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Pension records have uncovered a rich history of a little-known Army regiment composed of African-Americans in the Civil War.
The Wilson County Public Library will host “135th USCT: In Their Own Words” at 2 p.m. Thursday.
Local historian and genealogist Amy Bauer will deliver the presentation detailing the 135th United States Colored Troop.
“There was a list of 117 of them on the internet, and I did their genealogies,” Bauer said. “From there we decided we needed to do Washington, D.C., to the National Archives and pull their pension records. The pension records, being a primary source, now told us their whole story, which was so cool.”
Bauer’s husband, Jay Bauer, suggested they look for the soldiers’ graves.
“So in the last four years we have done close to 300 pension records, and we go out searching for their graves every time we get a chance,” Amy Bauer said.
Residents of Wilson and Wayne counties including Jack Sherrod, Phillip Fort and Needham Lewis were part of the regiment.
“They talked about in the pension records that they all knew each other because they all worked in the turpentine fields together,” Bauer said.
Bauer has found 30 men with Wayne County connections.
“There are 1,154 men in this regiment that we know of,” Bauer said. “There may have been more depending on if they died in service, they were sick or they didn’t show up on the rolls. We have five pictures altogether.”
“This was a lost troop, and nobody knew anything about them,” Bauer said. “Without the African-American Civil War Museum that Dr. Frank Smith did in Washington, D.C., we would have no idea this troop existed.”
The Bauers traveled to the museum, met with Smith and collected all the names.
“It has been about four years that it has taken us to get all of the names,” Bauer said.
“You know, this troop marched with (Gen. William T.) Sherman from the beginning. As soon as they left Atlanta, they started recruiting them,” Bauer said. “They are volunteers who signed up to join Sherman’s army and marched through Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. In Goldsboro, because they had enough to form a regiment, they were formed here in Goldsboro. This is where they took the oath of office and were given their uniforms.”
The soldiers drilled and drilled and drilled to become a unit, Bauer said.
“The spectacular part of it is when they left here, they were in Washington, D.C., and on May 24, 1865, they marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the president of the United States,” Bauer said. “So they left slavery, joined the United States Army and marched in front of the president of the United States, all within six months, so that is an amazing feat for them. It was probably one of the most wonderful things they ever did. On several of their death certificates, it says ‘old soldier’ so you can tell how important it was to them.”
Soldiers had to pass a physical exam in order to join the regiment.
Amy Bauer said the reason for completing the research and holding the program is to make sure that the public knows about them.
“In 153 years, very few people knew about this troop,” she said.
“It really gives you a feeling of accomplishment, especially uncovering the stories that are in the pension records when you read through them,” Jay Bauer said. “These files have many, many pages in them. Some of them are a half inch thick or an inch thick. Some files are two files thick.”
That’s the amount of information the soldiers had to produce in order to get their pension.
“It tells their whole life story that is sitting their in Washington, D.C., that their descendants don’t even know about. So it is really interesting,” Jay Bauer said.
Amy Bauer said their hope is to connect the soldiers’ stories to their descendants in Wilson and Wayne counties and elsewhere.
For more information about the event, call Natalie Copeland, local history and adult services librarian, at 252-237-5355, ext. 5029.