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On the Battlefield: Records of Soldiers, Veterans, and Refugees

Prior to emancipation, Black soldiers served both voluntarily and involuntarily in conflicts in what is now the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean.

Enslaved and free men took part in military conflicts including colonial wars (1609–1775), the Revolutionary War (1775–1783), the War of 1812 (1812–1815), and the Civil War (1861–1865). Later, free Black soldiers—most of whom were descended from enslaved people—participated in the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Philippine Insurrection (1899–1902). This project will rely not just on the rich records created for soldiers, but also for veterans and wartime refugees.

Photograph of soldiers

Examples of records:

  • Military records (muster rolls, pay rolls, drafts, enlistment records, etc.)

  • Veteran records (pension records, bounty land warrants, veteran headstone inscription records, etc.)

  • Documentation from the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands—more commonly known as “the Freedmen’s Bureau”


Check this space for future updates!


Completed Databases


Upcoming Databases

  • 1st Kansan Colored Volunteer Regiment
  • Forgotten Patriots—African American and American Indian Patriots in the Revolutionary War: A Guide to Service, Sources, and Studies (in partnership with the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution)

Ancestor Spotlight: Dr. Theodore J Becker and Martin F Becker

From their birth in the Dutch Colony of Suriname, to their service in two different Massachusetts regiments, to their influential careers in medicine and politics, follow the story of two brothers who volunteered their skills during the Civil War.

Brothers Dr. Theodore J. and Martin Becker


NPS Sailors

Search a list of 18,000 Black sailors who served in the Civil War


From Our Collections

A Brave Black Regiment: History of the Fifty-Fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863–1865 by Luis F. Emilio

A Census of Pensioners for Revolutionary or Military Service by the U.S. Census Bureau

The Black loyalist directory : African Americans in exile after the American Revolutionedited with an introduction by Graham Russell Hodges; transcript and index by Susan Hawkes Cook

Black Loyalists: southern settlers of Nova Scotia's first free black communities by Ruth Holmes Whitehead.

Forgotten Patriots: African American and American Indian patriots in the Revolutionary War: a guide to service, sources and studies, edited by Eric G. Grundset; researched by Briana L. Diaz, Hollis L. Gentry, and Jean D. Strahan

Massachusetts officers and soldiers in the French and Indian Wars, 1755-1756edited by K. David Goss, David Zarowin.

Massachusetts soldiers and sailors of the Revolutionary War compiled by the Massachusetts Office of the Secretary of State

Practicing medicine in a black regiment : the Civil War diary of Burt G. Wilder, 55th Massachusetts, edited by Richard M. Reid

On the altar of freedom : a black soldier's Civil War letters from the front by James Henry Gooding, edited by Virginia Matzke Adams