Weekend capital events to honor Civil War’s black soldiers
Alexander Kelly was a Union Army sergeant whose actions earned him the nation’s highest award for military valor, but not even a Medal of Honor could get him into Washington at war’s end for a national celebration of federal troops.
None of the more than 180,000 soldiers who served in U.S. Colored Troops regiments during the war were invited to the Grand Review of the Armies held May 23 and 24, 1865, in the capital. Kelly, a black coal miner from Indiana County who is buried in Lawrenceville’s Allegheny Cemetery, was snubbed along with the rest.
It took editorials from a black newspaper in Pittsburgh, the Christian Recorder, and a network of civil rights activists to right that wrong six months later in Harrisburg, where black troops from 14 states marched and were honored Nov. 14, 1865.
Pennsylvania will commemorate that historic review this weekend in with events at the state capital starting Thursday and continuing through Sunday. They culminate in a parade Saturday that will retrace the steps of the 1865 marchers.
On Nov. 14, communities across the state, including Pittsburgh and Blairsville, will conduct ceremonies in cemeteries where black troops are buried.
The Grand Review is one of the first events kicking off a national commemoration of the Civil War, according to Lenwood Sloan, director of culture and heritage for the state tourism office. Next year will be the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.
“This is a curtain-raiser for the national commemoration,” Sloan said. “It is designed to honor the descendants of those men who marched in 1865.”
About 10,000 black residents of Pennsylvania served in the Union Army during the war. They trained at Camp William Penn in Philadelphia, and many served with distinction.
They were men such as Kelly, a Saltsburg coal miner, who served with the 6th USCT regiment, and Samuel McClellen of Blairsville, who returned from the war disabled, yet began a successful career as a barber.
George McClellen, Samuel’s great-grandson, plans to be in Harrisburg for the Grand Review. McClellen of Blairsville said recognition of the black troops is long overdue.
“It’s time we get history right,” he said.
Sloan said efforts are under way not only to honor the veterans but to locate, preserve and commemorate their grave sites across the state. Officials located 200 cemeteries in Pennsylvania with graves of U.S. Colored Troops members. Local volunteers and historical organizations are documenting and cleaning up the grave sites. They are attempting to find descendants of the soldiers.
A commemoration of the U.S. Colored Troops who served in the Civil War will be conducted Thursday though Sunday in Harrisburg.
Friday : White Carnation League dinner honoring descendants of veterans, 6 to 9:30 p.m., Hilton Harrisburg, 1 N. Second St.
Saturday : Grand Review Blessing and Dedication, 8:30 to 9 a.m., Forum Building, 607 South Drive; Grand Review parade 9 a.m. to noon, Downtown.
Sunday: Legacy Women’s Awards reception and luncheon, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Hilton Harrisburg.
Friday through Sunday: Exhibits, symposiums and panel discussions at various sites. Learn more online .
Nov. 14: Grave site commemoration, 1:30 p.m., Allegheny Cemetery, Lawrenceville, where an estimated 200 members of the U.S. Colored Troops are buried; similar service in Blairsville Cemetery, East Market Street.