Putting Together Pieces of a Civil War Puzzle
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Juanita Patience Moss was shocked to learn that her great-grandfather would not be included among the 200,000 black soldiers honored at the African American Civil War Memorial.
The memorial, at 10th and U streets NW, would name only the soldiers and seamen who served with the U. S. Colored Troops.
So, 10 years ago, when Moss attended a discussion hosted by the African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation, she asked several historians whether any records of black soldiers in white regiments had been found.
The historians agreed that black soldiers were not allowed to serve in white regiments. That is, until Moss -- a retired New Jersey high school biology teacher who lives in Alexandria -- showed them her great-grandfather's military records.
"I looked at each of their faces, and I knew that this was brand-new information," said Moss, 76, who in October will release a revised edition of her book "The Forgotten Black Soldiers in White Regiments During the Civil War." This year marks the 10th anniversary of the African American Civil War Memorial, which was celebrated in Washington from July 15 to 18. Originally published in 2004 by Heritage Books, Moss's book will list the names of more than 2,000 black soldiers from 32 states who served in Union Army regiments.
Moss's great-grandfather, Crowder Pacien, escaped from slavery at 18 and enlisted with the 103rd Regiment of Pennsylvania, a white Union Army division. He joined as a cook on Jan. 1, 1864, in Plymouth, N.C. He was discharged in June 1865 as a private.
The encounter at the forum, Moss said, made her realize that "if there's one, there's got to be more."
Moss began research to see whether there were other black soldiers who did not serve with the U.S. Colored Troops. She found 12 others who had fought in the Battle of Plymouth along with Pacien. From there, she discovered that 65 black soldiers had served in Union Army regiments in Pennsylvania.
Six years later, she had researched 13 states and discovered more than 1,000 black soldiers who had enlisted with white Union regiments during the Civil War.
Moss continued to comb through military records at the National Archives and made special note of Southern men who joined Union regiments as cooks, as Pacien had done.
"White men didn't join to be cooks," she said. "Black men didn't either, but it was the only way they could get in."
If a soldier's envelope did not immediately indicate race, Moss would open his file and carefully examine the documents to search for physical descriptions such as eyes, hair and complexion. If the three criteria were marked as black, she added the soldier's name to her list.
Although each name gave her a sense of accomplishment, Moss said more work must be done to gain insight on the lives of these soldiers.
"I'm just hoping that someone else will take the research even further," she said. "It should be documented because there's going to be somebody who's interested."