The three Black soldiers during the Civil War were lined up, shot and left on the side of road. Last Saturday, the three men from the U.S. Colored Troops were finally honored for their service in Culpeper, County, Virginia. Although their names are unknown, the recognition of their contributions are now sewn into the fabric of American history.
By the conclusion of the Civil War, more than 185,000 African American soldiers had served in the Union Army, and another 19,000 soldiers had served in the United States Navy. President Lincoln even credited the participation of Black soldiers as the tipping point in the war.
Howard Lambert, head of the nonprofit organization Freedom Foundation, is a self described enthusiast of history regarding the U.S. Colored Troops. Lambert, who is a native of Culpepper County, spends most of his time these days sharing his research with his townspeople. Now, in partnership with Civil War Trails and the Piedmont Environmental Council, the Freedom Foundation has honored these three men with a granite obelisk in a ceremony at Maddensville Historic Site on Madden’s Tavern Road. The structure commemorates each of the three soldiers, along with three historical markers from Civil War Trails that go into detail about other aspects of the site’s history.
Lambert believes it to be likely that the three soldiers were captured while guarding supply wagons for soldiers fighting in the Battle of the Wilderness. Their capture and execution is documented in the journal of Private Byrd Willis, an archive Lambert came across in his research.
It reads in part, “We captured three Negro soldiers, the first we had seen,” he writes on May 8, 1864. “They were taken out on the road side and shot and their bodies left there.”
In a phone interview conducted by The Washington Post, Lambert describes reading these lines as “chilling.”
“It was like a common occurrence. No ceremony, just, ‘Oh, we lined ’em up and shot ’em.’ ” he says.
The monument and commemoration were made possible by volunteers like Lambert, and included the participation of other historians, actors, Ebenezer Baptist Church members, and descendants of USCT soldiers.
The site also honors Willis Madden, a free Black man whose mother had once been enslaved by President James Madison. Madden later went on to open the only Black-owned-and-operated tavern in 1840 antebellum Piedmont. He was highly respected, and well known for his generosity, which extended as far as the purchase of hundreds of acres of farmland in Culpeper County, as well as both land and materials to construct the Ebenezer Baptist Church, located just across the street.
“To me, it’s like the American story: You work hard, you start your own business, and you do well,” Lambert said. “And he’s certainly a symbol of that.”