U.S. Colored Troops honored near site of executions in Culpeper County

By: - November 8, 2021 12:01 am

Members of the 23rd U.S. Colored Troops, a living history organization located in Spotsylvania County, and descendants of the 27th U.S. Colored Troops unveil a monument in honor of fallen soldiers. (Jackie Llanos Hernandez/Virginia Mercury)

More than 157 years ago, Confederate soldiers captured and executed three soldiers of the United States Colored Troops in Culpeper County.

On Saturday morning, a foundation dedicated to Civil War history unveiled a monument honoring the men’s service.

“We don’t know their identities, nor do we know precisely where they’re buried, but we know what happened and that they lay nearby,” said Howard Lambert, founder and president of The Freedom Foundation of Virginia. “This is dedicated to those men, who made the ultimate sacrifice.”

The granite obelisk is the first monument dedicated to the regiments in Culpeper and comes amid a nationwide reevaluation of Civil War memorials and monuments, which in the South have traditionally focused on valorizing the Confederacy.

The Freedom Foundation, which focuses on the contributions and legacy of Culpeper born U.S. Colored Troops, built the monument in collaboration with the Civil War Trails and the Piedmont Environmental Council.

The foundation also erected markers documenting a church and a tavern built by Willis Madden, a free Black man who lived in the area. Madden’s Tavern had a general store, blacksmith, wheelwright shop and sleeping quarters for travelers, making it a perfect resting place for troops from both sides. Ebenezer Baptist Church was one of the first post-Civil War Black churches in the area. 

The unveiling began with a procession by the 23rd Regiment United States Colored Troops, a living history organization located in Spotsylvania County.

Members of the 23rd Regiment United States Colored Troops, a living history organization located in Spotsylvania County, march to the monument. (Jackie Llanos Hernandez/Virginia Mercury)

Following remarks from Lambert and Chris Miller, who emphasized the importance of working together across divides in today’s political climate, the markers were unveiled one by one by members from each group that was honored. Bill Madden, a descendant of Willis Madden said it was remarkable that the tavern was still standing. 

Civil War historian John Hennessy said the site was more than just trail markers, it was part of the process of change in how the past is perceived. Henessy compared the work of public history to a mirror, which sometimes reflects ugliness within. However, he said we must learn about the ugliness of our history. 

After Hennessy’s speech, members of the 23rd USCT and descendants of the 27th USCT that joined the Army of the Potomac and marched in Culpeper removed the tarp covering the obelisk and laid three wreaths at its base. 

As the obelisk was unveiled, other members of the 23rd USCT released volley fire toward the empty field behind the monument, and Dave Boltz, a retired Senior Master Sergeant of the U.S. Air Force, played taps, a call to remember those who gave their lives in service. 

Attendees of the ceremony spent the morning learning about the history of the land. Michelle Tutt of Culpeper said it was important to share the history that she wasn’t taught in school.

Tyrone Terry of Richmond said knowing the truth matters as the history of marginalized people is not openly talked about.  

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Jackie Llanos Hernandez
Jackie Llanos Hernandez

Jackie Llanos Hernandez was a Virginia Mercury intern while studying journalism and anthropology at University of Richmond. Jackie grew up in Colombia before moving to Virginia. Jackie is also the investigative and multimedia editor at the independent student-run newspaper, The Collegian.