"Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States."
-Frederick Douglas

More than 180,000 African American men and women served in the Union Army and Navy during the American Civil War. In Ulster County, African American men volunteered and served in three regiments; the 20th, the 31st and the 36th United States Colored Infantries. Most of these men enlisted in the 20th USCT which was mustered in on February 9, 1864, on Rikers Island. They were subsequently sent to New Orleans where they were known for their bravery in the Battle for Port Hudson. They also saw duty in Texas, Florida, and Tennessee before being mustered out October 7, 1865. The following excerpt concerning the 20th Colored Regiment appeared in HARPER'S WEEKLY magazine on Saturday, March 19, 1864 in an article titled, "The Opening of the Campaign of '64"

Every where the soldiers were greeted as a great city ought to greet its defenders, and as it has saluted every departing regiment since the Seventh marched on the 19th of April, three years ago. The flag of the country waved over them in benediction. The prayers of all noble hearts follow them. For these soldiers go to peculiar dangers. Officers and men, they have counted the cost ; and for union, liberty, and peace they are willing to pay the price. " It has been the habit of those among us," said Colonel BARTRAM, " who sympathize with the traitors now in arms against us, to sneer at what they are pleased to term the cowardice of the negro. I hope that Port Hudson, Fort Wagner, and Olustee have forever settled this question." Yes, and he and his soldiers will settle it still further, and thereby help to lift the bitter prejudice from the national heart. To no holier work could any man be devoted. God bless the Colonel, the officers, and the men of the Twentieth United States Colored Regiment and the cause they go to defend.