What: Discussion about the 44th United States Colored Troops
When: Saturday, Feb. 25, 2 p.m.
Where: Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center
How much: Free
By the end of the Civil War, roughly 179,000 black men—which accounted for nearly 10 percent of the entire Union Army—served as soldiers in the U.S. Army. An additional 19,000 served in the Navy, according to the National Archives.
Many are familiar with a bit of this history thanks to the 1989 release of the movie "Glory," which told the story of the first formal unit of the U.S. Army to be made up entirely of black men, the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers.
Not as familiar is the story of a regiment of more than 800 freed slaves from North Georgia and Southeast Tennessee who enlisted in Chattanooga in 1864 to form the 44th United States Colored Troops (USCT).
A free program at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park this weekend will share the story of the brave men in the USCT, who took great risk and personal sacrifice to quite literally fight for their freedom.
"The 44th CT's came from everywhere. Just like today with U.S. troops, when you enlist you are sent to a central unit. Many of these men are just lost in history. So many laid down their lives and are now forgotten," park ranger Christopher Young said.
Over the course of the war, an estimated 40,000 black soldiers died, the majority from infection or disease, according to the archives.
"What happens with the 44th was that many were captured in Dalton. These men were then put to work for the Confederate Army. Many were afraid they would be killed there or put back into slavery. But they were still willing to give their lives for their freedom," Young said.
In addition to the troops' service in North Georgia, they also fought in the Battle of Nashville in December of 1864, officials said.
The men were subjected to internal struggles against their fellow soldiers in white regiments, facing prejudice and bigotry from their own side.
There are no commemorative markers in the Chickamauga Battlefield honoring the 44th USCT because they did not take part in the battle for Chattanooga or Chickamauga, according to Young.
But a visit to Renaissance Park in North Chattanooga will take interested historians back to the place where the USCT assembled.
One of the historical features of the riverfront park is Camp Contraband—the name given to an encampment that existed on the site during the Civil War.
"The camp was a haven for a large number of refugees, most of whom were liberated slaves seeking safety within the Union lines. The former slaves were hired to do most of the manual labor for building the military buildings, stockades, stables, etc., in Chattanooga during the war but were not allowed to live on the south side of the river," it is explained in a park overview.
Many of the colored troops were also quartered there, a majority of whom eventually moved back away from the river and created Hill City, one of the city’s largest post-Civil War black neighborhoods.
Young said the program this weekend discussing the USCT will feature two rare photographs of former slave Hubbard Pryor.
"Pryor escaped a plantation in Polk Co., Ga., and came all the way to Chattanooga to enlist in the 44th CT. Even an escaped slave made his way under the cover of darkness and through pine thickets just so he could enlist and fight," Young said.
One photo shows Pryor right after he gets to Chattanooga in torn and tattered clothes. The other is after he enlists, showing him in a federal uniform.
The existence of these two images makes Hubbard one of the more notable members of the colored troops, according to Young.
"He is more notable because we actually have a face to go with a name. We can see what he looked like as a slave and as an enlisted man," he said.
Sign up for our email list to get your morning news delivered directly to your inbox. All we need is your email address.