Up from Slavery to Freedom: New Bern’s Historic 35th United States Colored Troops

New Bern’s 35th USCT

Bernard George

New Bern Historical Society Lunch & Learn – February 7, 2018

“Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship in the United States.” — Frederick Douglass, July 6, 1863

More than 180,000 African Americans fought in the Civil War for the Union Army. New Bern served as the recruiting headquarters for enlisting more than 5,000 soldiers in the United States Colored Troops (USCT). The First North Carolina Colored Volunteers (35th USCT), organized 1863 in historic New Bern, was the first regiment of black Union soldiers formed in North Carolina and one of the first in the South. Commanded by Col. James Beecher (brother of famed abolitionist and author Harriet Beecher Stowe) and staffed by Major John V. DeGrasse, an internationally trained African American medical officer, the 35th USCT is a uniquely significant story that often does not receive the scholarly attention it deserves.

Please join the New Bern Historical Society at its February 7, 2018 Lunch & Learn at The Chelsea Restaurant at 11:30 am to learn more about Civil War and the crucial role of New Bern’s 35th USCT in helping to shape our region, state and nation. Special guest speaker Bernard George will discuss the legacy of 35th USCT in the struggle for freedom and citizenship during the American Civil War. George will combine pictures, historical documents and personal vignettes to educate the public and honor the sacrifices of these courageous soldiers.

As Bernard explains “May 17, 1863 is an important date to New Bern, North Carolina and to the nation because it marks the arrival of thirteen Union officers and a civilian recruiter in New Bern to organize the “African Brigade” — the country’s first official major military unit largely made up of escaped slaves and contraband.  This daunting military and social experiment would settle once and for all the unanswered question of the time, “Could the slave be trained to intelligently and heroically fight as well as his white counterparts?” By the end of the Civil War the answer was a resounding “yes” as United States Colored Troops (USCT) had valiantly fought and died in every major campaign of 1864-1865 except Sherman’s invasion of Georgia.  As further evidence of the military value of black troops to the federal war efforts, on March 13, 1865 the Congress of the Confederate States of America passed and President Jefferson Davis signed into law General Order 14 allowing the enlistment of slaves with the promise of freedom.”

Bernard George is a retired city planner and local historian. He has a B.A. degree in Political Science from North Carolina Central University, has done graduate studies in Health Facilities Administration at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri, and has completed an extensive course of study in Municipal Administration and Urban Planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Bernard has also earned membership in the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and gained state and national recognition for his expertise.

Bernard currently serves on the board of directors of the New Bern Historical Society and was recently appointed by Governor Roy Cooper to serve as a member of the Tryon Palace Commission. He is an active member of several other boards and commissions including the Tryon Palace African American Advisory Committee.

Lunch & Learn starts at 11:30 a.m. at The Chelsea Restaurant, 335 Middle Street, New Bern. The cost is $18 for Historical Society members and $20 for non-members; lunch is included. Advance reservations must be made by calling the New Bern Historical Society at 252-638-8558, or can be ordered at NewBernHistorical.org/tickets. Lunch choices are: Baked Salmon with Champagne Dill Sauce and Pork Tenderloin with Blueberry Ginger Glaze; both are served with parmesan risotto and sautéed green beans.

The mission of the New Bern Historical Society is to celebrate and promote New Bern and its heritage through events and education.  Offices are located in the historic Attmore-Oliver House at 511 Broad Street in New Bern.  For more information, call 252-638-8558 or go NewBernHistorical.org or Facebook.com/NewBernHistoricalSociety.

Submitted by: Kathy Morrison, New Bern Historical Society

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