Harrisburg Grand Review: November 14, 1865

On May 23 and 24, 1865, Union soldiers paraded through Washington D.C. for a grand review of the troops, a celebration from the grateful citizens to the Union soldiers for their efforts and service in winning the Civil War. Noticeably missing from the celebration were the over 180,000 United States Colored Troops who fought along side these troops being honored in the nation’s capital. While denied participation in the “Grand Review of the Armies,” black regiments from Pennsylvania and Massachusetts gathered in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on November 14, 1865 for their own Grand Review. Thomas Morris Chester, a prominent Harrisburg resident and recruiter of black soldiers served as grand marshal of the Grand Review. The troops marched through the main streets of the Pennsylvania capital to the home of Senator Simon Cameron who delivered a speech honoring the black troops and commending them for their service and sacrifice to the Union. Cameron, an abolitionist and one of the early advocates for using black troops in the war, gratefully acknowledged the soldiers in the speech that was reprinted in the North American and United States Gazette in Philadelphia the following day.

“I cannot let this opportunity pass without thanking the African soldiers for the compliment they have paid me, but more than all to thank them for the great service which they have been to their country in the terrible rebellion. Like all other men, you have your destinies in your own hands, and if you continue to conduct yourselves hereafter as you have in the struggle, you will have all the rights you ask for, all the rights that belong to human beings.”

The report called the celebration a success throughout and estimated that nearly seven thousand blacks attended the Grand Review as well as a sizable white population who came to pay their respects to “those who escaped the perils of a contest in which they risked their lives in defense of the nation honor and support of the constitutional authorities.” One of the prominent black participants was Reverend John Walker Jackson who offered a prayer that served as “a beautiful acknowledgment of the services which the black man rendered in the struggle for American nationality, civilization and freedom. The orator of the event, William Howard Day, discussed the attitude of the colored man and “the prospect which lay before him for improvement, social elevation and the acquirement of political rights.” The Grand Review concluded with a grand ball where the soldiers and those honoring them convened one last time.

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