Another Lesson in History of Civil War

Article excerpt

The temperature hovered near 90 degrees when officials unveiled a monument honoring black Civil War soldiers yesterday, but that didn't keep goosebumps off the arms of thousands who watched the ceremony.

"Today we all stand taller," said D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp. "History has not been changed. History has been recognized."

It was the culmination of a $3 million project first envisioned by George Washington Williams, a black Civil War veteran and later an Ohio congressman.

The African-American Civil War Memorial was unveiled in the District's Shaw neighborhood on the 135th anniversary of one of the most memorable battles involving black troops, the assault on Fort Wagner on the South Carolina coast. The battle was depicted in "Glory," the 1989 movie that first raised awareness about the 200,000 black soldiers who fought in the war.

In that battle, the 54th Massachusetts Regiment lost half its troops and two-thirds of its officers.

"Many of these men gave their lives to preserve this country," said Lt. Gen. Joe Ballard, the first black chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and keynote speaker at the ceremony.

"We Americans speak often of our commitment to freedom," he continued. "But for the men we salute today, the fight for freedom was a very personal one. The African-American soldiers who served in the Union Army fought not only for the preservation of the Union but for their own freedom from slavery. Perhaps more than any other soldiers, these men knew the true value of freedom."

The centerpiece of the memorial is a bronze, 11-foot statue of six soldiers ready for battle called "Spirit of Freedom." Large, polished granite walls with metal plaques will carry the names of 230,000 black soldiers and sailors who fought with the Union and the 7,000 white officers who led them when the memorial is completed by Veterans Day. The memorial is located at Vermont Avenue and U Street NW, across from the Shaw-Howard University Metro stop.

About 2,000 descendants of black Civil War soldiers were on hand for the afternoon ceremonies.

Agnes Kane Callum of Baltimore said her great-great-uncle William Gough fought in Petersburg, Va., and Jacksonville, Fla., for the 38th Virginia Regiment. Like most in that outfit, he was actually from Southern Maryland, said Mrs. Callum, 73.

"I think this day is long overdue," she said. "I think the black soldier is due credit. He loved the United States. The pay wasn't right, the conditions weren't right, but they were proud to do it. …