History. A Family Affair!
The 6th Regiment Infantry US Colored Troops is back again at the New York Historical Society for Living History Days, to tell the story of men of African descent fighting for freedom . This program will continue to March with reenactors from Civil War Union and Confederate units appearing to do living history.
History is not just about anonymous soldiers in great armies or famous historical personages, or battles.though. It's also about the families and family ties to the past. When we appear at these events we carry two thick volumes that contain 208,000 of soldiers who fought in the United States Colored Troops. Nothing draws a stronger connection to history than when a visitor finds the name of a soldier that they could possibly be related to. It's far from definitive, especially given the complexity of black genealogy due to slavery, but it sparks interest. Today a mother and son visiting our display found that their was only one listing for her maiden name, Paey, in the whole volume. The volume lists his regiment, its and place it mustered. The soldier had the same first name of an uncle. This information and knowing that a name is often passed down to a descendant every couple of generations indicated a good chance of them being related to this soldier. The son found this exciting, especially when we found the naqme and regiment on the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors website database. Another side of their family also had a rare name. The son pulled out his notebook and busily copied the information. I told him what the codes on the site meant and ways they could follow up on the information.
Another visitor found it exciting to find the name of an officer from who she is descended listed, who served in the 54th Massachusetts, of the movie Glory. Seven thousand white officers served in the USCT in command of black troops. One reason this was attractive to many white soldiers was it was possible to rise in rank faster serving the USCT than the regular army. This was especially attractive to new immigrants, trying to get a foot hold in this country. Two hundred-fifty German speaking officers served in the USCT.
Nothing was more touching and personal than the dedication ceremony for the Pennington African Cemetery.With great love and dedication the neglected cemetery dating back to the 1840's had been refurbished and graves identified and marked. The graves of USCT's were identified and invitations sent to descendants identified from the records. The response was very emotional, reflecting gratitude, pride, and personal connection. I suspect for most people this would be the case. But it's not surprising that it's not necessarily so. History can be painful. . Not everyone will find a Civil War hero in their. past. Many black families left memories of humiliation and suffering in the past, and don't care to be reminded. Some individuals when contacted about being descendants of USCT's buried in the Pennington African Cemetery insisted that there was a mistake, because the are "white" (now). Apparently for them as time passed, they "passed", leaving an unwanted past behind them.