On Saturday, November 6, 2010, my friend, Warren, and I attended the Grand Review Weekend in downtown Harrisburg, PA. There, the attendees commemorated the Grand Review of the United States Colored Troops that Pennsylvania held in November 1865. The original event came about after the exclusion of the USCT from the Grand Review of the Armies in May 1865. The Grand Review of the Armies featured several million white troops marching through Washington, D.C. in front of President Andrew Johnson and Congress. With approximately 200,000 blacks answering the call to serve in the United States Army in the Civil War (1861-1865), Pennsylvania sought to rectify the offense with their own Grand Review. Pennsylvania contributed the most of the 25 states that contributed black troops to the war.
The event started slowly and cold. We had no idea what to expect, so we arrived early to ensure a good spot for the parade. Way ahead of schedule, we exchanged stories with some guys from the Buffalo Soldiers, a motorcycle group. Eventually, the parade came our way. There were black and white officers, flag bearers, drummers, a marching band, and of course, troops.
Several white troops were there to represent officers. However, we discovered at the event that there were plenty of black officers during the war too.
The troops assembled in front of the steps of the Pennsylvania State Capitol building.
I cannot recall this guy’s name, but he was the host of the ceremony and an eccentric one at that.
This man introduced the various commanders from each state. These men brought letters from their respective governors and handed them to Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. There were many states represented including Virginia and North Carolina.
Ed Rendell told the story of how the Pennsylvania governor skipped the Grand Review in 1865. He vowed not to make the same mistake.
Dr. Frank Smith, the director of the African American Civil War Memorial & Museum, gave a speech in which he said that he would spend the Civil War’s sesquicentennial seeking out every spot where black troops trained, fought, died, and were buried. He also intended to mark those spots. Unfortunately, I neglected to get a good photo of Smith.
Afterward, Warren posed with some of the USCT. Some of these men are direct descendants from those who actually served in the Civil War.
Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.
After the presentation ceremony, there were loads of activities including songs, presentations, and the like. Warren and I attended a session with historians, William Gladstone and Bob O’Connor. Gladstone read a prepared paper that gave a semi-detailed account of blacks in the Civil War. We both learned new things like how the navy already had blacks serving in their ranks when the war started.
O’Connor presented an interesting project where he is trying to identify every black soldier who imprisoned in Andersonville. He showed us the lengths he had gone as he struggled to identify blacks by their grave markers. One gravestone had “USCT” on it, but the buried soldier was a white officer. Another gravestone had “USA” on it and contained a black soldier. He found one soldier named Thomas Jefferson and O’Connor believes he might be a descendant of the late-president. To learn more about O’Connor and his project, check out his website at boboconnorbook.com.
Afterward, Warren and I checked out the display booths featuring several reenactment and historical groups. We scanned through some names in a list of colored troops from the war and eventually headed to a genealogy workshop. There, we got help from a genealogy expert who helped Warren track down his great-great granduncle and even identify some Native American blood in his family tree.
The 1910 census featuring Warren’s great-great granduncle. This was icing on the cake for the trip.
The trip was definitely worth it. White or black, this event was great for anyone interested in the Civil War and American history. Harrisburg and everyone else involved did a great job putting this together.