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The 113th United States Colored Infantry, part of the United States Colored Troops (USCT), served in Arkansas during the Civil War. Consisting of former slaves, the original unit was known as the Sixth Arkansas Volunteer Infantry (African Descent). The 113th never reached full strength, leading to its consolidation with two other regiments to form a new regiment.
When the Union’s Army of the Southwest moved into Helena (Phillips County) in 1862, thousands of former slaves flocked to the city. Recognizing that these freedmen were a potential source of manpower, the Federal government authorized the establishment of African-American units in 1863. A number of units were recruited in Helena, and additional units were recruited in Little Rock (Pulaski County) after that city fell to Union forces in September 1863. The last unit to be organized in the state was the Sixth Arkansas Volunteer Infantry (African Descent).
Recruiting of the regiment began in June 1864 and moved slowly. The Fifth Arkansas Volunteer Infantry (African Descent) had begun recruiting in Little Rock in May 1864 and remained understrength. The lack of available recruits severely hampered the strength of both regiments. The commander of the Sixth Arkansas was Lieutenant Colonel Lauriston Whipple, a former captain in the Thirty-third Iowa Infantry with a long service record in Arkansas, including being wounded at the Battle of Helena.
By August 31, 1864, the name of the regiment had been changed to the 113th United States Colored Infantry, and four companies were serving in Little Rock as part of the First Division of the Seventh Army Corps. The regiment was not placed into a brigade at this time, serving alongside the renamed Fifth Arkansas, now known as the 112th United States Colored Infantry. The units continued to be stationed in Little Rock where they performed fatigue duty, constructed fortifications, and performed other menial labor. The 113th was tasked with supporting a nearby artillery battery in case of an enemy attack on the city, but the men mostly worked to strengthen their lines.
By October 31, the 113th USCT joined the 112th USCT as part of the Second Brigade of the First Division. This unit consisted of both white and African-American units. Even after joining the brigade, the USCT units were still unable to raise enough men to get to full strength. The 113th still consisted of only four companies, well below the ten required of a full regiment. On February 6, 1865, the regiment had 251 men present for duty, substantially fewer than the 1,000 of a full-strength regiment. By this time, the Second Brigade had evolved from a mixture of white and African-American units to a force composed exclusively of USCT regiments.
In an effort to bring units up to full strength, three USCT units in Arkansas consolidated to form a new regiment on April 1, 1865. Joining the 113th USCT were the 112th USCT and the Eleventh USCT. This new regiment was named 113th USCT (New) to distinguish it from the earlier unit. Whipple took command of the new regiment and eventually received a promotion to the rank of colonel. The unit continued to serve in the Little Rock area until it was disbanded on April 9, 1866.
Although neither regiment known as the 113th ever saw combat, the men who served contributed to the Union cause. The support they gave to other forces in Little Rock helped ensure that Federal forces held the state until the end of the war.
For additional information:Gladstone, William. United States Colored Troops, 1863–1867. Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 1990.
David Sesser Henderson State University
Last Updated 4/29/2016
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