Michigan’s 1st Colored Infantry
In April of 1861, Michigan answered President Lincoln’s call for troops and through the course of the Civil War filled over thirty infantry units with Michigan men. There was a segment of the population, although willing to fight, not allowed to enlist at the initial call for men. African-Americans from Michigan and from around the country were prevented from joining the ranks of the citizen soldier until the war seemed to drag into a long and desperate fight. It has been recorded, that these Michigan men were very willing to take up the nation’s cause. Their part in history is recorded in the Michigan Civil War Centennial Observance Commission’s, Negroes in Michigan during the Civil War, published in 1966. This small book delves into Michigan’s strong antislavery sentiments, the history of the African-American population in Michigan and their involvement as Civil War soldiers.
Most people assume that the enlistment of African–American men was enacted after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in January of 1863 but the first black enlistment system actually began the summer of 1862 under the authorization of the U.S. Congress. President Lincoln assumed that the enlistment of African-Americans would strengthen Union forces and weaken the Confederate cause. Finally, in July of 1863, the Secretary of War authorized Michigan Governor Austin Blair to organize the 1st Michigan Colored Infantry. This unit was later known as the 102nd U. S Colored Infantry. Over 1600 Michigan men enlisted and they were mustered in on February 17, 1864. The 102nd U.S. Colored Infantry fought in South Carolina, Eastern Georgia and Florida. Approximately twenty-five men from Monroe County enlisted in the 102nd. Many were substitutes and little has been documented on these men.
Dr. James DeVries did extensive research on one of the Monroe soldiers of the 102nd in his book Race and Kinship in a Midwestern Town. This book includes the history of the Aaron Bromley family of Monroe. Bromley was an escaped slave which made it to Monroe from a plantation near Florence, Alabama. DeVries suggests that Bromley learned about Monroe through its own Mulligan Regiment (part of the 15th Michigan) while fighting during the Battle of Shiloh. In August of 1864, Bromley enlisted as a substitute for John L. C. Godfroy. He joined the 1st Michigan Colored Infantry in Detroit and was assigned to Company C of the 102nd U.S. Colored Troops. He met his unit at Beaufort, South Carolina. Bromley, like many soldiers during the Civil War, contracted a disease while in the field. In May of 1865, he was discharged due to erysipelas, an acute skin disease, and rheumatism. This illness affected him the rest of his life.
At the time of the Civil War, Monroe’s African- American population was small and as Devries’ book points out, was part of a familial population. As with their white counterparts, many family groups enlisted and fought together. DeVries concluded that at least four of the twenty-five soldiers listed for Monroe are related. Aaron Bromley’s brother-in-law, Noel Cox, was a member of the 102nd but enlisted under the alias of John Williams. George Fox and Joseph Wickliffe were his cousins.
These books offer insight into the role of African- American soldiers in the Civil War:
The Monroe County Library System offers more ways to learn about the Civil War through these programs:
Paging through the Civil War Book Club – This is a book club that focuses on the American Civil War. We are currently reading Embattled Rebel by James M. McPherson. We will meet to discuss the book on Thursday, March 31 at 7 pm at the Ellis Library and Reference Center. For more information please contact Charmaine Wawrzyniec at 734-241-5277 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Monroe County Civil War Round Table, sponsored by the Friends of Ellis Library, meets the second Thursday of every month from September through May at the Ellis Library and Reference Center. Each month a different speaker is invited to share his or her knowledge of specific Civil War topics. Join us on Thursday, February 11, when Mr. William Cottrell gives his talk: President Grant Honors Lincoln's Legacy. All talks are free and open to the public. For more information please contact Charmaine Wawrzyniec at 734-241-5277 or email email@example.com.