The United States Colored Troops (USCT) was the designation given to the approximately 175 regiments of non-white soldiers that served during the Civil War. The troops were primarily African American, but Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders were all included within the ranks, as well. By the end of the war, nearly a tenth of the entire Union Army consisted of member of the USCT, which peaked at 178,000 individuals. These regiments were the precursors for the now famous Buffalo Soldiers who served throughout the West following the conclusion of the war.
Before January 1, 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, President Abraham Lincoln was cautious about the recruitment of African Americans into the Union Army, due to politics and prejudice throughout the North, especially among Democrats loyal to the Union who resided in Border States that allowed slavery. Once January 1 came, however, and the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, full scale recruitment of black troops began.
In May 1863, the United States War Department created the Bureau of Colored Troops, and the USCT was officially established. The USCT consisted of 135 regiments of infantry soldiers, six regiments of cavalry, one regiment of light artillery, and 13 regiments of heavy artillery. An addition nineteen thousand African Americans served in the United States Navy. Furthermore, thousands of black women, who were not allowed to formally enlist, worked for the military as cooks, spies, nurses, and scouts; the most famous of these women was Harriet Tubman.
The United States Colored Troops fought in every major military campaign and battle the Union Army was involved in during the last two years of the Civil War. These included three of the most costly battles of the entire war, the Battle of Nashville, the Battle of Chickamauga, both in Tennessee, and the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse in Virginia. Throughout the war, the USCT suffered a total of 68,178 casualties while contributing to the Union