The Daily News Journal, August 17, 2003
On a trip to Ohio several years ago, Dr. George Smith of Murfreesboro learned a valuable history lesson.
“I learned that Murfreesboro had two black regiments, the 13th and the 17th, during the Civil War.” Says Smith, who was recently elected president of the Middle Tennessee Civil War Round Table, which is scheduled to meet on Tuesday. “I went through college and professional school and still didn’t know the role of the US Colored Troops in the Civil War.”
“I got excited because if I didn’t know about this, that meant other people didn’t know it either.” Says the local physician, who is now a US Colored Troops reenactor.
On May 22, 1863, the US Department of War established the Bureau of Colored Troops. Purpose of the Bureau was to recruit black soldiers to fight for the Union Army in the Civil War.
African-American recruits from Tennessee, South Carolina and Massachusetts filled the first authorized black regiments urging others to join the war.
After learning about the existence of the Colored Troops locally, Smith wanted to know more.
And he wanted to share the history of these brave African-Americans with others.
So he designed and built a permanent exhibit, titled “From African Warriors to Civil War Soldiers”, on display at Bradley Academy Museum and Cultural Arts Center.
Just a year ago Smith also bought his first U.S. Colored Troop uniform so he could participate in battle reenactments.
“You can’t really experience it until you get a uniform”, Smith says.
His first uniform once belonged to Martin Delany, who was the highest ranking black stag officer to serve in the Union Army. Delany was also a doctor, so Smith became especially interested in him.
After purchasing the uniform Smith says he didn’t feel worthy enough to portray Delany because he didn’t have enough knowledge of that position.
“So I bought another uniform of a lowly private so I could work myself up to Delany’s position” Smith jokes, “because once you put on that uniform, you experience what most reenactors call ‘being on the bubble.’”
This happens when reenactors become so engrossed in their characters that they begin to experience some of the same feelings those soldiers might have felt, says Smith.
“You take on the spirit of that character,” Smith says.