of Spotsylvania this past fall. I came to the conclusion that I really wanted to do more writing and tours, and the role of superintendent had taken me from what I really enjoyed doing. Life is short, and I really want to engage in more historical scholarship.

CM: Because the job of superintendent is administration.

DR: Well, it’s administration, but it’s also 24/7 management and collaboration. In this park, we work with close to 50 full-time partners, whether they’re in government, the 501(c)(3) world, or land acquisition, and we have a very engaged public. This weekend, for instance, I got a frantic call from a neighbor who wants to sell his property immediately, and it’s very key tract at Cold Harbor. Those calls can’t be ignored. And then it’s the night meetings and special events, sometimes three or four times a week. It is demanding, but there can be an incredible return in your investment. These partners really want to help us get to where we want to go. But it is a drain on your time and energy.

Richmond is like a new start-up park—because of the major expansion—and the superintendent has to be totally committed to nurturing those partnerships. This also includes the governmental side because we have three counties [Chesterfield, Hanover, and Henrico] and also the city of Richmond, all of whom take great interest in what we are up to. It takes an enormous amount of time to sustain positive relationships. I have county supervisors and city councilmen and women on speed dial. Oh yeah, and then there’s the administrative stuff. We won’t get into that! (laughs)

So that trip to Spotsylvania was sort of a trip back in time, to really connect with the resources and stories. I try to get out into the park here, but often to deal with this problem and that problem, and it doesn’t always allow the chance to really connect to the meaning of the resources. That’s what I always loved. It’s why I became part of the National Park Service. But I also realized, when I was stationed at Fort Sumter, that in order to be successful in my career, I needed to move into a managerial role. That’s why I’m in Richmond.

CM: So when you go out into the park today, are you able to look at it as a park or more as, “Here’s this problem we’re having to deal with” or “Here’s that problem we’re dealing with, and here’s this issue”? Or can you go out like you did at Spotsy and be like, “Ahhh, the field . . . .”

DR: There are a few places that I can do that. Malvern Hill is the best example because there are few modern intrusions and it is one of the best-preserved battlefields anywhere. I feel like I can go there and really separate from the challenges of managing it.

Cold Harbor or Gaines’s Mill, both places I find moving, are a different story. I get frustrated because key lands associated with the fighting are still in private ownership. We have some great trails there and try to do the best with what we have, but my impatience really comes out when taking folks around those battlefields. We’re seeing acquisitions happen, but there are still many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that are inaccessible except by permission. Then when we do get property, I probably drive my staff crazy by placing urgency on new trails and parking lots.

One of the things that I never figured out was how to deal with my impatience. I just cannot be comfortable saying, “We acquired it, we achieved our 100% goal,” because unless someone can truly understand these landscapes, then we’ve only been partially successful. So, one of the things we’ve done with the help of this incredible staff is when we’ve gotten these properties, we’ve tried to do something with them as fast as we could in order for people to understand why we’re continuing the work of preservation—not just for the sake of preservation, but for the sake of what the story and the resource represents.

A couple of years ago we acquired a key parcel at Cold Harbor through our great partners, the Richmond Battlefield Associates and the Civil War Trust. Because of the location of this tract, for the first time we could interpret the first day of Cold Harbor. Within a year of acquiring the property, we had a full parking lot, interpretive signs, and a trail taking visitors to where key events occurred. For the first time, people could really get an understanding of what happened there when the battle opened and how it evolved into the fateful day of June 3rd, 1864.

The same thing is true for Gaines’s Mill. Last summer, the Civil War Trust transferred an important tract to us that had the potential to interpret an important episode in that 1862 battle. So once again the maintenance staff designed a parking lot and our chief historian, Bobby Krick, worked with the renowned artist Keith Rocco to produce a paining that shows the Confederate grand attack at the climax of the battle on the 27th of June. (And Keith painted Bobby into the scene!) We hope to have the interpretive node finished in late winter 2018.

That’s also what I think makes the job fun. I still dabble in that world of history and interpretation, at least to some degree.


Dave’s background as a historian has heavily influenced the way he approaches his job as an administrator. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow when my conversation with Dave continues.

Year in Review 2017: #4

At one point or another, historians have to answer difficult questions from the public. It is something that comes with the territory. At times those questions are more complicated when interacting with children. Sarah Kay Bierle had such an encounter this past summer.

Most-read blog post #4 of 2017 is The Question I Could Not Answer posted on August 27, 2017.


Battlefield Markers & Monuments: African American Civil War Memorial & USCT Memorial

My favorite monument is the African American Civil War Memorial in my hometown, Washington, D.C. and my second favorite is the United States Colored Troops Memorial in Lexington Park, MD. I observed the dedications of both of these monuments.

The African American Civil War Memorial was dedicated on July 18, 1998, in tribute to the USCT. Members of the 54th Massachusetts Co. B were joined by other USCT living historians for the day long festivities. Dr. Frank Smith, founder of the museum, historians, and politicians spoke about the exploits of the United States Colored Troops and African American Sailors in the Civil War.

Picture courtesy of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers

The African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation was incorporated in 1992 to tell the largely unknown story of the United States Colored Troops (USCT). In 1993, The District of Columbia Commission on the Arts and Humanities commissioned a new memorial to African-American soldiers and sailors who fought in the Civil War. The African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation and Museum developed the memorial as well as the African American Civil War Museum.

In honor of these American soldiers who fought for freedom during the American Civil War, the Spirit of Freedom: African American Civil War Memorial sculpture and its Wall of Honor, was situated in the heart of the historic “U” Street district, and serves as a reminder of the courageous story of the USCT.  The sculpture portrays uniformed soldiers and a sailor at a height of ten feet with a family depicted on the back of the sculpture, and is situated in the center of a granite-paved plaza, encircled on three sides by the Wall of Honor. The wall lists the names of 209,145 USCT drawn from the official records of the Bureau of United States Colored Troops at the National Archives, on 166 burnished stainless steel plaques arranged by regiment. It was designed by Louisville, Kentucky sculptor Ed Hamilton.

African American churches played an integral role in the history of the “U” Street neighborhood—serving as not only religious centers, but as social and cultural institutions, and were often included as stops on the Underground Railroad. Slaves and runaways held religious services in tents during the Civil War— some tents later became churches. Many post-Civil War contraband camps were established in the “U” Street neighborhood – Camp Barker, the Campbell Hospital, and the Wisewell Barracks – as well as the Freedman’s Hospital, which later became part of Howard University’s Medical School.

The museum first opened in the 1200 block of U Street, a couple of blocks away from the memorial, in a small space in an office building.  In 2011, the museum moved to much larger quarters, just across the street from the memorial, in the Grimke Building.

Washington Post columnist, Courtland Malloy wrote an article about Dr. Smith and the moving of the museum on July 17, 2011. The museum’s reopening coincides with the nation’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Also, on July 18, 1863, the Union’s all-black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry staged its legendary assault on the Confederate battery at Fort Wagner in South Carolina.

That was the group featured in the 1989 movie “Glory,” starring Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman, with Matthew Broderick portraying Col. Robert Gould Shaw, who led them into battle.

The museum is in the Shaw neighborhood, named for the colonel. It began as a freed-slave encampment in the 1800s and became a black cultural mecca before the riots.

Dr. Smith stated, “The Civil War ought to be one of the things that black people celebrate,” Smith said. “But we tend to think of Confederate flags instead of thinking about those 209,145 black people who fought for freedom and to preserve the union, 23 winning the Congressional Medal of Honor and coming out with three important amendments to the Constitution — the 13th, 14th and 15th — which ended slavery, gave blacks equal protection under the law and black men the right to vote. It was phenomenal.”

The African American Museum and Memorial now serve as the headquarters for the living historians representing all of the United States Colored Troops and African American Civil War civilian groups.  The museum is also a heritage and research center for descendants of the USCT. In May of 2015, it hosted many of these living historians in two days of programs, culminating in the 150th Anniversary of the Grand Review – celebrating the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, reviewing Union Army of the Potomac and General Sherman’s Armies. This time, the USCT were included in the parade!

The website is

African American Civil War Museum and Memorial

1925 Vermont Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20001
Ph: 202-667-2667

Picture from St. Mary’s County, MD

On June 16, 2012, I participated with the 23rd USCT, 54th Massachusetts Co. B, and the Sons of the Union Veterans, in the dedication of the United States Colored Troops Memorial in Lexington Park, Maryland.

The introduction of the program was given by Dr. Janice Walthour, a member of the Board of Trustees for the College of Southern Maryland. She stated, “Today, we bring to fruition the vision of Idolia Shubrooks and her family. Over twenty years ago, Idolia found her grandfather’s (Pvt. Alexander Armstrong) muster papers from the USCT and began to do research and believed that a monument to honor these sons of St. Mary’s County must be established.”

The text from the program and website are cited here. The Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions (UCAC) Monument Committee initiated an historical project to educate the citizenry and preserve local, state and national history by erecting a memorial monument to honor United States Colored Troops. It recognizes Congressional Medal of Honor recipients and all Union soldiers and sailors from St. Mary’s County who served during the Civil War. UCAC worked in partnership with the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW). Together bringing the lives of these American heroes to the attention of the public so that their sacrifices will never be forgotten.

The United States Colored Troops were regiments of the United States Army and Navy during the Civil War that were composed of African American soldiers and sailors.  Recruiting stations were set up at various places by the Union. This action was taken despite the complaints of plantation owners who depended on slave labor for local agricultural needs. In St. Mary’s County during the 1800’s there were more than 6,500 slaves, and over 600 were recruited as USCT to fight with the Union to end slavery in the United States. This history is a vital part of our local heritage, and this project will create a legacy which will serve to educate the community and preserve our history for future generations.

St. Mary’s County produced two USCT recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, Pvt. William H. Barnes and Sgt. James H. Harris. These sons of St. Mary’s County were awarded the Medal of Honor for their gallantry in the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm also known as the Battle of New Market Heights (Sept. 1864) in Varina, Henrico County, Virginia.

Nationally recognized sculptor Gary Casteel sculpted the monument. The site for the monument was donated by St. Mary’s County in John G. Lancaster Park in Lexington Park, Maryland. The statue is the centerpiece of the memorial. It shows a USCT soldier in full battle dress, as he would look marching between engagements. The service of USCT soldiers and sailors was vital to the success of Union forces in the war and would ultimately contribute to the liberation of all enslaved peoples of St. Mary’s County and the United States as a whole.

54th Massachusetts Co. B and 23rd USCT
United States Colored Troops Memorial

The combined living historians from the Sons of Union Veterans, the 54th Massachusetts Co. B, and the 23rd USCT, marched, held firing demonstrations, and spoke to the attendees at this momentous occasion. Many of the reenactors at this event, also participated in the 150th Anniversary of the battle of New Market Heights, where Sgt. Harris and Pvt. Barnes earned their Medals of Honor. I place this event and the New Market Heights reenactment, as two of the most significant achievements in my time as a Civil War living historian, representing the United States Colored Troops.

Info –

John G. Lancaster Park, 21550 Willows Rd, Lexington Park, MD 20653