17th U. S. Colored Infantry Regiment

Organized in Tennessee in Fall of 1863.


  • Colonel-William R. Shafter

Colonel R. D. Mussey, Commissioner for Organization Colored Troops, in a report dated October 10, 1864, stated that the organization of this regiment was begun at Murfreesboro, soon after the battle of Chickamauga in September, 1863; that about 300 men from Alabama were assigned to the regiment, and that in September, 1864, additional recruits from Ohio were assigned.

On December 31, 1863, the 17th, not brigaded, was reported at Murfreesboro, in the District of Nashville, Department of the Cumberland. On January 1, 1864, it was at McMinnville, where Colonel William P. Robinson was in command of the post. In April 864, the regiment was ordered to report to Lieutenant Colonel J. L. Donaldson for quartermaster duty at Nashville. The regiment remained at Nashville for the rest of its period of service, except for one short period following the Battle of Nashville in December, 1864.

On June 15, Donaldson complained to General William T. Sherman that he understood the 15th and 17th Regiments had been ordered to Bowling Green, Kentucky, by General Lorenzo Thomas, and asked that the order be revoked, as he could not spare them. No reply to his request was found, but the next time the regiment was found reported, which was on August 31, 1864, it was still at Nashville, where Brigadier General John F. Miller was Post Commandant.

On October 21, 1864, Major General George H. Thomas, reporting to General Sherman as to the forces available in his district, listed the 15th and 17th regiments, about 1200 strong, as guarding the commissary depots in the Nashville area.

For the Battle of Nashville, December 15-16, 1864, the regiment was assigned to Colonel Thomas J. Morgan’s 1st Colored Brigade, in the Detachment from the District of the Etowah, under Major General James B. Steed-man. Colonel Morgan reported that on the evening of December 14 “an excellent regiment, the 17th U. S. Colored Infantry under a brave and gallant officer, reported to me to replace the 16th, which had been detached for service with the pontoon bridge.

Colonel Morgan’s report of the battle stated that on the morning of the 15th of December, the 14th Regiment formed in front as a line of skirmishers, with the 17th and 44th in line of battle in the rear of the 14th. In the assault, when the resistance grew too heavy for the skirmishers to overcome, the 17th pushed through and carried the Confederate rifle pits, and pushed forward until it reached the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad at Rains’ Cut, but was compelled to withdraw by artillery fire. On the 16th, at Overton’s Hill, the 17th was in echelon to the rear of Grosvenor’s Brigade, and did not take part in the actual assault on Overton’s Hill. Morgan reported: “Colonel Shafter, of the 17th, acquitted himself well; is cool, brave, and a good disciplinarian.” Colonel Shafter reported: “The conduct of all my officers was all that I could desire; and, from the fact that it was the first time the men had ever been under fire, I think they, too, did well.” In the two days action, the regiment lost two officers, 14 men killed; four officers, 64 men wounded.”

On December 19, Brevet Brigadier General Donaldson, Chief Quartermaster, Army of the Cumberland, wrote: “General Steedman has taken the 17th Regiment to Murfreesboro, and I understand intends taking it to Tuscumbia, Alabama. This regiment was given me for my necessary work here, and I would like it ordered back, as I need it.” He was informed that the work for which it had been assigned to General Steedman was so important and so urgent, that the regiment could not be returned until General Steedman was through with it.

The regiment moved with Steedman’s forces to Decatur, Alabama, and with Brigadier General Charles Cruft’s Brigade, joined in the attempt to run down and capture Brigadier General Hylan B. Lyon’s force of Confederate cavalry. On January 1, 1865, General Steedman, at Decatur, was directed to send back to Nashville all the troops that belonged there before the current movement began. On January 8, General Steedman instructed General Cruft, at Paint Rock, Alabama: “The 17th Colored Regiment will proceed to Nashville.”

The regiment remained on duty at the post of Nashville, and in the District of Tennessee until mustered out of service on April 25, 1866.

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