Dorchester’s black Civil War veterans honored in new book

CAMBRIDGE — Colored troops, as they were called during the Civil War, faced even greater risks while fighting for the Union than their white counterparts.

Besides the deadly consequences of battle, if captured, they risked being executed or sold into slavery in the deep South. Many languished and died in Confederate prison camps, or were shot upon being captured. The black veterans from Dorchester County were no exception.

Published in late April, “They Wore Blue and Their Hearts Were Loyal: The United States Colored Troops of Dorchester County Maryland” documents 563 black Civil War veterans from Dorchester. The book is co-authored by Dr. Clara L. Small and Teresa M. Neild.

Dr. Small is a retired emeritus professor of history at Salisbury University. She is wrapping up a year of work at University of Maryland Eastern Shore as acting chairperson of the Social Science department. At SU, she taught world civilization, African American history, civil rights, racism and discrimination. She has authored four books, including “Men of Color, to Arms!”, which profiles blacks who fought in the Civil War from Worcester and Somerset counties; this also covers Wicomico County since it wasn’t formed until after the Civil War.

“They Wore Blue and Their Hearts Were Loyal” is Ms. Neild’s first book. She is vice president of the Dorchester County Historical Society. She has been affiliated with the society for 10 years and volunteers at least three days a week. She also volunteers at the annual Harriet Tubman Conference which is being held this weekend in Dorchester.

“I have always been interested in history, but I never dreamt I would be co-authoring a book on colored soldiers,” Ms. Neild said May 11. “I’m so happy that I did. I’m so proud of it.”

The book is published by Salt Water Media in Berlin, Md., which is operated by Stephanie Fowler, winner of the Sophie Kerr (literary) Prize and 2001 graduate of Washington College. Salt Water Media printed the book in small batches. Dr. Small received 25 copies on April 21. Ms. Neild first got a batch of her own May 10.

“This book is really red hot off the presses,” Ms. Neild said May 11.

Dorchester Banner/Bob Zimberoff
From left, Teresa Neild and Dr. Clara Small research genealogical records of black veterans who served in the Civil War on May 11 at the Dorchester County Historical Society’s Robbins Heritage Center. The two co-authored “They Wore Blue and Their Hearts Were Loyal: The United States Colored Troops of Dorchester County Maryland”. The book profiles more than 500 veterans from the county, and was published just a couple weeks ago.

Dr. Small and Ms. Neild met through a mutual acquaintance, Pilar Burton, a genealogist who works at the Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture at Salisbury University. Ms. Burton realized that both of the authors were researching Dorchester County colored troops.

“She kept telling us over and over again, ‘you two really need to get together,” Ms. Neild said of Ms. Burton. “I was working on Dorchester County and Clara was working on Dorchester County, but we didn’t know it.”

Two years ago, Dr. Small and Ms. Neild met at the Harriet Tubman Conference, and they decided to collaborate. They have exchanged hundreds of emails and notes. Both of the authors said it’s important to document these brave, black veterans.

“There’s little written about soldiers, but even less about African American soldiers and African Americans in general,” Ms. Neild said. “There’s not a lot of records out there. This story that we have here gives people a little bit of information about their grandfathers, or great grandfathers, or great-great grandfathers.”

Dr. Small said she hopes the book enables local folks to learn more about their family history.

“It’s connecting individuals with their ancestors and also showing that there’s pride in knowing that they made a contribution,” Dr. Small said. “Families who are related to these soldiers can have a sense of belonging as well as pride in themselves and their heritage.”
Fighting for the Union did not guarantee a better life for the slaves and free blacks who decided to enlist. According to Ms. Neild, many of the veterans they researched died “en route” to prison camps or as prisoners of war.

“They were brave,” Ms. Neild said. “They had to have had great fear to walk off of a plantation for the first time in their life, and board a steamboat, then have a gun thrust into their hands.”

Dr. Small’s and Ms. Neild’s work to honor black Civil War veterans continues. The 563 black veterans documented in “They Wore Blue and Their Hearts Were Loyal” is only a portion of the colored troops from the county. They are now researching naval records to find more black veterans from Dorchester in hopes of authoring a supplement to the book. The co-authors are also researching black veterans from Talbot and Caroline counties, as well as those who joined units in other states who are native to the Shore.

For more information, call Dr. Small at 410-430-7135 or email Ms. Neild at teresaneild@yahoo.com.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.