The 57th U.S. Colored Troops in Ft. Smith, Arkansas
The 57th United States Colored Troops became a new Black Union regiment in
Civil War, organized from the 4th Arkansas Infantry of African Descent. This regiment was not organized in Ft. Smith, but in Helena Arkansas. As a result, most of the soldiers who served in this unit were from Eastern Arkansas, and were mustered in in that region. The unit was attached to the District of Eastern Arkansas, as part of the 7th Corps. They formed part of the Colored Brigade till February 1865, serving in the Dept of Arkansas til December 1866.
The unit had mostly garrison duty at Helena and later in Little Rock. These black federal soldiers became part of a detachments unit on Steele's Camden Expedition in March till may of 1864. They were, during this time primarily serving as bridge train guards. In April, the unit saw some action, involving themselves in skirmshes near Little Rock in late May.
They were then marched to Brownsville Arkansas, and then later to Duvall's Bluff till August of that year. At the time of Lee's surrender, the unit was in Little Rock and partially in Duvall's Bluff. They were soon brought to Ft. Smith, where they spent the months immediately following the war as the major
patrollers of the city. Because of the large number of black soldiers stationed
in Ft. Smith, and the newly freed slave population, it comes as no surprise that
quick courtships with freedwomen of the city occurred.
Stationed at the Ft. Smith military outpost, and with the establishment of the Freedman's Bureau in Ft. Smith, operated by the Federal army, many of the first black marriages performed in Ft. Smith, were between the soldiers of the 57th US Colored Troops and the local women. The unit would remain in Ft. Smith for many months, and many became distinguished citizens of the towns freed population, settling down to begin their new civilian lives as free men.
The soldiers of the 57th made an impression on not only the black citizens of the city, but also of the whites. Some of the soldiers were literate, but with those who were not, many took advantage of the establishment of new schools for blacks to learn how to read and write themselves. This has been noted in several histories already written about Ft. Smith.
Their designated roll in the city cannot be overlooked. There were few, if any entrances to the city from the South, North, East or West, that were without black soldiers guarding the entrance. As life returned to a level of normalcy int the city after the war's end, it was the black soldiers of the 57th USCT, who were the primary policemen, keeping order in the city. One could not enter thecity often without being confronted by armed black Union soldiers. This image is in stark contrast to the level of intimidation that would later occur when Jim Crow laws would isolate the black community years later. These men were also present when Oaths of Allegiance were re-administered to persons in Ft. Smith who had been Confederate sessionists, and who had lost property in the war. These black men witnessed the restoration of American citizenship to several noted persons of the city. They remained on post duty till December of 1866. In October of 1866, two companies---A and D were mustered out and the remainder were mustered out of service in December of 1866, a full 18 months after the end of the Civil War. Many remained in the city to become prominent citizens in the black community of Ft. Smith.