The 27th USCT assaults Battery Buchanan at Ft. Fisher, N.C.
Written by Ned Lodwick, President, Brown County Historical Society
“The 27th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops”
With the successful recruitment of the 127th OVI (5th USCT) the Federal government quickly moved forward with the recruitment of more African-American regiments in Ohio. The 27th USCT formed at Camp Delaware in Delaware, Ohio from January through April of 1864. They entered service as part of the IX Corps of the Army of the Potomac.
Somewhere around one hundred men from Brown County enlisted in the regiment, mostly from Union township and the Gist Settlements. Most of these men were free men but some were runaway slaves who had taken up residence in the black communities of Brown County.
The Gist Settlements had been formed in 1819 after the death of Englishman Samuel Gist. At his death, Gist had owned large plantations in Virginia and 500 slaves. In his will he gave instructions that his slaves were to be freed, his plantations sold, and the money used to purchase land for them in free territory. Two large tracts were purchased in Brown County, one in Scott Township and one in Eagle Township. The newly freed slaves farmed their land and formed strong communities. These settlements were fertile recruiting grounds filled with young men willing to fight to protect their new found freedom.
The 27th was originally used to guard supply trains and rear areas during General Grant’s Overland Campaign of 1864. By June they found themselves entrenched in front of Petersburg, Va. alongside their friends in the 5th USCT. They participated in the ill-fated Battle of the Crater on June 30th, 1864. The Regiment was to be among the advance units after the mine explosion but at the list minute were placed in reserve. The mine, 40,000 pounds of black powder, exploded under a Confederate fort and Union forces were to pour through the break in the Petersburg defenses. Instead, the Federal troops charged into the 10-20ft deep “Crater” and were quickly surrounded and destroyed. The black division, including the 5th and 27th USCT, that was to lead the assault was trained to go around the “Crater” but the white troops that replaced them just before the explosion had no such instructions and the disaster was inevitable. The black troops sent in at the end of the battle merely made the casualty figures rise.
After minor roles at Weldon Railroad and Poplar Grove Church, they fought at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run around Petersburg, Virginia, before being transferred to the all black 25th Corp. The regiments in the 25th Corp still had no black officers.
The highest rank an African-American in the field could hope to hold was that of sergeant. A few African-Americans were commissioned officers in the Union Army during the Civil War but they were not in command of combat troops. Several white officers from Brown County volunteered to transfer from their original regiments to take command of black troops in newly formed regiments. Lt. Samuel Evans, for example, of the 13th OVI made that transfer to the 59th USCT and wrote home of how proud he was of his new command.
In December of 1865 the 27th was sent to North Carolina and was in the assault of Ft. Fisher. The fort was called the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy”. It guarded the entrance to the port of Wilmington, N.C. that was the largest remaining Confederate port on the Atlantic Coast. Several Union attempts to capture the fort earlier in the war had failed miserably. This was to be an all out assault combining Army and Naval forces. The 27th was held in reserve until late in the second day of the battle. Union forces had fought hand to hand for every foot of the fort. Finally, on January 13th, the Confederates had fallen back to Battery Buchanan, a citadel from which a last stand may be fought. At 9:30 PM the large mass of troops that was the 27th was seen in the moonlight from the battery. The order, “Forward”, was given and the 27th moved briskly toward the enemy. The struggle was brief but bloody. The last remnant of Ft Fisher was captured and the surrender of Wilmington was soon to follow.
The Regiment served out the rest of the war as occupation troops in Goldsboro and Wilmington, N.C. They were mustered out on September 21. 1865 and most of the men returned to their homes in Brown County. The roll of honor shows the 27th USCT lost 18 killed in action and 149 died in hospitals from disease or wounds from battle.
During the Civil War 10% of the Union Army and 25% of the Union Navy was made up of African-Americans. In Ohio, 5,902 black men out of a total service age population of 7,161 volunteered. Massachusetts freedman Frederick Douglass declared, “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters ‘US’, let him get an eagle on his buttons and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets and there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States.” In 1870 Brown County native Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President, championed and signed the 14th Amendments into law, giving African-American citizens the right to vote.