At the February meeting of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors, I issued a Chairman’s Proclamation marking February as African American History Month 2020.
This year the theme is “African Americans and the Vote.” The theme coincidences with several important historic facts, including the 150th anniversary of the 15th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave African Americans the right to vote. 2020 also marks the anniversary of the first African American member of Congress — in 1870, Hiram Revels of Mississippi served a one-year term in the United States Senate.
The 15th Amendment provided for voting rights to all men, yet it wasn’t until 1965, with the adoption of the Voting Rights Act, was there a more forceful effort to remove barriers at the state and local level that denied African Americans the right to vote. The 15th Amendment was adopted at the time of Civil War Reconstruction and in recognition of the abolishment of slavery, as well as the service of many African Americans in the American Civil War.
In honor of African American Month, let’s take a look at some of the actions of the 128th Regiment.
In Columbia County, Colonel David S. Cowles received authority on July 19, 1862, to raise the 128th, which would include a number of African American soldiers from Columbia and Dutchess counties
At Camp Kelly in Hudson on Sept. 4, the thousand men of the 128th organized and headed to battle. Met by large crowds, the men marched on Warren Street, the regimental band led by Fife Major Henry McCormick of Ancram. The steamship Oregon — just large enough to fit them all on board — awaited the men at the city dock at the foot of Warren, prepared to take them on the first leg of their trip to the war.
In two days, the regiment arrived in Baltimore, where it was the benefit of a stroke of good fortune. On Sept. 16, Major General George B. McClellan confronted Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Sharpsburg, Maryland, thus beginning the Battle of Antietam, one of the bloodiest skirmishes of the entire Civil War. Historians have noted that it’s a mystery why the 128th was not thrown into the Antietam battle.
In October 1862, General Cowles received orders to take the 128th to Gettysburg. As dawn came up, the soldiers got off the train and secured the town. Some occupied the village square, some set up picket posts on nearby roads. The mass of the regiment marched out of the town and formed a line of battle on the western outskirts. It was the first time the 128th had formed up in line of battle, yet the Confederates did not appear.
In January 1863, the 128th, sent south to New Orleans, was assigned to Major General William Tecumseh Sherman’s division. The regiment took a gallant and conspicuous part in the long siege of Port Hudson, fighting desperately during the assaults of May 27 and June 14. The splendid service rendered by the 128th is well-attested by its casualties during the siege, which amounted to 22 killed, 100 wounded, and six missing. Col. Cowles fell while gallantly leading his regiment during the assault of May 27.
This month, we revere the contribution of the men of the 128th Regiment, while at the same time celebrating the accomplishments of all African Americans over the course of United States history.
Reach Matt Murell at firstname.lastname@example.org.