Cover image for Eagles on their buttons : a Black infantry regiment in the Civil War
Eagles on their buttons : a Black infantry regiment in the Civil War
Washington, Versalle F., 1962-
Publication Information:
Columbia : University of Missouri Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xv, 113 pages ; 24 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E492.94 5TH .W37 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Grosvenor Room Non-Circ

On Order



Eagles on Their Buttons is a fascinating examination of the Fifth Regiment of Infantry, United States Colored Troops--the Union Army's first black regiment from Ohio. Although the Fifth USCT was one of more than 150 regiments of black troops making up more than 10 percent of the Union Army at the end of the war, it was unique. The majority of USCT regiments were made up of freed men who viewed the army as an escape from slavery and a chance to take up arms against their former masters. The men serving in the 5th USCT, however, were freemen who were raised in a northern state and saw serving in the army both as a way to gain equal rights under the law and as an opportunity to prove their worth as men.

Because historians have written little on this subject, many Americans believe that African Americans simply received their freedom with the Emancipation Proclamation. They know nothing about the struggles these courageous people endured to gain their independence. Now, by incorporating personal documents, letters, diaries, and official records, Eagles on Their Buttons sheds important new light on this unfamiliar aspect of the Civil War. Versalle Washington shows what caused the soldiers in the Fifth USCT to join their regiment, what sort of men they were, and how they fought and lived as African American soldiers under white officers. He discusses the regiment's service, addressing its role in the siege of Petersburg, the battle of Chapin's Farm, and the capture of Fort Fisher and the port of Wilmington. Washington also looks at what effects the soldiers' service had in terms of societal changes following the Civil War.

Eagles on Their Buttons is a fresh contribution to Civil War scholarship and will be welcomed by professional historians and amateur Civil War buffs alike.

This book is part of the University of Missouri Press' Shades of Blue and Gray series.

Author Notes

Versalle F. Washington is a Major in the United States Army, serving at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

A small book for its price tag proves definitely worthwhile for Civil War and African American history collections. It tells the story of the Fifth United States Colored Troops, made up largely of Ohio men, with the support and frequent leadership of the northern Ohio abolitionist community. After surviving the usual vagaries of opposition and discrimination in pay, the regiment compiled a distinguished service record in the Army of the Potomac. Its accomplishments included capturing Confederate guns at Petersburg, Virginia, and superb conduct in the Battle of New Market Heights, for which four NCOs were given Medals of Honor for taking command of companies that had lost all their white officers. Except for the 54th Massachusetts (of the movie Glory fame), black Union regiments consisting of northern free men are only just beginning to receive proper attention, and the experiences of the Fifth USCT in some ways say more about the politics of blacks in service in the Civil War than do those of their more famous Massachusetts brethren. --Roland Green