This Day in History

Feb. 18, 1865: Black Soldiers March into Charleston

Time Periods: Reconstruction Period: 1865 - 1876
Themes: African American, Reconstruction

Charleston, South Carolina was the capital of slavery. So when Union soldiers, most of whom were members of the 21st United States Colored Troops, entered the city, they were met by crowds of formerly enslaved people, cheering the men who had helped in their liberation.

55th regiment.

Members of the 55th Massachusetts Colored Regiment marching through Charleston, S.C. in February, 1865. Source: Library of Congress

One account told of the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment singing “John Brown’s Body” as they entered the city a few days later:

John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
But his soul goes marching on.

CHORUS: Glory, glory, hallelujah,
Glory, glory, hallelujah,
Glory, glory, hallelujah,
His soul goes marching on.

He’s gone to be a soldier in the Army of the Lord,
He’s gone to be a soldier in the Army of the Lord,
He’s gone to be a soldier in the Army of the Lord,
His soul goes marching on.–CHORUS

James Redpath, a correspondent for The New-York Tribune, wrote,

Imagine, if you can, this stirring song chanted with the most rapturous, most exultant emphasis, by a regiment of negro troops, who have been lying in sight of Charleston for nearly two years — as they trod with tumultuous delight along the streets of this pro-Slavery city.

Read more in When Freedom Came to Charleston by Blain Roberts and Ethan J. Kytle and BlackPast.