The vast majority of men who served in the Union army from St. Mary’s County were of African descent. Muster rolls indicate that these men served in a number of regiments across the country.
White Maryland residents had divided loyalties at the outset of the war and some white landowners supported secession. For the most part, whites in this and other southern Maryland communities were aligned with the South. After Lincoln authorized black military service as part of the Emancipation Proclamation, African Americans saw military service as a way to hasten the end of slavery.
Lincoln did not act alone. Prominent black leaders including Frederic Douglass and Robert Smalls led efforts to petition the federal government and helped to convince Lincoln and other Northern leaders to change the military's policy of exclusion. In July of 1862, for example, Congress passed the Militia Act of 1862. Over time, black leaders demonstrated that it had become an “indispensable military necessity” to call on African American men to help save the Union. On September 27, 1862, the first black regiment was formed even if it was not officially recognized by the Union Army. After January 1, 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, the War Department authorized the recruiting of African American soldiers. Recruitment efforts intensified and slave owners in states that had not joined the Confederacy were offered monetary compensation for releasing enslaved men so that they might enlist.
By the end of 1863, General Ulysses S. Grant viewed the African American soldier as a “powerful ally.” President Lincoln made it clear to military authorities and citizens alike that African American soldiers were to be accorded the rights and privileges of bearing arms in support of the Union Army. Both freemen and former slaves joined the fight. In spite of harsh conditions and inadequate supplies, these soldiers went on to participate in some of the most important battles of the war. African Americans proved themselves as reputable soldiers many times over, yet discrimination in pay and other areas remained widespread.
After the war, many African Americans had difficulties obtaining soldiers' pensions and receiving the recognition afforded to white veterans. However, many black veterans were able to become ministers, educators, and entrepreneurs.
Idolia Shubrooks led the effort to make this memorial a reality, working for more than 20 years to conduct research, garner support among others, and raise funds. Her journey began when she found her Grandfather's muster papers.