Remembering the 28th: Indiana's only African-American Civil War regiment

INDIANAPOLIS -- The intersection of McCarty/Calvary Street and Virginia Avenue, home to one of the most popular neighborhoods in Indianapolis, was once very different. 

In the mid-1800s, it was known as Camp Fremont and was a training area for the 28th Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops, Indiana's only African-American Civil War regiment. The land was owned by Calvin Fletcher, an Indiana attorney, state senator and civic leader. 

The recruiting officer was the Rev. Willis Revels, an African-American minister who was pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Indianapolis. That church still exists today.

First organized in December 1863, the 28th Regiment participated in battles like the Weldon Railroad, Poplar Grove Church, Hatcher's Run and the "Battle of the Crater." In the last one, nearly half the men in the regiment were killed. A New York Post writer witnessed the battle and later said, "I was never under such a terrific fire, and can hardly realize how any escaped alive."

By the end of the Civil War, the 28th Regiment was stationed at Corpus Christi, Texas. A parade and celebration was held in 1866 when the soldiers came back to Indianapolis. 

The legacy of the 28th Regiment lived on. At the 1866 Colored Convention in Indianapolis, the regiment was used as an example to show why African-American men should be able to vote. In a 1866 Evansville Journal article, the Colored Convention adopted the following: 

"There are twenty thousand colored men in the State. We have always been loyal to our Government. We furnished our full quota as soldiers for the suppression of the recent rebellion; how heroically and faithfully those soldiers fought, let the record of the 28th regiment U.S.C Infantry tell. ... We are denied the elective franchise, and thus deprived of having a voice in the choice of our rulers. To deprive us of this is to disregard the cardinal principles of the Declaration of Independence."

African-American men in the United States were granted the right to vote by the 15th Amendment in 1870. The first black man to serve in the Senate was Hiram Rhodes Revels, the younger brother of Willis Revels. 

As for Camp Fremont? The land that Fletcher owned ended up becoming Fletcher Place, just off Fletcher Avenue. The Indiana Historical Bureau erected a plaque there, honoring the 28th Regiment of the USCT.

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