Joseph Hayne Rainey

Joseph Hayne Rainey First Black Congressman

Joseph Hayne Rainey fled to Bermuda so he would not have to help the Confederate Army during the Civil War. When he returned to the United States, he went into politics. He was the first Black man to serve in the United States House of Representatives.

Joseph was born into slavery in Georgetown, South Carolina on July 21, 1832. Joseph’s father was allowed to leave the plantation, where they were enslaved, and earn money working as a barber. Since he was not free, he had to share his earning with his enslaver. Joseph’s father saved the money he was able to keep. When he had enough, he purchased his family’s freedom.

When the Civil War started in 1861, the Rainey family was living as free people in South Carolina. Free Black people did not have the same rights as white people. They did not control anything and were sometimes forced to work for those in power.

Joseph was forced to work for the Confederate Army. He did not want to help the south during the war, and he did not want to work for an army that was fighting to keep slavery. When Joseph got the chance he and his wife escaped to Bermuda.

Joseph was a barber like his father. He started a barber business in Bermuda. His wife started a dressmaking business. Both businesses were successful.

The couple returned to the United States during Reconstruction and moved back to South Carolina. Reconstruction was the period that followed the Civil War. It was a time when the country worked to come together as one nation. It was also a time when Black men were able to vote and run for office. During that time Joseph became active in politics.


When one of South Carolina’s congressmen had to resign from office, Joseph was chosen to replace him.


Joseph Hayne Rainey served in the United States House of Representatives for ten years. While in office he fought for civil rights laws, money for public schools and equal rights for all Americans.


Fort Pillow Massacre

Fort Pillow Massacre

Fort Pillow Massacre

On April 12, 1864 Confederate troops, commanded by General Bedford Forrest, attacked Fort Pillow, Tennessee. Union troops holding the fort were outnumbered and no match for the 1500-2500 Confederate soldiers attacking them.

Although there was not an official surrender it was pretty obvious that the Union soldiers were defeated and had given up. Many threw down their arms and rushed to the nearby river to get away. 300 Union troops, most of whom were black, were killed unnecessarily and many of the black soldiers were shot in the head at point-blank range.

A surviving white soldier described the battle this way:

From where I fell wounded, I could plainly see this firing and note the bullets striking the water around the black heads of the soldiers, until suddenly the muddy current became red and I saw another life sacrificed in the cause of the Union. Here I noticed one soldier in the river, but in some way clinging to the bank. Two confederate soldiers pulled him out. He seemed to be wounded and crawled on his hands and knees. Finely one of the confederate soldiers placed his revolver to the head of the colored soldier and killed him. (Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

Another surviving white soldier said:

I saw one of the rebels and told him I would surrender. He said, “We do not shoot white men.”  … He ordered me away; he kept on shooting the negroes (Source: US Capitol)

In May 1864 the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of War conducted an investigation. The committee concluded that Confederate soldiers killed most of the Union soldiers after they had surrendered.

Soldiers serving under Forrest did not accept the conclusion and maintained their claim that Union soldiers kept their weapons and fired back at the Confederate army while fleeing.

The controversy surrounding the battle at Fort Pillow continues today. Historians agree a massacre did occur, but differ in their conclusions over whether the killings were premeditated or occurred in the heat of battle.

Note: Nathan Bedford Forrest was a planter and made a fortune dealing in cotton, land and slaves. After the war he was associated with the Ku Klux Klan and was allegedly its first Grand Wizard. Forrest denied that allegation during Congressional testimony in 1871.

Susie King Taylor

Susie King Taylor

Susie King Taylor was one of the first people to write about her experience with a “colored regiment” during the Civil War.

Taylor was born into slavery in Georgia in 1848. She learned to read and write with other African American children in a secret school in Savannah.

During this period blacks, free and enslaved, needed a pass to be out after 9:00 pm. If caught without a pass they would be arrested and held in custody until the following morning. After learning to write, Taylor would often write passes for her family and other African Americans in the area.

When the Civil War started she traveled with her husband’s regiment, the 1st South Carolina Volunteers. When the Bureau of United States Colored Troops was formed the unit became the 33rd USCT.

Susie King Taylor was assigned to be a laundress for the unit, but soon took on the role of nurse and caregiver. She also taught the soldiers to read and write in their spare time.

Her book,  “Reminiscences of MY LIFE IN CAMP” was published in 1902.

Alexander T Augusta

Black Civil War Physician

Alexander T Augusta was one of at least thirteen black civil war physicians.

Because of his skin color Alexander T Augusta was not allowed to enroll in medical school in the United States. Unwilling to give up his dream, he moved to Canada in 1850 and enrolled in Trinity Medical College in Toronto.

After receiving his medical degree from Trinity he wrote to President Abraham Lincoln and requested to serve as a Civil War physician for a “colored regiments.”

Dr. Augusta would became the first African American commissioned as a medical officer in the Union Army. For a while he served as surgeon-in-charge at the Contraband Hospital for free blacks and former slaves in Washington, DC.

He later became head-surgeon for the 7th Infantry of the United States Colored Troops in Maryland.

When Dr. Augusta joined his regiment, several white surgeons objected to having a black man as their superior officer. They wrote to President Lincoln asking to end Dr. Augusta’s appointment. Dr. Augusta was reassigned to a recruiting station for black troops. (Source: