Whites listed as serving in Colored Troops in Civil War

+9 votes
This is a generalization of a conclusion I have come to after finding two profiles in my family listed this way.  Both men were assigned as officers
to regiments of negro soldiers but were not colored.  If your ancestor is
listed on Family Search lists of colored troops, see if this might really be
listed under the same conditions as mine were.  Maybe a tip that can help someone else.
in The Tree House by Beulah Cramer G2G6 Pilot (269k points)
There were also Confederate "colored troops" with white commanders. My ancestor Willis Lee fought with his white uncle, Robert E Lee

4 Answers

+7 votes
Best answer

"Segregated units were formed with black enlisted men and typically commanded by white officers and black noncommissioned officers." (National Archives, Black Soldiers in the Civil War)

At the end of the Civil War there were less than 80 black commissioned officers from a total of 198,000 black enlisted men in the army and Navy. (dto.)

by Helmut Jungschaffer G2G6 Pilot (542k points)
selected by Jerry Dolman
+6 votes
This is fascinating! I recently came across a draft card for one of my ancestors that listed him as both "Indian" and "white" but gave a physical description that sounds nothing like white. I'd never given any thought to how important these details could be until I started hunting for the origins of my DNA composition.
by Anonymous M......... G2G Crew (500 points)

M-- the same was true for many people who were also called "Redbones" in Louisiana and southeast Texas, and "Melungeons" in Virginia, the Carolinas, and surrounding areas. The same people were described on various documents as "mulatto," "Indian," "black," "white"-- depending on the eye of the beholder and the particular family member interviewed. There are free-space pages with fascinating information about Melungeons, Redbones, and the Neutral Ground where many Redbones lived.

+5 votes

Located on the north side of Washington, D. C., there is a African-American Civil War Memorial.  Next to it is a small museum with some documents on the black soldiers.  I have researched the black units that fought at the Battle of Fort Pillow, 12 April 1864, and I went to the "museum" to ask if they had any information on the 6 US Colored Heavy Artillery.  I named the Major who was killed during the battle.  They had no clue.  
Then I went out to the Memorial and it has all the names of the soldiers engraved on 3 or 4 semi-circular walls around a statue.  I could not find the 6 USCHA.  Then it dawned on me.  The 6 USCHA lost so many men that it was re-formed and the men transferred to an infantry unit, the 11 US Colored Troops (New).  There were the engraved names of the men I was looking for under the header 11 USCT(New).  Included on the memorial were all the white officers, including Col. Thomas Jackson who was not at the battle but sitting comfortably back at Memphis. 

So you will find hundreds and surely thousands of white officers listed on the African-American Civil War Memorial.  

by Steve Cole G2G6 Mach 1 (15.3k points)
+3 votes
Remember the movie: "Glory"?  Mathew Broderick starred as Col. Robert Gould Shaw who leads the first all African-American volunteer unit in the Civil War.  Worth watching for the history.

That said, and through historical research, blacks were not allowed to be officers, so all officers in designated "Negro"  unites, were white.  Perfectly reasonable to find white ancestors then to be listed in all black units.

I have found one of my own ancestors who was a white officer in an all black unit hence the research, and I watched the movie again!

Happy Hunting!  Sheryl
by Sheryl Moore G2G6 Mach 9 (91.7k points)

Did you research to see if he had served previously in a white unit?  The Army offered promotions to entice white soldiers to transfer to a US Colored Troop regiment.

The regiment that I studied was the 6 US Colored Heavy Artillery.  The Major Bradford had been a sergeant in a Missouri light artillery.  There were other men who came from that same artillery unit and received their commission as a Lieutenant or Captain.
Yes, that is the case.

Oh, but there was an exception. The Louisiana Militia had a black regiment with black officers who were recruited by a Union general when New Orleans surrendered. It is true that there was an official ban against black officers in the military, but an exception for Louisiana, which, as a condition of statehood had carved out a loophole for laws that went against its culture and practices. See Louisiana Native Guards.

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