Events at RELIC Bring the Past to the Present

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Provided by Prince William County

The Ruth E. Lloyd Information Center for Genealogy and Local History (RELIC) has events scheduled in January that history buffs and others might find interesting.

U.S. Colored Troops in the Civil War

Eugene D. Bètit, who wrote “Collective Amnesia: American Apartheid,” will speak about the U.S. Colored Troops who played a decisive role in winning the Civil War.

Bètit said his talk, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 21, will show that there is more to the history of African-American troops in the Civil War than what Hollywood and the history books show. “What the average American, anywhere, knows about the black troops that fought in the Civil War, let alone a lot of them, is only from the movie ‘Glory’ that came out maybe 20 years ago,” said Bètit.

Bètit, a retired U.S. Army intelligence officer, said that the recruitment of African-American troops for the Civil War was part of the Emancipation Proclamation that took effect in January 1863.

The recruitment worked out for the Union, he said. “It was wildly successful because they raised 175 regiments, and God only knows how many troops. I used to think it was 180,000, but it may be close to 210,000. To put it in context, 175 regiments and 180,000 or 210,000 troops is more than the Confederates had on all fronts by 1864, and it highly influenced the outcome of the war.”

At first U.S. Army officers were unconvinced that African-American troops would be good fighters, but that turned out not to be the case, the 75-year-old Bètit said. Until the battles of Port Hudson (fought along the Mississippi River in Louisiana in May through July 1863), Milliken’s Bend (fought June 1863 near Vicksburg, Mississippi), and the First Battle of Fort Wagner (fought in early July 1863 in Charleston, South Carolina), African-American troops were mainly used as guards, according to Bètit.

When the African-American troops were finally put into battle, they showed they could indeed fight. “They proved that they could fight and fight damn well,” Bètit said.

Bètit also said he hopes that people who attend his talk gain an appreciation of the contributions the African-American fighters made during the Civil War and throughout the country’s history. “We certainly should show a lot more gratitude. I hope that we can see that we’re really all brothers.”


On Wednesday, Jan. 22, RELIC will host a presentation by Genealogist Katie Derby. She will give paleography tips and techniques on how to read and interpret old documents with the markings people used in the past. “Paleography is the study of ancient handwriting and it is a vital skill in genealogy research,” Derby said.

During her talk, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Derby said she will show people ways to use paleography to more easily read old documents. “There are lots of techniques for reading and interpreting documents from the past and free online tutorials that will walk you through the process.  We’ll share these tips and tricks, and then try our hand at figuring out some examples together. We will be walking through examples of early American writing, looking at sample alphabets in various hands, learning the researchers’ best tricks for deciphering and transcribing old handwriting, and play with some online tutorials.”

Both programs will be held at the Bull Run Regional Library, 8501 Ashton Avenue, Manassas.

Call 703-792-4540 or email for more information.


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