Chalmette Cemetery – USCT
Chalmette Cemetery and United States Colored Troops
Many men died fighting for the Union in South Louisiana. New Orleans surrendered in April, 1862. The Union Army used the city as a base to move north. They pressed the rebels from both directions along the Mississippi. Major General Benjamin Butler brought a force close to 3000 men to Ship Island to invade New Orleans. A sizable contingent of that force were United States Colored Troops (USCT).
Black men served in the US Army for a number of reasons. They were citizens of the free states. Some were the sons and grandsons of slaves. Their ancestors escaped from the South. So, they made lives for themselves in the Northern states. There were 175 regiments of USCT by 1865, a full one-tenth of the US Army.
Fighting for the Union
Black soldiers fought as segregated units The “Colored Troops” battalions and regiments were often raised by white men who were willing to command black soldiers, such as the 54th Massachusetts. While the men might know each other, was, the white officers didn’t. In many cases, Their soldiers didn’t live anywhere near where the unit was raised. So, when these men died in action in the Deep South, the survivors and the locals had no idea who they were.
Butler held incredible power as the general commanding the occupation. Since the war continued after the invasion, the army needed a place to bury their dead. The battlefield in Chalmette was a possible choice for a cemetery. The city preserved the battlefield, and nobody really lived down there, even by the 1860s.
The army sectioned off a portion of the battlefield on the eastern side. This was the “British side” of the battlefield, Pakenham’s army advanced on the Americans from there. Since the bulk of the action took place on the “American side,” nobody considered the cemetery as an affront.
The top photo shows the markers of “unknowns,” mostly USCT soldiers. The second photo shows the standard markers used by National Cemeteries at the time.