James William and Nancy Bassett


Information comes from various sources, newspapers, census, marriage and burial records.

James William Bassett was born enslaved Aug 1837 in North Carolina, the son of W W Bassett and Nancy Godman.  When the Emancipation Proclamation was issued and the call for African American troops was made, James enlisted in the Colored Troops from Tennessee and served for two years and two months.

James and the United States Colored Troops (USCT) in Tennessee experienced every facet of war between 1863 and 1865. In the spring of 1863 General Lorenzo Thomas was appointed Commissioner for the Organization of Colored Troops for the Union army in Tennessee. He began actively raising black regiments in Memphis and had 3,000 troops by June. These first regiments were designated by state and race, such as the First Tennessee Volunteers infantry regiment, A.D. (African Descent). But in the spring of 1864 the Union army grouped Tennessee black troops into numbered regiments, such as the Fifty-fifth USCT. By war's end, Thomas's organization had raised nearly 24,000 black troops from Tennessee and other states, including North Carolina, filling twenty-two infantry regiments and eight artillery units.

Black troops contributed in a variety of ways. They met the army's occupational and logistical needs by monitoring conquered territory, watching white Southerners, and assisting in the upkeep of contraband camps. Initially fearful of allowing black troops in battle, the Union army employed them as laborers, construction workers, and guards. James' regiment supervised black women and children crowded into disease-ridden camps outside Tennessee cities. They garrisoned forts in Tennessee, north Alabama, and north Georgia, and guarded prisoners of war. James helped recruit additional black troops and built fortifications in Middle and West Tennessee, foraged, and performed an array of menial tasks. James guarded railroads from guerrilla raids; this duty, in fact, introduced Tennessee black troops to combat.

In December 1863 at Moscow, Tennessee, the Sixty-first U.S.C.T. caught General Stephen D. Lee's Confederate cavalry trying to rip up the railroad near the Wolf River. A fight began, and the Sixty-first impressively repulsed Lee's troops. Certainly the most infamous battle waged by the U.S.C.T. occurred at Fort Pillow on April 12, 1864. Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest invaded West Tennessee and surrounded the Mississippi River fort. Forrest's troops numbered three times the garrison of approximately 560 men. When the Confederate call for surrender was refused, Forrest's troops stormed the ramparts, entered the fort, and massacred Union troops as they tried to surrender. Blacks incurred casualties of more than 60 percent, most of whom died. The Fort Pillow massacre galvanized the USCT resolve to fight their way to freedom and stigmatized Forrest.

For the rest of 1864, James' regiments was stationed in Memphis and fought alongside their white comrades in skirmishes against Forrest's cavalry and helped harness the general's raiders. From June to November, James participated in several engagements in Mississippi and Alabama in pursuit of Forrest. At Brice's Crossroads and Tupelo, Mississippi (June-July), Athens, Alabama (September), and Pulaski, Tennessee (September), soldiers encountered Forrest; with each engagement their combat ability improved. At Pulaski, the Fourteenth USCT repulsed Forrest's Confederates and gained redemption for the earlier massacre. In December 1864 the James' fought in heavy combat alongside white Union troops at the battle of Nashville, where they were credited with helping to ensure victory by repelling the Confederate charge on Overton Hill.


After he mustered out on 25 May 1865, James made his way to Kentucky, where he married Nancy Cleggett in 1868 in Bowling Green Ky. Nancy was born in 1846 in Kentucky. In the 1900 census in Newport, Nancy states that she has had 12 children, but only two known are listed here.

Children of James William Bassett and Nancy Cleggett

Edith Bassett b-June 1880 in Bowling Green Ky. d-1 Sep 1949 in Newport; br-Evergreen
Warner Bassett b-14 Jan 1890 in Cincinnati; d-4 July 1952 in Detroit Michigan; br-Evergreen


James William Bassett died 21 May 1937 at 111 Southgate Street in Newport, at the home of his daughter Edith and was buried in the Linden Grove Cemetery in Covington.  Nancy Bassett died in Feb 1932 and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery.


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