Despite being the Southernmost city in the United States, during the American Civil War, Key West’s strong Navy and Army presence allowed the area to remain controlled by the Union. This gave the North an advantage in blockading the Gulf of Mexico, and many slave refugees and free Blacks found Key West to be a southern safe haven of freedom.
In 1863, after the Emancipation Proclamation, Colonel James Montgomery of Kansas was sent to Key West to recruit a regiment of only Black soldiers. Black men in the island city between the ages of 15 and 50 deemed to be physically fit were ordered to report for duty in Hilton Head, South Carolina to fight on behalf of the Union in the 2nd South Carolina Regiment.
The names of the Black men from Key West who fought - at least 18 of whom were killed in combat - were sadly not well preserved, and many have been lost to time. In February of 2016, on the same date those men were called to duty in 1863, the City of Key West honored these individuals with a statue of a Black Union soldier presented at a ceremony in Bayview Park, poignantly titled “The Forgotten Soldier”. The statue was donated by local businessman Ed Knight, who hoped to bring awareness to the sacrifice of these men so they would no longer be forgotten.
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