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Young people learn many local blacks fought in Civil War
Ruth Hodge discussed the history of Carlisle's African-American Civil War soldiers Thursday at Bosler Library as part of the "One Book, Two Counties" program. (Michael Bupp/The Sentinel)

"It's wonderful to see so many young people out tonight," Ruth E. Hodge said Thursday after her talk at the Bosler Free Library.

Speaking to a packed room filled with young faces, the retired state archivist and author of the recently published "Guide to African American Resources at the Pennsylvania State Archives" provided insight on "Carlisle's African American Civil War Soldiers."

Her discussion was part of the "One Book, Two Counties" events in Cumberland and Dauphin counties. The program focuses on the reading of the Civil War book "The Killer Angels."

Slow to organize blacks

"Pennsylvania was very slow to organize any black regiments," she said.

This she illustrated with a letter dated May 20, 1861, from the commander of the 1st Colored Regiment of Pennsylvania, George Stevens, to Gov. Curtin.

Stevens writes that he has "any number of abled colored men ready to fight in the war, needing only an hour's notice to fight in the war."

The 1862 Militia Act authorized the president to receive into the service of the United States "for the purpose of constructing entrenchments or performing camp duty, or other labor, or any military or naval service for which they may be found competent, persons of African descent."

"Clearly the wording of the authorization shows that labor and not the duties of a soldier was intended," Hodge said.

The African-Americans were formed into regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops. Eventually 179,000 blacks under the command of 7,000 white officers served in the Civil War.

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However Gov. Curtin steadfastly refused to use African-American troops. In 1863, more than two years after Fort Sumter, Curtin still was resisting.

Began training in 1863

Pennsylvania's first black recruits did not begin training at Camp William Penn, near Philadelphia, until June 1863. It wasn't after until the battle of Gettysburg that Curtin changed his mind.

Until the state accepted African-American troops, some of Carlisle's blacks traveled to other states to enlist. Many joined the famed 54th Massachusetts Volunteers, subject of the recent movie "Glory."

"I've come up with 24" Carlisle-area residents who served in the 54th, Hodge said adding that her research never ends.

She said a total 8,612 black Pennsylvanians fought in the war. The 3rd Regiment of the United States Colored Troops was the first of eleven colored regiments.

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