127th OVI on Sandusky St. in Delaware, Ohio - 1863
“The 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry”
Written by Ned Lodwick, President, Brown County Historical Society
The 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry was the first Ohio regiment made up completely of African Americans. The regiment was formed from August to November of 1863 at Camp Delaware in Delaware, Ohio. The men that formed the regiment were from across the State. Brown County men numbered about one hundred in the regiment.
When war broke out in 1861, African Americans rushed to recruiting offices to volunteer but were unceremoniously turned away. There was no law the allowed the State of Ohio to recruit black soldiers. These early volunteers then turned to Massachusetts who was forming the 54th and 55th Mass. Vol. Infantries from African American volunteers. Hundreds of Ohioans and around fifty Brown Countries joined these regiments with the help of Rev. John Rankin and John Parker of Ripley. These regiments would go on to become strong fights units. The 54th would make her name famous in the forlorn assault on Battery Wagner, South Carolina, memorialized in the movie “Glory”. The 55th was stationed in Florida and South Carolina and served along side the 55th the last year of the war.
Finally, in 1863, Gov. Tod told the Secretary of State that Ohio was going to enlist African Americans into a regiment designated the 127th in order to fulfill the states quota without drafting more white soldiers. The Regiment was to be commanded by white officers and the soldiers were to be paid $10 per month, $3 less then white soldiers. The ranks filled and the training progressed until the Regiment was considered ready for service, but before they left training camp, Secretary of State Edwin Stanton told Gov. Tod that Ohio had no right to form such a unit. Stanton said that the Federal Army would take command of these men and re-designate the unit the 5th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops.
Before they left camp they received a great honor in the form of a large ceremony. Gov. Tod, ex-governor Dennison, and the well respected black attorney, John Mercer Langston, all spoke to the Regiment. Langston said, “My boys, sons of the state, go forth now as you are called to fight for our county and government! Let your conduct be that of brave, intelligent, devoted, American citizens.” He presented the Regiment her colors that were inscribed, “Victory or Death”.
The 5th USCT was sent to North Carolina in December of 1863. They participated in several raids and fought bravely. They marched 25-30 days and the intensity and vigor of the Regiment caused the white cavalry that accompanied them to remark, “that no soldiers had ever done so hard marching through swamps and marshes.”
On the 15th of June, 1864, the black Division of the 18th Corp, including the 5th USCT, made an assault on the Heights of Petersburg, Virginia. They captured two strong earthworks with several pieces of artillery. Their commander Gen. “Baldy” Smith watched his black division at first with anxiety and then with pride as they stormed the breastworks with bayonets.
The Regiment spent the next three months in the trenches surrounding Petersburg including a major role in the fiasco that was the Battle of the Crater. The Regiment was to be the vanguard and trained for the assault but at the last minute the plans were changed and they were to be used as a reserve. By the time they were deployed the battle had already become a disaster and the addition of more losses to the ranks of the 5th USCT only made it worse.
The men ached to be again out in the field. In September they got their wish in the form of the Battle at Chafin’s Farm in Virginia. As the battle progressed the 5th was called upon to assault New Market Heights. All of their officers were wounded early in the charge but the sergeants took command and led the assault to a Union victory. The 5th lost 9 officers wounded, 85 men killed, and 248 men wounded of the 550 men in the Regiment that day. Four sergeants of the 5th USCT won Medals of Honor for bravery that day. Only twenty black soldiers received that honor during the Civil War.
The 5th USCT’s final action was the capture of Ft. Fisher and Wilmington, North Carolina. During the war 249 men lost their lives while serving what they hoped would be their new county. Medal of Honor winner Sgt-Major Milton Holland summarized the role of the 5th USCT from Ohio. “Though we shall fall struggling in our blood for right and justice, for freedom of our brothers in bondage, or tall in defense of our National color, the Stars and Stripes, our home and fireside will be protected.”
For more information see www.ohiocivilwar.com or hear Dr. Versalle Washington the author of “Eagles On Their Buttons – A Black Infantry Regiment in the Civil War” at the Red Oak Presbyterian Church on Sunday, October 9th at 3 PM. The presentation is open to the public and free.