Reverend Revels made history at Bethel AME


Rev. Willis Revels (1810-1879) was pastor of the Bethel AME Church, which was the oldest surviving black church in Indianapolis and a station on the Underground Railroad.

Revels was also chief recruiting officer for the 28th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops, an African American combat unit from Indiana that fought in the Civil War.

On November 30, 1863, Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton was authorized by letter from the U.S. War Department to raise one regiment of infantry composed of colored men.

On December 3, 1863, general orders were issued by Indiana's adjutant general to begin accepting enlistments.

 On January 12, 1864, the War Department instructed Governor Morton that the regiment was to be known as the 28th Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops.

On April 25, 1864, Indiana's only African-American Civil War regiment, the 28th Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops, left Indianapolis. (The 28th had planned to leave Indianapolis on April 24, 1864, there was a delay and the regiment actually left April 25, 1864. Indianapolis Daily Journal, April 25, 1864.)

At the beginning of the war, federal law banned African Americans from armed military service. In 1862 and 1863, Congress passed several laws that authorized the formation of black regiments and allowed the soldiers to help states fill federal quotas for soldiers.

The 28th trained at Camp Fremont in Indianapolis and served valiantly in the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg, Virginia on July 30, 1864, when nearly half of the men were killed or wounded.

Following the Battle of the Crater, the decimated ranks of the 28th were filled with recruits and four more companies were raised in Indiana, making it a full regiment again. The 28th returned to Indianapolis on January 6, 1866 to a reception in its honor.

Learn more about the 28th Regiment USCT with this Indiana state historical marker:

More about Rev. Revels: (1810-Mar. 6, 1879). Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to free parents, Willis R. Revels first came to Indiana when he attended Union Literary Institute, a Quaker academy. His brother, Hiram Rhodes Revels, also attended this school and later became a United States senator from Mississippi (1870-1871).

coming up, Part Two: Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and her visit to Bethel AME.

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