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Research finds scores of Rockbridge African American men joined Union army in the Civil War

Updated: Jun. 11, 2021 at 5:32 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Va. (WDBJ) - When researchers at the Rockbridge Historical Society were looking into local African American history, they were in for a surprise.

“And I saw a military file,” said researcher Larry Spurgeon, “a link to his military service record: United States Colored troops.”

And, it turned out, he wasn’t alone.

“I thought maybe a handful. Maybe?” Spurgeon said. “And the very first search we did was 50. And that is still the foundation of our list, those 50.”

They’ve since discovered at least 60 African American men from Rockbridge joined the Army.

“The men from Rockbridge enlisted in 31 regiments,” said Spurgeon. “Just the men from Rockbridge.”

“We think it’s really going to change the ways in which people think about the Civil War,” said Eric Wilson, Executive Director of the Rockbridge Historical Society, “about the motivations and experiences that people held here.”

The society will have a presentation on their findings, but also plans to integrate the stories into lessons for schools.

“We want to develop a breadth of material, of content, and we also want to broaden the narrative in terms of how people think and talk about local histories,” Wilson said.

It’s a history popularized by the movie “Glory” in 1989, featuring the 54th Massachusetts Regiment.

“We have three men from Rockbridge, born in Rockbridge, who were in the 54th Massachusetts,” Spurgeon explained.

And a history that they hope to continue to make new discoveries in the records.

“We want local history to matter, but we want to matter in a broad context,” Wilson said. “And we want the questions and suggestions and contributions of other community members here that we don’t yet know about.”

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