Many Civil War enthusiasts know of the U.S. Colored Troops presence at Petersburg, VA due to the news coverage of their participation at the Crater, July 30, 1864. In that instance, U.S. Colored Troops had been trained to go into the crater following the explosion but were pulled by Union officers at the last minute and replaced by white soldiers.
The assault by General Ulysses S. Grant featured over nine months of trench warfare, as General Robert E. Lee’s forces had constructed more than thirty miles of trenches to protect Petersburg. Although greatly outnumbered, the trenches protected the Confederate forces.
What is not generally know is that during the siege of Petersburg, twenty-one U. S. Colored Troop regiments were in action from the middle to June 9, 1864 through March 25, 1865. U.S.C.T. regiments in action include the following: 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 10th, 19th, 22nd, 23rd, 27th, 28th, 30th, 31st, 36th, 39th, 41st, 43rd, 45th, 116th, the 29th Connecticut Colored Troops and the 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry. At full strength, those twenty-one regiments would have had 21,000 black Union soldiers. It was by far the largest participation by the black soldiers during the entire Civil War.
Researchers have studied the U.S.C.T. casualties at Petersburg and have found that there were over 3,000 U.S.C.T. soldiers who were killed, wounded, missing in action or prisoners of war as a result of the siege. There were approximately 42,000 Union casualties overall for the entire period of Union assaults. The main battles where the U.S.C.T. forces were present during that time period occurred at Chaffin’s Farm, Deep Bottom, New Market Heights, Darbytown Road, Fair Oaks, and Hatcher’s Run.
Of those 3,000 plus casualties, one third (1,000) were casualties on July 30. The total Union casualties on that day were 3,798.
A presentation on the U.S.C.T. presence and casualties will be provided on August 16, 2014 as part of the Sesquicentennial Commemoration of the Siege of Petersburg at the Petersburg National Battlefield Park.