|APRIL 2000||Volume 2 Number 2|
William Webb: The Life and Times of an African American Soldier from Connecticut in the American Civil War
Richard Roberts,Unit head, History & Genealogy
Kevin Johnson in a reenactment of a Civil War battle
Wickham Park, Manchester, Connecticut
"I'm Free! After so many years of being bound in chains, now truthfully, I am free! Free from slavery! Freedom! Sounds nice, doesn't it?" With that opening, Kevin Johnson, a member of the State Library's History and Genealogy Unit, begins a monologue depicting the story of William Webb, a private in the 29th (Colored) Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. As a tribute to the more than 1,700 African Americans who served from Connecticut during the Civil War, Johnson spent much of February, Black History Month, performing at libraries, schools, historical societies, church groups, and other non-profit organizations across the state.
Based on research by members of the History and Genealogy staffing using original vital records, court records, military records and other materials in the State Library's History and Genealogy Unit and the State Archives, William Webb's story begins with his boyhood in Connecticut. It includes some early brushes with the law, which lead to imprisonment at Wethersfield State Prison, and his eventual enlistment in 29th Regiment on December 22, l863. Johnson goes on to trace the history of the Regiment through Annapolis, Maryland; Hilton Head and Beaufort, South Carolina; and Bermuda Hundred, Virginia through its muster out in Hartford in November, 1865. "The officers," says Johnson, "reported back that the men of the 29th and other Colored Troops fought with great coolness and bravery. Freedom! Sounds good, doesn't it?"
While the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, depicted in the movie Glory, is probably the best known, the "Colored Troops" comprised over 160 cavalry, artillery, infantry, and engineer units from 25 states and territories, including the District of Columbia. In total, there were approximately 200,000 African American soldiers and 100 officers who served, including both free Black men and ex-slaves. Although some states had formed African American units earlier, the enlistment of African American soldiers was officially authorized by an act of Congress in July 1862. In May 1863 the War Department established the Bureau of Colored Troops. The 29th Regiment, along with the 8th and 45th Regiments, United States Colored Infantry, constituted the Second Brigade, Third Colored Division, Tenth Corps.
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