Black Volunteer Soldiers Were Heroes – 1863 to 1865
Monument to Those Black Heroes – Defaced in 2020
Local millionaires, members of Congress, City Council and the State House, plus thousands of citizens of West Oak Lane, Philadelphia, and Cheltenham Township, PA, visited my offices from 1975 to 2000, while I was publisher of The Leader newspaper, a unique publication that boasted 25,000 circulation and nearly 100% Black readers.
Of all the folks I met, none were more interesting than the residents of tiny (3,500) LaMott Village, named after Lucretia Mott, who lived there from the 1850s until her death in 1880. Her home, Roadside, was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Adjacent to Northwest Philadelphia, LaMott’s special charm is its history – homes built in the 1800s, even a local museum, but most of all, personal and community pride in the training of thousands of Black volunteer troops who fought in the Civil War.
Many hours were spent with enthusiasts reviewing posters, handbills and browned photos of the village’s Camp William Penn. A favorite complaint was lack of recognition that LaMott’s 3d Regiment volunteers were the first to storm Fort Wagner in Charleston SC before the 54th Massachusetts (Glory, 1989) attacked in the second wave.
Black regiments (1,000 men each) mustered at Camp William Penn were the 3d, 6th, 22d, 24th, 25th, 32d, 41st, 43d, 45th and 127th. At the time the total Philadelphia region’s Black population was less than 20,000.
Nationally, 180,000 Black men (10% of the Union forces) were soldiers in the U.S. Army, and another 19,000 served in the Navy. Nearly 40,000 Black soldiers died during the war. Most of them – 30,000 – perished from infection or disease.
Black soldiers were assigned to active front line combat duty, unlike their only non-combat role in the Spanish-American conflict and World War I.
One of those soldiers, Sgt. William Harvey Carney (Mass-54), carried the American Flag throughout the Fort Wagner battle, never dropping it despite being shot seven times. Carney was the first of 24 Black Americans to win the Congressional Medal of Honor in that war.
A stark contrast between the Camp William Penn troops and those in Mass-54 was the right to vote.
In 1838 Quaker-led Pennsylvania took away the right to vote from all Black men – not restored until 1869. They were allowed to vote in Massachusetts in 1860 if they paid taxes, the same as Blacks in Delaware and North Carolina. Black freemen had full voting rights in Virginia.
Strangely, a Pennsylvania Black soldier in the Civil War – who had no right to vote – was fighting soldiers in Virginia and North Carolina, where Blacks could vote.
For Blacks, however, the war was about ending slavery, and tales of bravery in that pursuit are LaMott’s heritage. Most fought to the death, because capture by the South meant either slavery or execution on the spot. Blacks were not taken prisoner of war by orders of the Confederacy.
In a declaration by Congress it was noted:
By the end of the Civil War, Black carpenters, chaplains, cooks, guards, laborers, nurses, scouts, spies, steamboat pilots, surgeons, and teamsters also contributed to the war cause. There were nearly 80 black commissioned officers. Black women, who could not formally join the Army, nonetheless served as nurses, spies and scouts, the most famous being Harriet Tubman, who scouted for the 2d South Carolina Volunteers.
Philadelphia Inquirer August 5, 1863
On Oct. 31, 1985 the Camp Town (LaMott) Historic District, Montgomery County became a recognized historic site in Montgomery County PA under the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act. The following entry was part of the declaration.
The Third Regiment U.S.C.T. – A History
Courtesy of United States Colored Troops (USCT)
The enlisted men of this regiment were principally from the interior of Pennsylvania. They rendezvoused at Camp William Penn, at Chelton Hills, a few miles north of (center city) Philadelphia, where the regiment was organized in August, 1863, with the following field officers: Benjamin C. Tilghman, Colonel; Ulysses Doubleday, Lieutenant Colonel; Frederick W. Bardwell, Major. Colonel Tilghman had commanded the Twenty-sixth Pennsylvania, until wounded at Chancellorsville.
Soon after its organization, the Third was ordered to the Department of the South, and proceeded thither, arriving at Morris Island while the siege of Fort Wagner was in full progress. It was immediately put into the trenches, and shared in the hardships of that memorable trial of skill and endurance which resulted in the fall of the fort. The loss during this siege was six killed and twelve wounded. In one of the night attacks which resulted in the capture of a line of rifle-pits, a Corporal was reported missing.
Two days after, the advance sappers came upon his dead body. Warned by previous experience, they were careful to examine it thoroughly before attempting to remove it. A small string was discovered attached to its leg, which led away to the trigger of a torpedo buried in the sand. Such was the warfare which this command was called to meet.
Early in the year 1864, the regiment moved to Florida, with the forces under General Truman Seymour. On the return of the troops to Jacksonville, after the disastrous battle of Olustee, the Third was drilled as a heavy artillery regiment, and garrisoned the forts around the town, one company being posted at a fort on the St. John’s River below, and one at Fernandina. During the summer, Colonel Tilghman was employed on detached duty at the north, the command of the regiment devolving on Lieutenant Colonel Doubleday. Under the latter, it took part in several expeditions into the interior, undertaken by General William Birney.
In September, Colonel Tilghman returned and resumed command. Small parties were frequently sent out into the surrounding country, the expeditions occasionally extending far into the interior, for the purpose of bringing in contrabands, and destroying property belonging to the rebel government. On one occasion, a body of 25 enlisted men of the Third, and one private of another regiment, all under command of Sergeant Major Henry James, proceeded about sixty miles up the St. John’s in boats, rowing by night, and hiding in the swamps by day, marched thence thirty miles into the interior, gathered together fifty or sixty contrabands, besides several horses and wagons, burned store-houses and a distillery belonging to the rebel government, and returned bringing their recruits and spoils all safely into camp.
On their return, they were intercepted by a body of cavalry, which was beaten off after a brisk fight, and they succeeded in crossing the St. John’s without loss, carrying with them their wounded. The courage and good conduct displayed by the party in this affair, composed as it was, entirely of colored soldiers, were highly creditable, and were commended in an order by the General commanding the Department of the South. It was somewhat remarkable, that the regiment never lost a man as prisoner, though raiding parties not infrequently were beaten, and driven by superior numbers.
The general feeling among the men seemed to be, that immediate death was preferable to the treatment likely to be experienced as prisoners, On one occasion, a soldier who had been surrounded and driven into the river, stubbornly refused repeated calls to surrender, and was killed on the spot.
After the cessation of hostilities, and the surrender of the rebel armies, the regiment was posted at Tallahassee, Lake City, and other points in Florida. On the 16th of May, 1865, Colonel Tilghman resigned, and Major Bardwell was appointed to succeed him, Lieutenant Colonel Doubleday having been promoted to Colonel of the Forty-fifth Colored, in the October previous. The regiment remained in service in Florida, until October, when it returned to Philadelphia, where, on the 30th, it was mustered out of service.
Source: Bates, Samuel P. History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-65, Harrisburg, 1868-1871.
- Organized at Camp William Penn, near Philadelphia, Pa., August 3-10, 1863.
- Ordered to Dept. of the South.
- Attached to 4th Brigade, Morris Island, S.C., 10th Corps,
- Dept. of the South, to November, 1863.
- 3rd Brigade, Morris Island, S.C., 10th Corps, to January, 1864.
- Montgomery’s Brigade, District of Hilton Head, S. C., 10th Corps, to February, 1864.
- 2nd Brigade, Vodges’ Division, District of Florida, Dept. of the South, to April, 1864.
- District of Florida, Dept. of the South, to October, 1864.
- 4th Separate Brigade, District of Florida, Dept. of the South, to July, 1865.
- Dept. of Florida to October, 1865.
- Siege of Forts Wagner and Gregg, Morris Island, S.C., August 20-September 7, 1863.
- Action at Forts Wagner and Gregg August 26.
- Capture of Forts Wagner and Gregg September 7.
- Operations against Charleston from Morris Island till January, 1864.
- Moved to Hilton Head, S.C., thence to Jacksonville, Fla., February 5-7, and duty there as Heavy Artillery till May, 1865. (1 Co. at Fernandina, Fla.)
- Expedition from Jacksonville to Camp Milton May 31-June 3, 1864.
- Front Creek July 15.
- Bryan’s Plantation October 21.
- Duty at Tallahassee, Lake City and other points in Florida May to October, 1865.
- Mustered out October 31, 1865.
Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion Compiled and Arranged from Official Records of the Federal and Confederate Armies, Reports of the Adjutant Generals of the Several States, the Army Registers, and Other Reliable Documents and Sources. Des Moines, Iowa: The Dyer Publishing Company, 1908
Philadelphia’s “Badlands” is just two miles from LaMott. The city has neglected law enforcement in minority neighborhoods for half a century, arrogantly claiming that only lenient “community policing” was necessary in the Black community. As crime increased, police protection and city services continued to drop, leaving only the hopeless and the criminal.
The contrast between the nearby Black communities of LaMott and Philadelphia is personally chilling. My first two decades were spent in the now extended “Badlands” of Kensington, where today life is even more desperate than depicted in the above ABC 1995 report.