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Speaker reviews history of U.S. Colored Troops from Maryland in Civil War

Before addressing his audience on the history of Maryland's black soldiers who fought for the Union during the Civil War, speaker George W. Murphy warned his audience that the language he was going to use was reflective of the honorable terms used at the time.

"As I talk, I'm going to be using old-fashioned words that are proper," Murphy told the audience. "When we talk about the United States Colored Troops, 'Colored' was a describer, and was capitalized. 'Colored' was a statement of equality and hope."

Murphy's presentation was part of the Historical Society of Carroll County's Box Lunch Talk series at the American Legion post in Westminster Tuesday. Timmi Pierce, executive director of the Historical Society, said Murphy's program was scheduled for February to coordinate with Black History Month.

Murphy began his talk with an overview of early race relations in Maryland. When the colony of Maryland was established by Lord Baltimore in 1634, it was founded with racial equality and without any slaves, he said.

However over the next two centuries, those race relations dramatically changed as slaves were introduced and white landowners raced to acquire more slaves so that they could garner and control more land. Maryland even established its own slave code, Murphy said, which was exceeded in cruelty and inhumanity only by the code of South Carolina.

"Make no mistake about it, Maryland was a trailblazer, not only in the slave trade but in the control of people in slavery," Murphy told the audience. "We were as hardscrabble and tough an antebellum kingdom as any."

Even in Carroll County, slaves were sold on the steps of the original courthouse, he said.

Once the Civil War broke out, more than 10,000 men of color joined the Union forces in Maryland, Murphy said, or about 47 percent of the state's representation in the Union forces. The U.S. Colored Troops served in the 4th, 7th, 9th, 13th and 39th regimens, he said.

"Every one of those regiments won citations for gallantry," Murphy said.

In addition, 17 U.S. Colored Troops members received Congressional Medals of Honor.

Murphy reviewed some of those medal winners and their stories, including several fearless color guard members who walked straight toward the opposing army with their flags, becoming easy targets for their guns, and eventually dying from their wounds.

"The legacy of these men is what they did during the war and what they did after the war," Murphy said. "After the war, they built churches. After the war, they designed Ellsworth Cemetery. After the war, they built civic organizations, they had their bands, they had their own civic societies, and they, for most of the 19th century, were a vital part of the civic life of everyday life in Carroll County."

Murphy serves as the president of the Ellsworth Cemetery Co., which was founded in 1876 by six black Union army veterans to provide a burial place for the black residents of Westminster.

Carroll County today has a legacy of small graveyards, Murphy said, historic places where soldiers rest side by side, that are also in need of care.

"We have decided through the [Community Foundation of Carroll County] to start and raise an Ellsworth Cemetery Fund to rescue orphan cemeteries, all of which have military dead, restore them and set up a fund to maintain them in perpetuity," he said.

Anyone interested in donating toward the fund can contact the Community Foundation at 410-876-5505.

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