Of the 36 Edgecombe County natives that enlisted in the 35th, 36th, and 37th US Colored Troops in New Bern, N.C., in 1863, orginally known as the African Brigade, twenty were members of the 36th USCT (see attached list). The African Brigade regiments were orginally named the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd N.C. Colored Volunteers, then later re-classified as the 35th, 36th and 37th U.S. Colored Troops.
The 36th USCT (orginally the 2nd N.C. Colored Volunteers) was one of six USCT regiments that made their mark at the Battle of New Market Heights, Va, in September 1864, outside of Richmond.
A recent book reviewer wrote:
"When asked to name the most important fight in which African Americans participated during the American Civil War, most people would likely give the nod to the Battle of Fort Wagner, the topic of the famous movie "Glory." Most people would be wrong. On September 29, 1864, two brigades of Paine's USCT Third Division attacked the famous Texas Brigade and accompanying cavalry and artillery on New Market Heights, successfully storming a position which Union troops had failed to carry on several previous occasions. Fourteen medals of honor were awarded for that performance , proving beyond a doubt that Black soldiers would and could fight as well as white men."
A Virginia state historical marker at the battle site reads:
"On 28 September 1864, elements of Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler's Army of the James crossed the James River to assault the Confederate defenses of Richmond. At dawn on 29 September, 6 regiments of U.S, Colored Troops fought with exceptional valor during their attack along New Market Road. Despite heavy casualties, they carried the earthworks there and succeeded in capturing New Market Heights, north of the road. Of the 16 Medals of Honor awarded to 'Negro' soldiers during the Civil War, 14 were bestowed for this battle. Butler wrote that ' capacity of the negro race for soldiers had then and there been fully settled forever.' "
Among the Edgecombe natives in the 36th USCT, Charles Lavinghouse, age 22, of Company E, was killed by bullet wounds in the attack on New Market Heights on Sept. 29, 1864. Richard Cherry, age 41, of Company C, died on Oct. 10, 1864 from wounds received on Sept. 29, 1864 at New Market Heights. Edgecombe native Hamilton Pittman, age 28, of Company B, died on Nov. 15, 1864 in a Portsmouth, Va., Balfour U.S, General Hospital of wounds received also on Sept . 29, 1864 at New Market Heights. These three were our Edgecombe martyrs at New Market Heights.
Charles Lavinghouse (or Laughinghouse) enlisted in the 36th USCT in the town of Washington, N.C, on Aug. 21, 1863. Richard Cherry enlisted in Washington on Sept. 7, 1863. Edgecombe native Hamilton Pittman also enlisted in Washington on Sept. 15, 1863. This suggests that these three may have been among those who fled enslavement in Edgecombe and followed the Tar River to freedom behind Union lines in Washington. There were about 1000 refugees in the "contraband" camp in Washington. About 100 African American refugees from the camp were armed by the Union army to aid in successfully defending Union control of the town of Washington, N.C., from the Confederate seige in March and April 1863, prior to the official organization of the African Brigade in May 1863.
Charles Lavinghouse may possibly have been formerly enslaved to Wm. J. Laughinghouse , a Pitt County plantation owner with slaves in both Pitt and Edgecombe County, as per 1860 census. Wm. J. Laughinghouse owned a Pitt County plantation near Grimesland and also owned a Edgecombe plantation on Town Creek in the southwestern part of the county.
For more information on the role of USCT in the Battle of New Market Heights, see James S. Price, The Battle of New Market Heights: Freedom Will Be Theirs By the Sword (The History Press: 2011)
Also, see Richard M. Reid Freedom for Themselves: North Carolina's Black Soldiers in the Civil War Era (UNC Press:2008)
The New Market Heights battlefield general area can be viewed from I-295 bypass of Richmond from the bridge over James River to the exit at New Market Road (Va Route 5).
Thanks to Phoenix Historical Society member Dr. Benjamin Justesen for compiling the list of Edgecombe natives of the 35th, 36th and 37th U.S. Colored Troops, orginally called The African Brigade.