Feedback +

Soldiers of the 14th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery

An all-African-American volunteer regiment, the 14th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, later renamed the 11th United States Colored Artillery (Heavy), served honorably during the Civil War. In 1862, under pressure from African Americans who wished to fight but were denied the opportunity, the War Department announced that states could form regiments “consisting entirely of colored citizens.” Eventually, 179,000 African Americans would serve in the Army, with 19,000 more in the Navy. Rhode Island Governor James Smith obtained permission on July 19, 1863, to enlist and organize a colored company of heavy artillery.

Due to the high volume of volunteers, the proposed company instead became a regiment of twelve companies. The 14th RI consisted of nearly 1,800 men, recruited from Rhode Island, Connecticut, and other northern states. Seventy-seven white officers also joined the regiment. They trained at Dexter Training Ground in Providence and later were stationed at Dutch Island in Narragansett Bay.

In 1863, the 14th RI’s First Battalion was ordered to Louisiana, soon joined by the Second and Third. The Battalions did not take part in any major battles, but were under constant threat while they guarded forts and patrolled local communities. On several occasions they skirmished with Confederate soldiers, suffering numerous casualties. However, most casualties came from disease that ran rampant through their ranks during their tour of duty. On April 4, 1864, while the Battalions were in Louisiana, the War Department re-designated all state regiments composed of soldiers of African descent as US Army regiments. Read More...

Britni Gorman, BA, Rhode Island College