Largely forgotten for more than a century after honorably completing their historic military service during the American Civil War, nine formerly enslaved Black men who enlisted with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry have been repeatedly overlooked by mainstream historians over the years as potentially important subjects for research and have also been an ongoing source of mystery and frustration to their descendants because the majority of their military service records have still not been digitized by state and national archives.
Thanks to a special initiative of “47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story,” researchers have been locating and digitizing a wide range of local, state and federal records over the past five years—records that have uncovered critical details about the lives of each of these nine Black soldiers—four of whom were from South Carolina, five of whom were from Louisiana/Mississippi.
“Many of these documents hold the potential to help family history researchers feel closer to their Civil War-era ancestors while also enabling historians, teachers, students, American History enthusiasts, and Civil War buffs to deepen their understanding of one of the most painful chapters in the American narrative,” explains Laurie Snyder, the founder of and managing editor for the project. “One soldier’s U.S. Civil War Pension file revealed the name of his father and wife, as well as the surname of the family in Louisiana that had enslaved him prior to the Civil War while the U.S. Freedmen’s Bureau records for a second man shined a light on what his life was like after the war ended.”
It was this newly uncovered data that led Snyder to create a new website to make these records easily available, free of charge, for researchers and the general public. That website, “Freedmen of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry,” launched on Labor Day weekend 2022, and is already receiving positive reviews.
“We’re still in the process of adding records to the site, and will continue to do so throughout the next year as more records are found and digitized, but the data contained in these records is so important that I wanted to make the documents we’ve already amassed available now so that historians at colleges and universities across the United States and educators teaching history in middle and high school classrooms across Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina can begin making use of the site this fall.
About “Freedmen of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry”
“Freedmen of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry” is a special educational initiative dedicated to researching, documenting and presenting the life stories of nine formerly enslaved Black men who enlisted with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry during two of the regiment’s most eventful years of service to the nation during the American Civil War—1862 and 1864.
About the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry
Recruited primarily at community gathering places in their respective hometowns, the soldiers who served with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry were primarily men of German heritage whose families still spoke German or “Pennsylvania Dutch” more than a century after their ancestors emigrated from Germany in search of religious and political freedom. Still others were recent immigrants from Germany, Ireland and Cuba. Formerly enslaved Black men who had been freed by the regiment from plantations in South Carolina and Louisiana were added to regimental rosters in 1862 and 1864.
In addition to fighting in the battles of Sabine Cross Roads/Mansfield, Pleasant Hill and Monett’s Ferry/Cane River during the Red River Campaign, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers also engaged in the defense of Washington, D.C. in 1861 and again in 1865, following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln; the capture of Saint John’s Bluff, Florida and Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina (1862); the garrisoning of Forts Taylor and Jefferson in Key West and the Dry Tortugas, Florida (1863); Union Major-General Philip Sheridan’s tide-turning Shenandoah Valley Campaign (1864), including the battles of Berryville, Opequon, Fisher’s Hill, and Cedar Creek; and provost (military police) and Reconstruction duties in Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina (1865). Most were finally released from duty when the regiment formally mustered out on Christmas Day in 1865.
Learn More and Support
To learn more about the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers and lend your support to this historic initiative, visit the websites of “47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story” and “Freedmen of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry,” and follow the project’s updates on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube.
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