This post comes from the exhibit catalog for “Right to Serve, Right to Lead: Lives and Legacies of the USCT,” an exhibition in Special Collections and College Archives at Musselman Library, Gettysburg College. During the spring of 2017, we asked the CWI Fellows to select a item on exhibit and discuss its history and context. The resulting exhibit catalog is available at Special Collections, where the exhibit will run through December 18, 2017.
The 28th Indiana Infantry Regiment—officially the 28th Regiment United States Colored Troops—was Indiana’s first and only all-black regiment during the Civil War. Mustered into service on January 12, 1864, the 28th formed in response to fears sparked by Confederate General John Hunt Morgan’s raid into Indiana in the summer of 1863. Morgan hoped to rouse Copperheads in the North and inspire them to rise up against the Union. The raiders ransacked Corydon, Salem, Dupont, Versailles, and other small towns in southern Indiana, burned and looted property, and stole over 4,000 horses. All told, the raid caused over one million dollars in damage. Thousands of Hoosiers enlisted in response to the raid, including the men of the 28th. The raid ultimately failed; Morgan was chased out of southern Indiana by state troops and kept out by the United States Navy. Although the 28th was recruited to help prevent future rebel violence, state officials feared that raising more than one African American regiment would provoke another Confederate raid.
By the end of the war, the 28th had sustained an estimated 212 fatalities: two officers and 45 enlistees killed or mortally wounded in combat, and one officer and 164 enlistees who died of disease. Like several other USCT regiments, the 28th was assigned menial duties on the Mexican border. At times, the work became too much for the men. The two most frequent entries in the logbook are the receipt of special orders and notes of incidents which resulted in soldiers receiving demerits. The logbook also briefly mentions the issue of disease in the regiment. USCT troops were often neglected as far as supplies went as they worked menial jobs and did not receive the same care and attention as white troops. At times their diet lacked essential nutrients; many of the soldiers, including James Trail, developed scurvy.
James and his brothers Benjamin, David, and William Jr. were just a handful of the men who enlisted in the 28th Indiana. Benjamin was the first of the four brothers to serve. A sergeant major, he was killed at the Battle of the Crater. James also died during the war, but David and William Jr. eventually returned to Indiana. Little is known about the men of the 28th, but there is growing interest in their stories. The 28TH were honored with a historical marker in Indianapolis in 2004 and they are also featured on the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in downtown Indianapolis.
“General Morgan’s Raid on Indiana.” General Morgan’s Raid on Indiana – Conner Prairie Interactive History Park. Accessed March 15, 2017. http://www.connerprairie.org/places-to-explore/1863-civil-war-journey/learn-more-about-the-civil-war/general-morgan-s-raid-on-indiana.
“Civil War Letter Filled with Bad News, Hope.” Indiana Historical Society. Accessed March 15, 2017.
Dyer, Frederick Henry, A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, Des Moines: Dyer Publishing Co., 1908.
Indiana Historical Bureau. “28th Regiment USCT.” Historical Marker Database. Accessed March 15, 2017.
“Indiana’s 28th Regiment: Black Soldiers for the Union.” The Indiana Historian, February 1994, 1-16.