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Black Civil War veterans honored in ceremony at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery

The group started holding the annual memorial service in 2014. This year's ceremony was held on Friday.

ST. LOUIS — The U.S. Grant Camp 68 Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War(SUVCW) held a ceremony of remembrance at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery last week.

The group started holding the annual memorial service in 2014. This year's ceremony was held on Friday.

“The 56th U.S. Colored had about 175 soldiers coming back from the war in August 1866,” said Walter Busch, a Past Department Commander for the Missouri chapter of the SUVCW. “Even if the families have forgotten them, we’re trying to remember the soldiers of the Civil War.”

The 56th United States Colored Infantry was an infantry regiment that served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. The regiment was composed of African American enlisted men commanded by white officers and was authorized by the Bureau of Colored Troops which was created by the U.S. War Department on May 22, 1863. 

“It was our greatest conflict in the entire nation. It did tear our country apart, we’re still feeling the effects of it today,” Busch said.

The regiment was originally organized at St. Louis in August 1863 as the 3rd Regiment Arkansas Volunteer Infantry. They were dispatched to Helena, Arkansas, where they were initially utilized for garrison and guard duty. They saw combat in the Expedition from Helena up White River on February 4-8, 1864 and up St. Francis River on February 13 and 14.

On July 26, 1864, near Wallace’s Ferry in Arkansas, the unit, now designated as the 56th United States Colored Infantry Regiment, along with the 60th and Battery E of the 2nd U.S. Colored Artillery, were attacked by a force of Confederate cavalry. Supported by about 150 men from the 15th Illinois Calvary, the infantry regiments organized a fighting retreat and at a crucial moment in the battle made a countercharge into the enemy line.

The 56th's losses during service consisted of 4 officers and 21 enlisted men killed or mortally wounded; and two officers and 647 enlisted men by disease; for a total of 674 fatalities. The vast majority of the deaths due to disease occurred during a cholera epidemic that struck in August 1866 while the regiment was waiting to muster out at Jefferson Barracks Military Post near St. Louis.

Surviving the Civil War battlefields, 175 African-American Infantrymen contracted cholera and died just south of St. Louis. Refused burial at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, they were originally buried in a mass grave near the hospital where they died. In the 1930s, the members of the African-American community spearheaded the re-interment at the national cemetery and the creation of a monument. A plaque with all of the service members' names was added in 2014.

During the ceremony, Private Benjamin Oglesby was honored with the retelling of his life and service during the war. About a dozen descendants of Oglesby attended the ceremony.

“The ceremony just touches your heart,” said Barbara Crumes Love, the great-great-granddaughter of Oglesby. “I began to cry when I listened to the keynote speaker speak of Benjamin Oglesby, you could just feel what he went through.”

The 175-five African American enlisted men of the 56th U.S. Colored Infantry are now buried together in a mass grave at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in section 57, Lot 15009.

“I think he would be proud to see us standing here and remembering him for the work he did and all of the suffering he went through,” said Roland Oglesby, great-grandson.

The Remembrance ceremony was sponsored by the U.S. Grant Camp No. 68 Sons of Union veterans of the Civil War. For more information on their camp visit www.grantcamp.org.

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