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The 26th regiment, U.S.C.T.

John Conway
Posted 2/17/23

It was in December of 1863 that the United States War Department authorized the Union League Club of New York to recruit, train and equip an infantry unit to fight for the North in the Civil War. The …

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The 26th regiment, U.S.C.T.


It was in December of 1863 that the United States War Department authorized the Union League Club of New York to recruit, train and equip an infantry unit to fight for the North in the Civil War. The regiment the Union League Club formed was made of African Americans, and became known as the 20th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops. 

Among the members of that regiment were two men from Sullivan County, Eli Bennett Jackson and Nelson Hill, both from the town of Mamakating. 

The 20th U.S. Colored Infantry was organized at Rikers Island on February 9, 1864 for three years of service under the command of Colonel Nelson B. Bartrum. 

The regiment was first attached to the Department of the East, and then to the Department of the Gulf, eventually mustering out of service October 7, 1865. The unit did not see combat during its existence, but still lost 285 men—283 enlisted and two officers—to disease. 

The subscription to serve with the 20th Regiment filled up so quickly, that in January of 1864, the Union League Club received authorization to form a second unit, which became the 26th Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops. Although records are incomplete, at least eight men from Sullivan County served with the 26th. 

The regimental roster included Theodore Cotton of Barryville, Henry Clay Jackson and Daniel Stanton Jackson of Wurtsboro (brothers of the aforementioned Eli Bennett Jackson), John Low and Charles Jarvis of Mamakating, and James Garnett, Judson Sharpe and William Neal, all of Cochecton. 

The 26th was briefly deployed to Annapolis, MD, then transferred to Beaufort, SC, Department of the South, on April 13, 1864. The unit sustained 97 casualties in the Battle of John's Island in the first week of July, 1864. The unit also fought at Chapin's Farm, McKay's Point and Deveraux's Neck, incurring a total of 140 casualties. 

“The 26th U.S.C.T. served with the Union Army’s Department of the South, participating in action along coastal South Carolina,” Sullivan County Historical Society researcher Fred Fries wrote in the Historical Society’s newsletter, The Observer. “Interestingly enough, the regiment served alongside another regiment made up of Sullivan County men, the 56th New York Volunteer Infantry. During the Union Army’s military campaign along the Atlantic coast south of Charleston Harbor in the summer of 1864, the 26th U.S.C.T. engaged the Confederate Army at John’s Island. Storming the Confederate position on July 7, the 26th broke through the works, scattering its defenders. The 26th’s push was stalled, however, when fresh Southern reinforcements passed through the retreating Confederates, driving the Union regiment back over the recently captured works and inflicting heavy casualties. 

“The final report submitted by Union officers outlining the battle of John’s Island and the resulting casualties, listed Theodore Cotton, who did not return from the 26th’s advance and retreat, among those who were killed in action. His personal effects were then sent to the Adjutant General’s Office to be sent home. 

“But in fact, Theodore Cotton did survive, though he had wounds inflicted on his right leg during the heavy fighting. Unable to retreat with his regiment after being overwhelmed by the Rebel counterattack, he was taken prisoner.” 

Fries writes that Cotton survived the hardships of the Confederate prison camp and was part of a prisoner exchange with the Confederates on March 4, 1865. His leg wound remained serious, however, and his right leg was eventually amputated. Cotton was discharged from his enlistment because of the surgery. 

“Theodore Cotton returned to his Town of Highland home after the war,” Fries writes.  “His small five acre residence, located outside of Barryville on the highway now known as Mail Road, had been purchased by Cotton during the spring of 1862. When he left home for Goshen the following year to enlist, he left behind his wife, Eliza, to care for their family of six children, the youngest being only one year of age. Upon his return, the handicap endured by the loss of his leg apparently did not prevent him from continuing with his profession. The Federal census for the year of 1880 lists Theodore, along with his son Phineas Cotton, as being engaged with the occupation of stone mason, the work he did before the war.” 

Theodore Cotton died at home in 1885. His family owned the Mail Road property in Barryville until 1935, when his last surviving daughter sold it. 

Unfortunately, not nearly as much is currently known about the other African American men who fought with the 26th U.S.C.T., although research is continuing. “Civil Warriors,” a theatrical film commemorating the service of the 26th was released in 2016. 

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian and a founder and president of The Delaware Company. Email him at jconway52@hotmail.com.  


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