Who Lived This History? The 33rd United States Colored Troops (USCT)
The capture of Port Royal, South Carolina by Union forces in November 1861 set in motion a series of events which would lead to one of the largest social transformations in the history of the Lowcountry Southeast - the emancipation of ten thousand enslaved people on South Carolina's sea islands. With its deep harbor and strategic location, Port Royal served as a Union stronghold from the time of its capture to the end of the Civil War.
Port Royal was also the staging ground of the first African Americans mustered into the United States military: the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, which later became the 33rd United States Colored Troops (USCT).
Above: Detail from "Dress parade of the 1st South Carolina [U.S.C.V.], Beaufort, S.C." Library of Congress Digital Print LC-USZ62-62492 No Known Restrictions on Publication
In the years following the capture of Port Royal, more than 5,000 men from South Carolina served in the United States Colored Troops in six regiments organized there (21st, 33rd, 103rd, 104th and 128th USCT). Of these, the 33rd USCT is the best documented by surviving firsthand accounts. These accounts, digitized by Google Books, await you in the Lowcountry Africana SC Full-Text Reading Room.
Among the primary accounts of the 33rd USCT are Army Life in a Black Regiment by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, commander of the 33rd USCT; Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops Late 1st S.C. Volunteers, by Susie Taylor King, wife of a soldier in the 33rd USCT; and "Letters of Dr. Seth Rogers, 1862-1863," written by the surgeon who served with the 33rd USCT from December 1862 to December 1863.
Because these texts survive, we set out to rediscover genealogical records for the individuals who shaped the history of the 33rd United States Colored Troops, to bring their stories into focus and honor their service in fighting for those who were still enslaved.
Who Lived This History?
Who were the men who served in the 33rd United States Colored Troops? Who were their family members? What are their stories?
Account records for the Freedmen's Bank are a rich source for family historians. They often record the account holder's place of birth, residence and occupation as well as the names of parents, spouse, children and siblings. The earliest Freedmen's Bank records may also record the company and regiment of USCT veterans. They are therefore a rich starting point for discovering the family history of USCT veterans.
Here, we present abstracts of those records (now digitized in the free collection Freedmen's Bank Records, 1865-1874 at FamilySearch.org), then layer on abstracts of military records digitized at Footnote.com from two collections, Civil War Soldiers - Union, Colored Troops 31st to 35th Infantry and Civil War and Later Veterans Pension Index. If you find an ancestor here, there are many more records waiting for you on Footnote.com, within the two subscription collections listed above.
The records presented here are for those veterans whose Freedmen's Bank Records list the USCT company and regiment in which they served. For a complete list of those who served in the 33rd USCT, you can consult the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System website from the National Park Service.