INside Story

Black soldiers from Indiana helped defend the Union in Civil War

We’re taking a look back at Indiana history. All this week, News 8’s Adam Pinsker is taking a look at Indiana’s role in the Civil War. This is the third of five entries in our latest INside Story series.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

During the Civil War, the federal government asked Indiana Governor Oliver Morton to form an all Black regiment. It came to be known as the 28th Regiment and was activated in the spring of 1864.

“There were free men of color that fought, and there were enslaved men of color that fought,” Susan Hall Dotson, curator of the African Americans at the Indiana Historical Society, said.

There is a marker at the intersection of Virginia Avenue and McCarty Street that honors the area where those troops trained.

“Indiana’s only African American Civil War regiment served as part of the 28th Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops. African American infantry was authorized in 1863 to help fill federal quota for soldiers. The Reverend Willis Revels was recruiting officer. Recruits trained at Camp Fremont, established on land near here owned by Calvin Fletcher,” the marker says.

Despite there being a memorialization of the troops, it’s hard to find photos of these men in battle.

“Letters were being sent, there’s humanity in the midst of inhumanity going on,” Dotson said.

The Rev. William T. Revels was an Indiana pastor for the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal church. He recruited African Americans to the 28th Regiment.

“It has been said that the church at the time, Bethel AME church that he was pastor, which is not the building here on the canal, but another church on Georgia street, was burned down because of his efforts to recruit for the 28th Regiment,” Dotson said.

A poster from that period shows all white officers of the 28th Regiment, but excludes their Black partners who volunteered to fight.

“They were not necesarily welcome to fight either, a lot of contentiouness as to whether they should serve or not,” Dotson said.

Black fighters persisted, despite being given inferior weapons and training, and future generations of Black soldiers would continue to face discrimination in the 20th century.

“It wasn’t new, that Black people were willing to fight for their own rights, as well as what they thought was right as citizens of a country where they were born,” Dotson said.

According to records, African American soldiers also fought alongside their white counterparts dating back to the War of 1812.