Norm Hill, left, Chairman of the Tennessee Historical Commission and a USCT re-enactor, spoke on the role of U.S. Colored Troops during the war at the March BONPS meeting. BONPS President Doug Jones presents a check for $250 for the USCT statue project at Nashville National Cemetery.

BONPS donates to USCT statue project at National Cemetery as role of USCT discussed at March meeting

On May 31, 2004, at 11 a.m., the United States Colored Troops Memorial will be dedicated at Nashville National Cemetery, where approximately 2,000 African-American soliders lay at rest. The life-sized bronze sculpture by Roy Butler was modeled by local USCT re-enactor Bill Radcliffe. The cost for the entire project is $80,000 and tax-exempt donations are being solicited. More information can be found at

BONPS donated $250 toward the project at the March 18th meeting at Belmont Mansion. Norm Hill, Chairman of the Tennessee Historical Commission and local USCT re-enactor, spoke about the role of African-Americans during the Civil War.

"Will the Negro fight?" was one of the questions asked at the time, Hill said. There were many doubts. That question was answered at the Battle of Nashville, Dec. 15-16, 1864 as USCT regiments "stood and received the fire of the enemy." The fighting was especially fierce on the US left flank the first day and at Overton Hill the second day.

The question was also answered at many other battles as USCT soldiers fought for their freedom. The answer also came at Nazi-occupied Europe, the Korean peninsula, Vietnam and the Middle East.

Twenty thousand blacks served in the Union army in Tennessee, one-tenth the entire USCT enrollment in the war. Ten thousand blacks built the Nashville and Northwestern Railroad west from Nashville to the Tennessee River, and hundreds if not thousands built the fortifications around Nashville, including Fort Negley.

One of the first duties assigned to USCT units, which were all commanded by white officers, was to man the guardhouses along the railroad to prevent and repulse Confederate cavalry attacks against bridges and trestles.

Hill cited Frederick Douglas: "First the cartridge box, then the jury box, then the ballot box." He also noted that colored troops were paid $10 a month while white soliders were paid $13. And the black soldiers had to pay $3 a month for their uniform.

Hill noted that although most of the Nashville battlefield has been lost to development there are still many remnants--"real treasures"--that deserve to be preserved. He also added that more needs to be done to teach our children about our heritage. "We're all in this together," he said.

The USCT statue will be life sized and modeled after local USCT re-enactor Bill Radcliffe. (Photo by Roy Butler.)


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