By Tod Roulette
This is the 150th year of the Civil War and D.C. houses the only museum dedicated to preserving the history of the colored infantryman. It is down the street from the campus of Howard University. There is no staff in order for persons to research their relatives or lives of colored militia or navy men or the few colored women who aided their soldiers as nurses and seamstress during this time in history as freedman and enslaved men fought to cripple the rebel Confederate sources. But, this very important repository may become soon part of the larger D.C. Library system as the Harlem based world renown Schomburg Center here is. If the D.C. council champions the museum becoming part of the library system it would give it allow such as vital tools digitizing its collection and providing research assistants to aid its eager public.
Located on the famous U Street in D.C. (the equivalent of our 125th Street) the Civil War Memorial Museum helped to revitalize its particular end of U Street.
Luckily, I had a moment alone with Director of Education Dawn Chitty, who assists with genealogy, so I arranged an appointment! She showed me the three-volume book compiled and published by the museum listing all colored Civil War infantryman in the United States which can be purchased at their bookstore. I took the opportunity to ask a question about one of the three members of the maternal family’s ancestors who fought in the infantries of Missouri and Kentucky. As part of a book I am writing on Bryant women from slavery to the Civil Rights movement in the MidWest it was important for me to acknowledge the brothers and sons of these women during Reconstruction who fought in the Civil War in these ‘upper South’ states.
Henry, Charles and Francis Bryant were freedmen and my three times great uncles who all enrolled in the Civil War starting in 1861. Director Chitty in no time pulled up the first enlistment of Charles Bryant who was one of the least unknown of the colored infantry man who enrolled in a white troop of Civil War men in Missouri although his family were freed peoples in Missouri. Wow, that was worth the trip to the Black Caucus and “Out on the Hill” event of the NBJC alone. What a tension filled experience Charles must have had fighting to secure the freedom of his enslaved black brothers and sisters while fighting alongside white men in the Union Army.
In the exhibition was a picture of one of the youngest colored soldiers who was 8 years old and was an enslaved boy. There is a before and after picture of him, first as a slave child in deploringly tattered clothing and then with cut and brushed hair and dressed in drummer official clothing and a drum slung sideways across his shoulder. What a sense of ownership and belonging for a child whose parents could not claim to own their own child. See this museum with your younger family members when you are in D.C.
Tod Roulette’s Masters thesis is being rewritten as a book and examines four generations of female members of his Mid West family 1795-1908, “Rowing, Not
Drifting-Bryant Women in Kansas, 1795-1908: The Expansion of the West and the Participation by Women of Color”