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6th Regiment, United States Colored Heavy Artillery

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The regiment was originally formed as the 1st Regiment Alabama Siege Artillery(African Descent) from ex-slaves who had fled to Corinth, Mississippi. The regiment was re-designated the 6 US Colored Heavy Artillery on March 11, 1864. The white officers had been promoted from other units, such as 1st Missouri Light Artillery, where they been NCO's. Most of the officers had no combat experience. The commander was Lieut-Colonel Thomas J. Jackson. He assigned the newly promoted Major Lionel Booth as the field commander.

On March 17, Lieut-Colonel Thomas J. Jackson was placed in command of the regiment. The next day he turned the command over to newly promoted Major Lionel F. Booth. Major Booth and most of the other white officers had held the rank of sergeant before accepting their position in the colored battery. The 6 USCHA was ordered to Fort Pillow on the Mississippi River north of Memphis to support the 13th Tennessee Cavalry(US) as they recruited more men.

Major Booth moved the 6 USCHA to Fort Pillow on March 26 to support Bradford's Tennessee Cavalry Battalion, where both units continued to recruit and train new soldiers.

The regiment arrived at Fort Pillow on March 29 and, being the senior officer, Major Booth was placed in command of the fort.

Major Booth was the highest ranking officer at the garrison so he was in command during the Battle of Fort Pillow on April 12, 1864. He was killed by a sniper early in the battle so the command was under Major William F. Bradford, who had no combat experience.

On April 12, the fort was defended by 550 cavalry and artillerymen when it was attacked by approximately 3,000 troops lead by General James R. Chalmers and Confederate Cavalry Corps commander, General Nathan B. Forrest. The battery took positions inside the inner fort walls. However, the Confederates had occupied the surrounding bluffs that allowed them to fire down into the fort. Early in the morning, Major Bradford was shot through the heart by a Confederate sniper. The command of the fort fell to the in-experienced Major William F. Bradford, the commander of the 13th Tennessee Cavalry(US). The command of the 6 Heavy Artillery probably fell to Captain Charles Epeneter, who also was wounded in the head.

The Battery operated two 12-pound howitzers at the northern embrasures or openings in the parapet. Several days before the battle, two 10-pound Parrotts were brought to Fort Pillow. These pieces were placed outside the fort at the beginning of the battle, but were soon moved inside the fort. Wooden platforms were hastily erected adjacent to two open embrasures facing south. During the final assault on the fort, all Union artillery was largely ineffective because the guns could not be depressed enough to fire upon the Confederates on the steep terrain below. Two other cannon, 6-pound James Rifles, were placed in the center two embrasures and manned by a section of men from Company D, 2nd US Colored Light Artillery.

The regiment suffered many casualties at the battle, but unlike many newspaper reports, all of the black soldiers were not killed. Fifty-six were taken prisoner by the Confederates. Most of them were taken to Mississippi and Alabama and returned to hard labor. Whereas the white captors of the Bradford's 13th Tennessee Cavalry(US) were sent to Andersonville Prison (Andersonville National Historic Site) where a large percentage died. Several of the black prisoners escaped and many of those missing in action eventually returned to their unit.


The 6 USCHA had 8 Officers and 213 Enlisted men at Fort Pillow before the battle. A total of 56 black soldiers were taken prisoner, most from the 6 USCHA. The black prisoners were returned to hard labor, building forts or working in salt mines.

After the battle, Lt-Col. Jackson resumed command of the 6 US Colored Heavy Artillery. On April 26, 1864, the regiment was renamed 7th US Colored Heavy Artillery. Finally, the survivors of the regiment were formed into the 11 US Colored Infantry (New) on Feb 7, 1865. The men were mustered out of service on Dec 11, 1865.

The names of those who served in the 6 USCHA are engraved on the African-American Memorial, Washington, D.C., under the 11 USCT(New). For your research, many soldiers who served in the 6 USCHA also have service records under the 11 USCT(New).

6th Regiment, United States Colored Heavy Artillery

Overview:Organized from 2nd Mississippi Heavy Artillery (African Descent). Designated 5th Heavy Artillery March 11, 1864, and 6th Heavy Artillery April 26, 1864. Attached to Post of Natchez, Miss., District of Vicksburg, Miss., Dept. of Tennessee, and Dept. of Mississippi to February, 1865. Post of Natchez, Dept. of Mississippi, to April, 1865. Dept. of the Gulf to May, 1866.

Service:-Duty at Natchez, Miss., and Vidalia, La., till May, 1866. Skirmish near Vidalia, La., July 22, 1864. Attack on Steamer "Clara Bell" July 24, 1864 (4 Cos.). Expedition from Natchez to Gillespie's Plantation, La., August 4-6, 1864. Concordia Bayou August 5. Expedition from Natchez to Buck's Ferry and skirmish September 19-22, 1864. Expedition from Natchez to Waterproof and Sicily Island September 26-30, 1864. Expedition from Natchez to Homichitto River October 5-8, 1864. Expedition from Vidalia to York Plantation, La., October 26-27, 1864. Skirmish at Black River October 31 and November 1, 1864. Mustered out May 18, 1866.

MISSISSIPPI VOLUNTEERS. 2nd REGIMENT HEAVY ARTILLERY (AFRICAN DESCENT). Organized at Natchez, Miss., September 12, 1863. Attached to post of Natchez, Miss., District of Northeast Louisiana, to January, 1864. Post of Vicksburg, District of Vicksburg, Miss., to March, 1864. District of Natchez, Miss., to April, 1864.

Service:-Garrison duty at Natchez and Vicksburg, Miss., till April, 1864. Skirmish at Vidalia February 7, 1864. Designation changed to 5th U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery March 11, 1864, and to 6th U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery, April 26, 1864 (which see).[1]

Sources

  1. National Park Service Soldiers and Sailors Database
  • The Campaigns of Gen. Nathan B. Forrest. Gen Thomas Jordan and J. P. Pryor. Da Capo Press, 1996. 736 pages. Appendix includes a list of 226 Prisoners of Fort Pillow.
  • "Fort Pillow, a Civil War Massacre, and Public Memory" by John Cimprich, LSU Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8071-3110-5. 192 pages. Maps.
  • "River Run Red" by Andrew Ward, Viking Penguin, 2005. 530 pages. ISBN 0-670-03440-1.
  • The River Was Dyed With Blood; Nathan Bedford Forrest & Fort Pillow", Brian Steel Wills, Unv of Oklahoma Press, 2014. 274 pages.


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