First African-American Civil War Volunteers Enlist in Gallatin

By Monique Gooch

GALLATIN, TN — The first African American volunteers to fight in the Civil War in Tennessee enlisted in Gallatin, TN in 1863. Tennessee was one of the last states to join the Confederacy. and this group of soldiers marked the first occurrence of an organized fighting force of African-Americans raised in Tennessee.

There is a marker in downtown Gallatin dedicated to those soldiers. The text on marker reads: “1863: Among the first ex-slaves in the Union Army were 200 local volunteers who enlisted here on the Public Square in July 1863. They became a part of the Thirteenth United States Colored Infantry at Nashville. Two months later the army recruited additional ex-slaves at Gallatin, Nashville, and Murfreesboro to form the Fourteenth Colored Infantry here.”

According to the National Archives article titled, “Black Soldiers in the U.S. Military During the Civil War,” “In July 17, 1862, … After the Union Army turned back Lee’s first invasion of the North at Antietam, MD, and the Emancipation Proclamation was subsequently announced, black recruitment was pursued in earnest. Volunteers from South Carolina, Tennessee and Massachusetts filled the first authorized black regiments. Recruitment was slow until black leaders such as Frederick Douglass encouraged black men to become soldiers to ensure eventual full citizenship. Two of Douglass’s own sons contributed to the war effort. Volunteers began to respond, and in May 1863 the Government established the Bureau of Colored Troops to manage the burgeoning numbers of black soldiers.

By the end of the Civil War, roughly 179,000 black men (10% of the Union Army) served as soldiers in the U.S. Army. Nearly 40,000 black soldiers died over the course of the war. Black soldiers served in artillery and infantry and performed all noncombat support functions that sustain an army, as well. There were nearly 80 black commissioned officers. Black women, who could not formally join the Army, nonetheless served as nurses, spies, and scouts, the most famous being Harriet Tubman, who scouted for the 2d South Carolina Volunteers. Because of prejudice against them, black units were not used in combat as extensively as they might have been.” 

There is also a sign dedicated to the City of Gallatin. It reads: “The City of Gallatin and its Downtown Square date back to the early 1800s. Throughout the decades, the face of the square has changed, but it remains the heart of the City. In the 1970s, the square underwent a revitalization that included new, decorative street lights. Each light displayed a plaque honoring those who donated to the project. The City saved and restored these plaques in 2009 when the City revitalized the downtown with new sidewalks, streets, plaza areas, landscaping and new lights. The City offers this monument as a thank you to everyone who made these projects possible.”