City’s Black, Civil War, Union Army Troops topic of Historical Society meeting May 24

Published 5:00 am Monday, May 23, 2022

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Many, if not most of us, are unfamiliar with the significant impact on Union Army troop numbers and effectiveness of the enlistment during the Civil War of formerly enslaved men, men who had been freed from enslavement by President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863.

Likewise, how such enlistments came to be, who the enlisted were, what their fates were, and how Natchez was affected have not been widely understood, even here, a major site of this revolutionary development in the Union’s prosecution of the War.

Consider the significance of the virtually overnight journey in Natchez of these persons from chattel slavery to one of the key indices of American citizenship, service in the Nation’s armed forces. How extraordinary this development must have been for the enlistees and everyone concerned.

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These issues and more will be answered at the monthly meeting of the Natchez Historical Society this Tuesday, May 24, at 6 p.m. at the Historic Natchez Foundation, 108 S. Commerce St. The title of the presentation for the evening is “From Enslavement to Enlistment: Profiles of the Men of the 58th Infantry, U.S. Colored Troops.”

The guest presenter is Jeff Mansell, lead historian for the Natchez Historical Park. A familiar face to the Historical Society and Natchez, Jeff will present the findings of his latest research into the 58th U. S. Colored Troops and the creation of Fort McPherson, the Union fortification established by Union troops after their arrival in Natchez in July 1863. In Jeff’s research, he has examined and recorded information found in more than 1,500 enlistment papers for the men of the 58th. These records provide a vast amount of information about the members of the regiment, including their names, ages, lengths of service, and vocations. Remarkably, these enlistment papers also identify the formerly enslaveds’ “owners,” information typically not found in similar records of the time. The birthplaces of the new recruits were also recorded, thus indicating those of the men who probably were sold at the Forks of the Road slave market.

The men of this regiment participated in the dismantling of the slave pens at the Forks in the fall of 1863. Tragically, the enlistment papers also reveal that almost one-third of the men of the regiment died from various diseases in the very first two months of their service.

We are fortunate to have such an intrepid scholar and historian as Jeff Mansell to address this important part of our heritage. Please join us for the patriotic story of these formerly enslaved men who threw off the shackles of slavery to put on the blue uniforms of the Union Army and take one giant step toward full citizenship. We promise a fresh, lively, and intriguing evening.


Alan Wolf is a trustee of the Natchez Historical Society and chair of its program committee.