Telling the “Lost Story” of African American Patriots of the Civil War
The popular story isn’t always the true story.
Acclaimed historian and curator of the Washington, D.C.-based African American Civil War Museum Hari Jones has made it his life’s mission to tell the true story – the “Lost Story” – of Americans of African descent who fought in the Civil War 150 years ago. In the popular story often taught in American schools, the true story of African American soldiers who fought in the war often gets lost.
The sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War and Grand Review has breathed new life into an old myth that United States Colored Troops (USCT) were excluded from the Union Army’s victory parade, which signaled the end of the war.
As part of Dauphin County’s 150th anniversary of the Civil War commemoration, Jones vividly described the “Lost Story” at four, standing-room-only lectures held in October at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg.
“When I first met Hari, he shed light on the many myths surrounding the military contributions of African American soldiers,” said Dauphin County Chairman Jeff Haste, who spearheaded the county’s 150th commemoration. “Although you might not have learned about it in the classroom, the ‘Lost Story’ is historically accurate and important to tell.”
According to Jones, contributions of African Americans during this time in our history have long been ignored or misrepresented. Even Dauphin County’s pivotal role in war and anti-slavery movement has long been overshadowed by the epic battle of Gettysburg.
“Simply put, our goal with this effort is to remember and reflect on our history,” said Commissioner Mike Pries.
“He Who Defends Freedom is Worthy of All its Franchises.”
In the fall of 1865, a “Reception of the Colored Heroes – A Grand Demonstration – Under the auspices of the Garnet League” was held in Harrisburg.
On the morning of November 14, 1865, 13 regiments formed on State Street in Harrisburg, led by grand marshal and Harrisburg’s own Thomas Morris Chester. The soldiers marched through the city to the residence of General Simon Cameron on Front Street, where President Lincoln’s first Secretary of War proclaimed, “I never doubted that the people of African descent would play a great part in this struggle, and I am proud to say that all my anticipations have been more than realized.”
The procession then continued to the Capitol grounds, where Professor William Howard Day delivered the keynote address and “welcomed the soldiers of the Republic, soldiers of loyalty and liberty, of truth and justice, against rebellion and slavery.” Later, a dinner and grand ball were held at the courthouse.
Many USCT regiments, however, weren’t able to participate in the Grand Demonstration because they were on duty and enforcing the law in the South in support of emancipation.
“Today, 150 years after the end of the war, we must not forget our past and the quest for freedom and struggle for equality,” said Commissioner George P. Hartwick, III. “The ‘Lost Story’ deserves to be told.”