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The Fifty-seventh regiment of United States Colored Infantry began its service as the Fourth Arkansas Infantry (African Descent). Recruited and organized at DeValls Bluff (Prairie County), Little Rock (Pulaski County), and Helena (Phillips County), the regiment mustered into Federal service on December 2, 1863, and served with the Seventh Corps in the Department of Arkansas.
Thomas D. Seawell received a commission as the regiment’s colonel on August 10, 1863, after previous service throughout Mississippi as captain of Company E in the Tenth Missouri Infantry. He served until the end of May 1864 and received a brevet promotion to brigadier general on March 13, 1865.
The Bureau of Colored Troops, commonly known as the United States Colored Troops (USCT), was organized in May 1863. As part of a larger Union reorganization of the state’s black troops, the designation of the Fourth Arkansas Infantry (African Descent) changed to the Fifty-seventh United States Colored Infantry on March 11, 1864. They performed garrison duty at Helena and Little Rock until August 1864. A detachment served as bridge and train guards during Major General Frederick Steele’s Camden Expedition between March 23 and May 3, 1864. The Fifty-seventh USCT skirmished with Confederates near Little Rock on April 26, 1864, and frequently engaged Brigadier General Joseph O. Shelby’s command north of the Arkansas River between May 13 and 31. They also skirmished repeatedly near Little Rock between May 24 and 28, 1864.
Andrew B. Morrison, who served previously as a captain and chaplain in the Twenty-sixth Illinois Infantry before joining the regiment as major in 1863, succeeded Seawell as colonel, with rank to date from June 1, 1864. On August 23, 1864, the Fifty-seventh USCT marched to Brownsville (Lonoke County) and to DeValls Bluff on August 29. They served there and at Little Rock until June 1865.
Due to ill health, Morrison resigned on October 22, 1864, and was succeeded by Paul Harwood. Harwood served previously in the Eastern Theater with the Eighth New York State Militia, as well as the First and Second Connecticut Heavy Artillery, and joined the Fifty-seventh USCT as a major in July 1864. Prior to Morrison’s official appointment as colonel, Harwood commanded the regiment at Huntersville, now North Little Rock (Pulaski County), between July and August 1864.
Between January and February 1865, the regiment’s designation was changed to the Colored Brigade of the Seventh Corps. Between February and August 1865, they served as the Second Brigade, First Division, Seventh Corps.
Posted to Fort Smith (Sebastian County) by August 1865, the Fifty-seventh USCT guarded property and maintained law and order in the immediate postwar period. During this time, at least forty-six enlisted men married women at the Fort Smith Freedmen’s Bureau office. These were some of the first legally recognized marriages in the state among newly freed African Americans.
In May 1866, the Fifty-seventh USCT was ordered back to Little Rock after members of Companies B and H briefly mutinied against orders to join an expedition to New Mexico Territory with the Third U.S. Cavalry. On June 4, after an investigation by division commander Major General J. J. Reynolds, the regiment returned to Fort Smith onboard the steamers Pilgrim and Argos. Company C, however, received orders to construct a ferry across the Poteau River landing at Skullyville in the Choctaw Nation (part of modern-day Oklahoma).
On June 7, 1866, the Fifty-seventh USCT (minus Company C) departed Fort Smith as the first of three columns. Marching westward into the Indian Territory, often along the Canadian River, the regiment primarily performed pioneer duty. On July 9, they camped at the ruins of Fort Cobb. On July 12, Col. Harwood got lost during a buffalo hunt and was feared killed by Comanche. Harwood eventually rejoined the regiment on August 21, after an arduous journey back to Fort Smith and Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, from where he traveled by stagecoach to Fort Union, New Mexico Territory.
In Harwood’s absence, the regiment continued with the expedition under Colonel Marshall S. Howe of the Third U.S. Cavalry. Following the Santa Fe Road, they reached Fort Bascom near the Colorado River by August 5 and arrived on August 13 at Fort Union, commanded by Colonel Kit Carson. While in New Mexico, the regiment’s companies served by detachment at Forts Union, Sumner, and Stanton. Ordered to Fort Leavenworth on September 24, 1866, they arrived on October 29.
Companies A and D mustered out on October 18 and 19, 1866. Harwood mustered out on October 19 but accepted a commission as a second lieutenant with the Twenty-seventh U.S. Infantry on March 7, 1867. The rest of the regiment mustered out on December 31, 1866.
Several of the regiment’s enlisted men are buried in the national cemeteries at Fort Smith and Little Rock, as well as Fairview Cemetery in Crawford County.
For additional information:Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion. Vol. 1, Part 3. De Moines, IA: Dyer Publishing Company, 1908.
Henry, Guy V. Military Records of Civilian Appointments in the United States Army. Vol. 1. New York: Carleton Publisher.
Phillips, Marion G., and Valerie Phillips Parsegian, ed. Richard and Rhoda: Letters from the Civil War. Washington DC: Legation Press, 1981.
Record Group 105. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, Fort Smith Arkansas Subordinate Field Office to the Freedmen’s Bureau. Entry No. 381, Page 49. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington DC.
United States Quartermaster’s Department. Roll of Honor: Names of Soldiers who Died in Defense of the Union, Interred at the National Cemeteries. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1870.
Robert Patrick BenderEastern New Mexico University–Roswell
Last Updated 2/16/2018
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