Tour B 3. Gov. Morton meets with Chaplin White and Rev. Revels to form 28th USCT

Indiana Statehouse.

Indiana Statehouse.

Formation of the 28th USCT

Earlier efforts and debates culminated in the 1863 call by Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton to begin enlisting African Americans  troops.   In October 1863, local abolitionist Calvin Fletcher, Rev Willis Revels and Rev. Garland White initially met Gov. Morton to discuss recruitment for the unit that would become the 28th United States Colored Troops (USCT), Indiana’s Civil War African American Regiment.   These three men were passionate believed in the critical importance of service for African American men for securing civil rights.[1]Republican victories in the mid-term elections, other state recruiters efforts and difficulties raising Indiana troop’s quotas convinced Morton to support the creation of African American regiment.  Though many inside and outside the Army were apposed to Black enlistment, popular opinion changed, with Indiana being one of the last Northern States to make the decision to enlist African Americans.  On November 30, 1863, Morton was officially authorized by letter from the U.S. War Department to raise one “colored” regiment of infantry. On December 3, 1863, general orders were issued by Indiana’s adjutant general to begin accepting enlistments.[2] Rev. Willis Revels, Calvin Fletcher and Garland White were appointed recruiting officers.

Dr. Willis Revels, pastor at Indianapolis Station, 1861-1865. Served as recruiting officer and Asst. Surgeon for 28th USCT.  Image Source: Bethel Archvies

Dr. Willis Revels, pastor at Indianapolis Station, 1861-1865. Image Source: Bethel Archives                Dr. Willis Revels was born c. 1817 to free parents in Fayetteville, North Carolina, coming to Indiana to attend the Quaker Union Literary Institute. (His brother Hiram Revels, also attending the Union Institute, followed in a career in the ministry, Union Army recruiter and eventually the first African American United State Senator.) Revels served nationally in the AME Church, serving as a co-editor with Rev. Elisha Weaver on The Repository and leading congregations in  St. Louis, New Orleans and Chicago, before coming to Indianapolis in 1861.  Revels was a passionate advocate for service of African American men in the Union Army. He held recruitment meetings in the Indianapolis Station AME Church for the 54th Massachusetts, the famous first African American Regiment, where a number of men from the church joined. In 1862, Revels petitioned Gov. Morton to accept African American troops for a state home guard. In 1863, Revels met with Gov. Morton to advocate for the creation of an African American Indiana regiment. After the creation of the 28th USCT in 1863, Morton appointed Revels Recruiting Officer and later Asst. Surgeon. Supporting efforts in Indianapolis , under the leadership of Rev. Revels, Indianapolis Station raised money for the Freedman’s Aid Society. The church assisted them by raising money, finding housing, securing jobs, holding fundraisers and even temporarily housing refuges in the church itself. These activities are temporally linked to the July 1864 arson of the church.
After the War, Revels continued to work to support the families of soldiers and the refugees coming to the city.[9] He hosted national black leaders in Indianapolis to celebrate Emancipation in 1865.[10] He worked with White Quakers to petition the Indiana legislature to expand civil rights for African Americans.[11] He was badly injured in a train accident, and after his recovery transferred to Tennessee to serve the AME Church in their missionary work with the Freedmen.[12] He died March 6, 1879 and is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery.[13] 

 

As the war became about the ending of slavery and enlistment was linked to manhood and citizenship, the Indianapolis Station congregation took the lead in advocating for Black enlistment and an active role in the Indianapolis recruitment effort.[6] The Indianapolis Station AME Church, along with the AME denomination and many prominent Black leaders like Fredrick Douglass, initially felt that congregants should stay out of the Civil War, as they had “no reason to fight for a country that oppressed them.”[7] Rev. Willis Revels assisted in the recruiting for early African American regiments, including the Massachusetts’s 54th, holding recruiting meetings at the church.

The 28th Indiana USCT, raised in part through the efforts of the Indianapolis Station pastor Rev. Willis Revels, and comprised of many congregants form Indianapolis Station and other AME churches, saw service in Washington D.C. protecting the White House and President Lincoln in spring of 1864 and faced murderous Southern rage at the Battle of the Crater.[3]  The 28th USCT saw nearly half of their number killed or wounded in the battle. [4] The 28th also served Richmond, Virginia and Texas, before being mustered out in November 8, 1865.[5]

Historic view of the Indiana State House. Image Source: Indiana State House, indy.gov

Historic view of the Indiana State House.
Image Source: Indiana State House, indy.gov


[1] “28th Regiment, United States Colored Troops” Indiana War Memorial; Application “28th USCT Marker,” Indiana Historical Bureau. Indianapolis, Indiana. Calvin Fletcher was an Indiana state senator (1826-1833), lawyer, banker, farmer, and landowner. Thornbrough, Fletcher Diary, 1:xii; William H. H. Terrell, Indiana in the War of Rebellion (Indiana: Adjutant General’s Office) 8:238.

[2] On January 12, 1864, the War Department instructed Governor Morton that the regiment is to be known as the 28th Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops. War Department to Morton, November 30, 1863, Indiana State Archives; General Orders, December 3, 1863, Indiana Adjutant General; War Department to Morton, January 12, 1864.

[3] Clark, George P. and Clark, Mary E., “Heroes Carved in Ebony: Indiana’s Black Civil War Regiment, the US 28th USCT,” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History no. Summer 1995: 4–16; William R. Forstchen, The 28th United States Colored Troops: Indiana’s African-Americans Go to War, 1863-1865 (Purdue University, 1994); Kevin M. Levin, Remembering The Battle of the Crater: War as Murder (University Press of Kentucky, 2012);  “The United States Colored Troops and the Defenses of Washington – Civil War Defenses of Washington,” accessed March 29, 2013,

[4] Slotkin, No Quarter, 30-89.

[5] Fortshen, The 28th,   198-219.

[6] Ibid., 30–33. See also, Darlene Clark Hine and Earnestine Jenkins, A Question of Manhood: A Reader in U.S. Black Men’s History and Masculinity (Indiana University Press, 2001).

[7] The Christian Recorder, April 20, 1864. See also, See also ibid., 30–39.

[8]  Indiana Historical Bureau, “IHB: Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church,” accessed January 16, 2013 National Park Service, “Aboard the Underground Railroad– Bethel AME Church, Indiana,” accessed January 16, 2013,; Stanley Warren, “The Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church,” Traces (Summer 2007): 32–36; Dani Paff, “James Overall Marker Application,” Indiana Historical Bureau; Julius E. Thompson, “Hiram Rhodes Revels, 1827-1901: A Reappraisal,” The Journal of Negro History 79, no. 3 (July 1, 1994): 297–303; Indiana’s African-American Heritage: Essays from Black History News & Notes (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1993); Griffin, Paul R., “A Brief Account of the Development and Work of African Methodism in Ohio and Indiana, 1830-1865,” Black History News and Notes 23 (November 1985): 5–8.

[9] Clarence Earl Walker, A Rock in a Weary Land: The African Methodist Episcopal Church During the Civil War and Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982); David J. Bodenhamer and Robert G. Barrows, The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis (Indiana University Press, 1994), 1191–1192.

Dr. Willis Revels Tombstone.  Image Source: Findagrave.com

Dr. Willis Revels Tombstone.
Image Source: Findagrave.com

[10] The Christian Recorder, January 28, 1865.

[11] Emma Lou Thornbrough, The Negro in Indiana Before 1900: a Study of a Minority (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993), 291.

[12] Julius Bailey, Race Patriotism: Protest and Print Culture in the AME Church (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2012); Walker, A Rock in a Weary Land.

[13]Willis Revels,” accessed March 13, 2013.

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