This collection contains muster rolls of Tennessee units during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Muster rolls were official lists of the officers and men enlisted in or otherwise accounted for in a particular unit or company. They provide the name and age of each man, his enlisting officer, the date and place of mustering, and the title of the regiment and company. Some muster rolls include descriptive details such as birthplace, occupation, and physical appearance. For most of the African American men on these rolls, it is likely these documents are the first time they are listed in official records as free men.

The 2nd West Tennessee Infantry Regiment (AD) was mustered in at La Grange, Tennessee on June 30 and August 27, 1863 under the command of Colonel Frank A. Kendrick. The commissioned officers of the regiment were all white men, as was typical for United States Colored Troops (USCT) regiments. The sergeants and corporals (non-commissioned officers) and enlisted men were African American. Many enlisted men of the regiment were recruited from contraband camps, camps of refugee slaves established near Federal troops at La Grange, Moscow, Memphis, Jackson, Germantown, and Collierville, Tennessee. Documents for this regiment include Muster In records, rosters of around 60 soldiers per company enlisted into service, and Muster and Descriptive records--more detailed lists of around a dozen soldiers per document.

After mustering in, the 2nd West Tennessee (AD) operated out of La Grange, Moscow, and Memphis, Tennessee. On December 4, 1863, the regiment fought in a skirmish at Wolf River Bridge, near Moscow, Tennessee. This was the first engagement fought by any Tennessee USCT unit. They joined the 1st Alabama and 1st Tennessee (African Descent) to form the 1st Colored Brigade. In March 1864, the official designation of the 2nd West Tennessee was changed to the 61st U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment (USCI). Near Tupelo, Mississippi, on July 14 and 15, 1864, the 61st USCI helped to repulse Confederate attacks led by Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. The 61st was also involved in an expedition to Oxford, Mississippi, to hunt for Forrest during August 1864. While most of the 61st was in Mississippi, a detachment under Captain Charles Riggs was overrun by Forrest during his raid on Memphis on August 21, 1864. The raid prompted the rest of the regiment to return to Memphis. Significant casualties were incurred in October 1864 when their brigade left Memphis and was ambushed trying to disembark from transport boats at Eastport, Mississippi. The regiment returned to Memphis and served there until February 1865 when they were sent to New Orleans and then on to Morganza, Louisiana. The following month they were ordered to Barrancas (Pensacola), Florida. In April 1865, the 61st was sent to Blakely, Alabama (near Mobile). They served in Alabama until mustered out of service in December 1865.

Of all the social and political changes wrought across the South in the aftermath of the Civil War and the end of slavery, African American suffrage in Tennessee was one of the most profound and controversial. Many white Tennesseans were outraged at black men casting votes while former Confederates remained disenfranchised. Excluded from the political process, some ex-Confederates turned to violence to intimidate politically active blacks and their white allies. Under the cover of darkness and wearing hoods, this secret vigilante group, the Ku Klux Klan, spread terror throughout the state to overthrow the Radical Republican government and reassert white supremacy.

In response, Radical Republicans built their own army, the Tennessee State Guard, to protect the newly-established rights of freedmen and to defend the Radicals’ hold on state government. With Governor William G. Brownlow serving as commander-in-chief, the State Guard was responsible for protecting polling sites during elections, defending the lives and property of African Americans, and patrolling the regions of the state where Confederate sympathies and anti-Radical resentment were most intense.

When Governor Brownlow issued a call for volunteers for the new State Guard, he encouraged freedmen to enlist. Of the twenty-one companies that eventually comprised the state militia, seven included African American recruits, some of whom were combat veterans of the United States Army and had fought in battles across Tennessee during the Civil War. Two State Guard companies from the East district and one from the West were a mix of black and white volunteers, and four of the Middle district companies were majority-black. Although most of the State Guard’s officers were white, some African American men attained leadership positions, including the commander of Company G, 2nd Regiment, who was the guard’s sole African American captain.