In October of 1863, two young men enslaved on the Southern Maryland farm of George Peterson made a bold move towards fighting for their own freedom and that of four million individuals enslaved in the United States. William H. Coates, aged 18, and William B. Jones, aged 19, enlisted at Camp Stanton in Charles County for a three year term with the United States Colored Troops (USCT). Located along the Patuxent River at Benedict, Camp Stanton was established in 1863 as a recruiting station and training camp for the U. S. Colored Infantry.
The enlistment of Black men into the Union Army came to be viewed as critical to the success of the war. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (for whom Camp Stanton was named) wrote to Abraham Lincoln on October 1, 1863: “There is…in my judgment, a military necessity, in the State of Maryland… for enlisting into the forces all persons capable of bearing arms on the union side without regard to color, and whether they be free or not” (Berlin 1982:212). Although President Lincoln had initially resisted enlisting men of color, the Bureau of Colored Troops was formed in May of 1863 to facilitate the recruitment of African-American soldiers into the Union Army (Cornish 1965). By the end of the Civil War, there were almost 180,000 men in 175 USCT regiments; about one-tenth of the manpower of the Union Army. U. S. Colored Troops fought in every major battle during the last two years of the war and their efforts contributed to the success of the Union.Continue reading