Local History Notes

Notes about the history of Iredell County by Joel Reese, Local History Librarian.

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Dec 30

Civil War 102nd Regiment

Posted on December 30, 2019 at 8:50 AM by Iredell County Public Library

On Feb. 23rd, 2019 Maurice O. Johnson with the 102nd U.S. Colored Troops appeared at the Iredell County Public Library in Statesville to present a program on African-American soldiers in the armed forces from the Revolutionary War through the Civil War. Mr. Johnson was in full reenactment uniform with a special including Civil War rifles and a timeline showing African American participation in our country’s wars.

The 102nd United States Colored Troops Company B Black History Group began during Michigan’s Sesquicentennial Celebration. Today it is a non-profit, historical reenactment group operating out of Michigan. Over the years the group has participated in reenactments, parades, school presentations, and ceremonies in several other states and Canada. Maurice O. Johnson began reenacting with the 102nd over twenty years ago. He served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969 and returned to Michigan where he became a licensed plumber and carpenter. He relocated to N.C. about ten years ago and built a house in Huntersville after his wife became ill and he needed a home with only one level.

Mr. Johnson still returns to Michigan to reenact at major events and serves as a Regimental Sergeant and Quartermaster Sergeant during reenactments. He points out that African Americans have been a part of America from the beginning noting that the first American to die in the Revolutionary War was a black man named, Crispus Attucks, who was shot and killed in 1770 in the Boston Massacre. Mr. Johnson’s lecture Saturday at 1 pm is called, “The First 100 Years from a Black Man’s Perspective”.

The 102nd Regiment was a unit in the Union Army during the Civil War. It was organized as the 1st Michigan Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment before being re-designated as the 102nd Regiment. The unit was formed after Henry Barns, an editor for the Detroit Tribune and Advertiser, began an editorial and letter writing campaign requesting that a regiment be formed so that black men could also fight. In response U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton authorized Michigan Gov. Austin Blair to organize a regiment of black infantrymen.

On Feb. 17, 1863, the 1st Michigan Colored Infantry was formed at Camp Ward outside Detroit. The 1st Michigan was a volunteer regiment of 845 black men most of whom were from Detroit, southern Michigan, and Upper Canada (now Ontario). There is ongoing discussion over why the Civil War was fought, but to these men it was clearly a war to end slavery. Seventy-two of these volunteers were from Canada where they were already free, but they risked everything including a possible return to slavery should they be captured in order to fight for the Union. Escaped slaves were among the volunteers and many may have been fighting to free family members still enslaved in the South.

On May 23, 1864, the 1st Michigan Colored Infantry was re-designated as the 102nd Regiment United States Colored Troops. The regiment left Detroit on March 28, 1864, with 900 men and would spend the next 19 months in the field, campaigning in South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia. As in later wars such as World War I the black soldiers were often put to support tasks such as digging trenches, transporting supplies, and guard duty. While in Florida destroying railway lines though, they were attacked by Confederate cavalry. The 102nd fought and repulsed the Confederates and were judged by their white superior officers as well-qualified for battle. Later in Manchester they would take part in an attack on the flank of Confederate forces alongside another black regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

In all 1,446 black men served during the 27 months the 102nd existed. Six were killed in battle and another five died of battlefield wounds. Like in most of the white regiments disease took a heavy toll taking the lives of 129 men in the regiment. After the war ended the regiment served as an occupation force until they returned to Detroit where the unit disbanded on Oct. 17, 1865.

Joel Reese, Local History Librarian

Iredell County Public Library

This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Reenactor to tell story of African-American Soldiers” on Feb. 22, 2019