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These soldiers may have been the first Black troops to wear Union blue

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These soldiers may have been the first Black troops to wear Union blue

A retired Army colonel and his former West Point roommate believe they have discovered a nearly forgotten — and possibly first — black unit in the Civil War and are spearheading efforts to see the history-making soldiers honored nearly 160 years later.

The career soldiers-turned-amateur historians, retired Col. Chris Allen and retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commander of U.S. Army Europe, say the members of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers of African Descent could be the first black soldiers to wear Union uniforms, perhaps a year before the famed 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, which was profiled in the acclaimed 1989 film “Glory.”

Allen and Hodges presented their findings during a Jan. 27 virtual presentation for the Army Heritage Center Foundation titled, “The Union’s First Black Regiment and the U.S. Army’s Linkage to the Emancipation Proclamation.”

The two are spearheading efforts to see the unit’s role put in proper historical context for future U.S. Military Academy cadets, soldiers and the general public.

More than a mere footnote, the officers see this lost history as a way to further celebrate the role of black service in the Army. These first soldiers were freed slaves, and some of the leaders with whom they fought were West Point graduates.

Some of their efforts include:

  • Purchasing a headstone and placing a historical marker for the unit’s color sergeant, Prince Rivers, at his gravesite in Columbia, South Carolina.
  • Further researching the postwar history of the unit’s members, improving artifacts of the unit currently held at West Point.
  • Working with the South Carolina congressional delegation to declare a day of recognition for the unit.
  • Building a monument in Beaufort, South Carolina.
  • Establishing exhibits at the Pentagon and the International African American Museum.
  • Developing a case study for leader development courses in military officer programs.
  • Establishing an annual commemoration of the unit at its former camp site by the U.S. Army Recruiting Command.

Army Times talked with Allen and Hodges before the presentation about how they came upon the story of the 1st SCVAD and their work to see the unit recognized.

Shortly after Allen retired in 2009, he moved to Beaufort, South Carolina, and a few years later, he bumped into the story of the 1st SCVAD by accident, he said.

He was visiting Naval Hospital Beaufort and while walking the grounds, came upon a sign so small, he almost missed it.

Labeled “Emancipation Oak,” the sign shared in a few sentences the history of the 1st SCVAD.

It told how the unit had formed in Hilton Head, South Carolina, in May 1862 and how its members had gone into combat in August 1862 before receiving their colors, more than four months before a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation at the spot of the marker on Jan. 1, 1863.

That was also nearly a full year before other black units formed or even began recruiting.

“I said, ‘No way, it cannot be true,’” Allen said. “They must have transposed a number.”

He shared his findings with his friend, even taking Hodges to the Emancipation Tree to see the historic site tucked away in an almost hidden corner.

Both Allen and Hodges say their knowledge of such Civil War units mostly comes from a few history classes and the movie “Glory,” decades ago. They emphasize that in this effort, they are amateur historians simply trying to share what they’ve found.

But Allen did know that the 54th Massachusetts hadn’t started recruiting until February 1863. He decided to do some research.

What he found was as inspiring a story of black history in the Army as he could have imagined.

On Nov. 7, 1861, a Union Navy-Army task force seized and occupied Port Royal, a deep-water port adjacent to what is now Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, as part of the Union blockade of the Confederacy. All of the whites living in the area fled, abandoning an estimated 10,000 slaves.

Army Maj. Gen. Thomas W. Sherman was left to manage the slaves, at that time labeled “human contraband” due to their slave status. By April 1862, Army leaders had requested equipment for a black regiment, initiating the “Port Royal Experiment” that would see former slaves take arms against Confederates.

On May 8, 1862, the first 150 “contraband” volunteers enlisted at Hilton Head, South Carolina. Two months later, in July, Congress passed the Militia Act of 1862, authorizing black armed service.

On Aug. 5, 1862, Brig. Gen. Rufus Saxton deployed to the Georgia-Florida region with Company A, 1st SCVAD, and the company conducted the first black unit combat operations on St. Simons Island.

Later that month, the First Kansas Volunteers began forming and later mustered in early 1863. That’s where Allen believes some historical quibbling might emerge from his findings, because the official mustering is what is often used for unit histories and placing such events in a historical context.

He has not found details showing a documented “muster” of the 1st SCVAD as a regiment. In part, Allen and Hodges believe that’s because a lot of the SCVAD’s work was experimental, and, even in the North, arming freed slaves was somewhat controversial, so it wasn’t widely publicized.

Detailed histories of the unit are more difficult to find because many of the former slaves were prohibited by law from learning to read and write, while free men in the North and Kansas often sent letters home recounting their lives in uniform.

Also, the 1st SCVAD was formed at the beginning of the war, deep in enemy territory. As they formed, they were fighting.

But Col. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a white officer in command of the regiment, wrote in his 1869 book, “Army Life in a Black Regiment,” that the 1st SCVAD can rightfully claim its place as the first black regiment “that ever bore arms in defence of freedom on the continent of America.”

“…[M]y regiment was unquestionably the first mustered into service of the United States,” he wrote. He listed Nov. 7, 1862, as the unit’s muster date, but it followed Company A’s combat experience in August of that year.

As the war progressed, bureaucracy also buried some of the story. More black units were raised and deployed, and as part of a reorganization of the growing number of black troops, the 1st SCVAD was reflagged as the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops, which it staked until shortly after the end of the war, when it was disbanded along with many other units in 1866.

Further official oversight caused more damage when, in 1929, an Army board determined the 1st SCVAD Regimental Colors had no historic value and they were destroyed. But, in 1988, artifacts from the 1st SCVAD’s Emancipation Day Ceremony were discovered in the West Point Museum, where they remain preserved.

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How do I get back into the workforce after a long gap?

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How do I get back into the workforce after a long gap?

I’ve been out of the job market for years, caring for an elderly relative who recently passed. How do I explain this big gap, and how do I make myself relevant? I used to work in a bank, but the job I did is basically obsolete now.

I’m going to tell you what you already know. The job search is hard enough for people with jobs, so transitioning back after being away is that much more difficult. I say this not to discourage you but to prepare you. “More difficult” doesn’t mean “impossible.” You have to prepare differently so that you can overcome the challenge. Your first goal is to just get back into the workforce and not try to pick up where you left off in the same job at the same level. It’s far easier to navigate your way to the job you want over time while you are employed. Make sure your skills are up to date by taking online courses. Stay positive, be persistent, flexible and leverage your contacts. As for explaining the gap, just tell the truth. It has the benefit of being true, and people can relate.

A friend of mine was told she could work remotely full time but has to take less money. Is that lawful?

Oh, the old “asking for a friend” routine. No worries, your secret is safe with me, and it’s not like your question is so unique that your “friends” will know it’s you. Basically, unless your employment is governed by some contract or collective-bargaining agreement, the terms of employment are between you and your employer and subject to change at the discretion of your employer, including compensation, responsibilities and work arrangements. Many employers and employees are considering the trade-offs for working remotely and the savings in the form of reduced office space and commuting expenses, respectively. For many employees, it includes more flexibility, too. You can choose to accept the new arrangements, or decline and continue with your current ones. If your employer isn’t offering you an option and you decline, you should be eligible for whatever layoff benefits the company provides, as well as unemployment benefits. I hope this works out for your “friend.”

Gregory Giangrande has over 25 years of experience as a chief human resources executive and is dedicated to helping New Yorkers get back to work. E-mail your questions to [email protected] Follow Greg on Twitter: @greggiangrande and at GoToGreg.com.

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Bill Gates said to be growing potatoes for McDonald’s fries

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Bill Gates said to be growing potatoes for McDonald's fries

Next time you savor a McDonald’s french fry, remember to thank Bill Gates for the tasty spud.

As reported in The Post, the soon-to-be single computer magnate happens to own more farmland than anyone else in the United States. Known for loving fast food — although his burger of choice comes from the Washington-based chainlet Burgermaster — Gates, according to NBC News, grows potatoes for McDonald’s in fields so vast they can be scoped from outer space.

Although Gates has focused his energies on saving our climate, he has made clear that the tater patches are strictly money-making operations.

“My investment group chose to do this,” stated Farmer Bill during an AMA on Reddit. “It is not connected to climate.”

Considering that Gates is said to own 269,000 acres of fertile land in 18 states, it’s easy to imagine him keeping track of it all on some souped-up series of spreadsheets. If so, gangs of divorce lawyers — including some who worked on the Jeff Bezos bust-up — have surely been scrutinizing the potato haul. Gates, the fourth-richest person in the world, married his impending ex, Melinda, without a prenuptial agreement, so they will be splitting property via a so-called “separation contract.”

No word on whether or not she will soon reign as McDonald’s potato queen.

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Honeybee worker can produce millions of identical clones, study shows

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Honeybee worker can produce millions of identical clones, study shows

A South African subspecies of the honeybee is reportedly able to produce millions of clones of itself. 

According to new research published in the journal Current Biology and Proceedings of the Royal Society B, one such insect – known as the Cape honeybee or Apis mellifera capensis– has managed to do so many times over the past 30 years. 

It’s a process called thelytokous parthenogenesis, which a group of international scientists said is akin to the “virgin birth of a female.” 

While asexual reproduction is fairly common, genetically identical offspring is not. 

The exchange of genetic material between different organisms, or “recombination,” normally leads to the production of offspring with combinations of different traits.

If there even is only one parent, New Scientist noted, offspring born from thelytokous parthenogenesis will still be born with a slightly different genetic makeup.

And yet, the worker Cape honeybee has reportedly found a way to reduce recombination and remain genetically healthy, whereas asexual reproduction has been lethal in honeybees before, resulting in inbred larvae that don’t survive. 

“For workers, it is important to reduce the frequency of recombination so as to not produce offspring that are homozygous.”

In order to learn more, the paper’s authors “experimentally manipulated” Cape workers and Cape queens to reproduce thelytokously.

“The two female castes of the Cape honeybee, Apis mellifera capensis, differ in their mode of reproduction. While workers always reproduce thelytokously, queens always mate and reproduce sexually,” the researchers explained in the paper’s abstract.

Performing fieldwork at South Africa’s Plant Protection Research Institute in Stellenbosch, the team instrumentally inseminated a queen with the semen of a single male and then introduced a brood comb holding several hundred eggs laid by the queen into a colony to be reared. 

Queens were made to reproduce asexually using what researchers said amounted to a “chastity belt.”

“When the queens were 5 days post eclosion we constrained them in an artificial insemination apparatus [37] without narcosis. We then glued a 5 mm piece of surgical tape (Micropore, 3M, Minnesota) over the sting chamber using nail varnish,” the paper explained. 

The researchers monitored the queens, confirming the chastity belts were intact after each flight around the colony and, eventually, compared asexually reproduced larvae of the queen to those of the workers.

“We monitored the queens closely for the next two weeks, to determine if and when oviposition had commenced. We collected larvae as soon as they appeared into ethanol,” the researchers wrote.

“Not all queens flew, not all returned from mating flights, and not all laid. In the end, we were able to harvest one queen and 25 of her larval progeny into ethanol.”

The group also genotyped four workers and 63 of their larvae.

Ultimately, the authors found that the queen showed levels of genetic recombination 100 times more than seen in the cloned offspring of the worker bees.

“Using a combination of microsatellite genotyping and whole-genome sequencing we find that a reduction in recombination is confined to workers only,” the abstract concluded.

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