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Central Americans in Lincoln's Army

A research project is underway to learn more about U.S. Colored Troops and Civil War soldiers born in Central America. Historical data reveals several civil war service records for black and white soldiers born in Central America.

In black thermoplastic case with brass hinges and red velvet liner; Preserver and mat: brass decorated with eagle, 2 American flags, cannon, and E Pluribus Unum set in a red velvet liner; tintype with cover glass of an African American Union soldier with a moustache and beard, holding a pistol across his chest. His buttons and belt buckle are hand-colored in gold paint. The hand-coloring on the buckle reads backwards "SU," which when considered that the image is reversed, reads "US," the traditional inscription on Union Civil War belt buckles.
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift from the Liljenquist Family Collection

As part of the 100 Central American Historical Biography project that aims to uncover overlooked histories, these findings point to a type of Central American contribution rarely discussed in American History. Heading this research is the Co-Founder of the Central American Historical and Ancestral Society, Claudia A. Portillo, and serving as Humanities Advisor is California State University, Los Angeles Professor Ester E. Hernández. We will document the lives of these men as soldiers and trace their footprints to better understand their migration patterns, as well as their connection to U.S. African American communities and their endeavors during these years.

The image below is of service records for Solomon Leeks and Peter Smith found on in partnership with the National Archives at Washington, D.C. An estimated 200,000 black men fought in the war and this is just one example of the type of documents that exist in historical databases. Importantly, records like these, for example, give us an idea of what we can find in the National Archives.

The project seeks to uncover more names, so we can preserve their U.S. military careers and American stories on the Central American Historical and Ancestral Society website ( — a free site accessible to all.

Let us explore these few men who heroically volunteered their lives for the Union and their neighbors to the North. Who were these men? What did they gain by volunteering in the U.S. Civil War? Could some of these men's parents been freed slaves? Runaways? How many are there? This research project seeks to answer these questions and more.

Interested in helping us uncover more names? We are open to collaborations and family history information. Please email your interest or questions to



1. The National Archives at Washington, D.C.

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