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Connecticut’s Twenty-ninth Infantry Regiment

By Myra Plescia  |  Spring/Summer 2023

The passage of the Militia Act by the U.S. Congress in July of 1862 enabled African Americans to serve in support positions for the Union troops engaged in the Civil War. Lincoln recognized the need for men of color to participate in the war effort and the Emancipation Proclamation stated that African Americans throughout the country could now serve active combat positions in Union troops. States throughout New England and New York began to recruit volunteers for these newly formed regiments (regiments were generally composed of 1,000 men who were then divided into companies of 100 men). New York was able to form three colored troop regiments. Massachusetts was among the first northern states to create an African American regiment and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry later went on to see active combat duty which was portrayed in the 1989 film Glory.

Connecticut was equally active and began recruiting men for the 29th Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry (colored). By January of 1864 more than 1,200 African American men or men of color volunteered to serve in the 29th (ConnecticutHistory.org). Thirteen or more of these men were either born in Sharon or living in Sharon at the time of their enlistment. The Connecticut War Record reported on various Connecticut regiments throughout the Civil War and in February of 1864, the paper covered the formation of the 29th as volunteers began to gather in the Fair Haven section of New Haven. The newspaper included this information regarding the 29th Regiment,

“It now numbers nine hundred sixty-nine officers and men. About five hundred of the men are from Connecticut; the rest represent almost every loyal State and several States of the South. A considerable number are refugees from bondage… They have clear views of their own concerning the issues of the war; the most of them have sacrificed comfortable houses to enlist, solely from a conviction of duty to aid in saving the country and in liberating their race from slavery. Some of them have children and wives now in bondage…”

29th Regiment, Beaufort, SC, 1864. Sam Cooley photographer, retrieved from Library of Congress.

With few exceptions, the majority of officers commanding the colored troops were white. The non-commissioned staff were men of color and the War Record article listed three men from Sharon who were non-commissioned: Josiah Starr, sergeant, and Lewis Starr and Almon Wheeler, corporals.

The regiment was mustered into service on March 8, 1864, and departed via steamship for a brief stay in Annapolis, MD, where the men were, “furnished with muskets of the best Springfield pattern” (Captain Henry Marshall, 29th Regiment). The regiment then moved on to Beaufort, SC where they drilled and trained for nearly four months preparing for a more active combat role. The Twenty-Ninth’s training was soon put into use as they, and other colored troops, joined in the Grant’s siege of Petersburg and Richmond, VA in August of 1864. The 29th participated in several engagements throughout the prolonged assault of the Confederate capital. Captain Marshall wrote in his History of the 29th that the regiment took some heavy losses in the battle at the Kell House on October 27th and 28th including some of the men from Sharon. Sergeant James Johnson lost his life and Josiah and Lewis Starr were both wounded. Their younger brother Charles had just died days before in a military hospital.

The siege wore on and the 29th spent the winter outside of Richmond building forts, roads, drilling and preparing for the campaign to resume. Richmond finally fell in early April and as rebel forces fled the city, Union forces began to move in. Captain Marshall wrote that the first infantry regiment to reach the city was the 29th from Connecticut. General Lee surrendered to General Grant shortly after on April 9, 1865.

Although the war was effectively over, the 29th was deployed to Texas where it remained until ordered to return to Connecticut in October of 1865. The no doubt weary regiment arrived in Hartford on November 24, where they were honorably discharged and at last able to return to their families.

Thanks to the descendants of the Twenty-ninth Regiment, the men, their efforts, and sacrifices will not be forgotten. A monument designed by sculptor Edward Hamilton was dedicated to the Twenty-ninth Infantry Connecticut Volunteers in September of 2008 and is located at Cariscuolo Park in the Fair Haven area of New Haven.

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