Then and now: Reflections on diversity this Veteran's Day
This Thursday, as parades and gatherings recognize those Americans who have served in our 20th-century conflicts and 21st-century operations, the diversity of our military will be in plain view--as will the strength such diversity provides.
But this was not true in May 1865 in Washington, D.C., when the federal forces conducted a "Grand Review of the Union Armies" to mark the end of the American Civil War. Although 185,000 African Americans served in the Union Army during the conflict, only white troops made up the 200,000-man procession through the capital of our restored nation. While military leaders and historians have found that the inclusion of African Americans in the Union forces provided the margin of manpower for victory, it is indeed curious that United States Colored Troops (USCT) were excluded from the commemoration. It was this national snub that led the State of Pennsylvania, at the behest of African American citizens of Harrisburg, to host the "Grand Review of the United States Colored Troops" and to invite units of 25 states to participate in the procession on November 14, 1865 in its capital city.
I was not aware of these events until I attended the 2010 Grand Review Weekend in Harrisburg that marked the 135th anniversary. I learned it was General Order 143 of the War Department, passed on May 22, 1863, that established the USCT. I was reminded of the battles in which USCT units like the 54th Massachusetts (made famous in the movie "Glory") demonstrated the content of their character, born of how they were treated because of the color of their skin. With pride, I watched the African American re-enactors wearing the Union blue of the USCT, marching in formation like the soldiers of old. And even more valuable were the conversations I had with these citizens who devote their time and energy to ensure the legacy of soldiers from a bygone era is not forgotten.
This Veteran's Day I will participate in our local ceremonies to celebrate all those who serve. But afterward, I will stop by our Union Cemetery to pay respect to the veterans of USCT who are interred here in Carlisle. They were members of USCT units after the Civil War, but even in death they were segregated from other citizens of our nation. As Abraham Lincoln offered during his 1863 Gettysburg address, "it is altogether fitting and proper" we remember and honor those who have gone before us.
Col. Charles D. Allen
November 11, 2010; 10:12 AM ET
Category: Military Leadership , Self-Sacrifice , Wartime Leadership Save & Share:
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