Friday, August 16, 2013

Hometown Hero: Sgt. Conway Madison, Co. D, 116th USCI

In 1939, Orson Welles wrote these lines in "Marrakech:" "The people have brown faces - besides, there are so many of them! Are they really the same flesh as yourself? Do they even have names? Or are they merely a kind of undifferentiated brown stuff, about as individual as bees or coral insects? They rise out of the earth, they sweat and starve for a few years and then they sink back into the nameless mounds of the graveyard and nobody notices that they are gone. And even the graves themselves soon fade back into the soil."

With these "Hometown Hero" profiles it is part of my intention that the men buried in Greenhill Cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky, and who served in the United States Colored Troops, will not be nameless. These profiles will prove that they were of the same flesh and are noticed - that they will not sink back into nameless mounds of the graveyard that nobody notices - that these men were individuals - individuals who had names and stories. These men deserve to be remembered; but not only remembered, honored, too, for their service. May their graves never fade back into the soil, but let their grave markers stand as testament to liberty.

Before the Civil War - and even during the first years of the war - Conway (or Conaway) Madison labored as an enslaved man on the farm of Harrison Martin in Scott County, Kentucky. In 1860, Martin, a 60 year old farmer, lived with his wife Sallie (61) and a 10 year old girl named Annie Nichols. I am not sure what relation Annie was to the Martins.  Was she a granddaughter? Or, was she some other adopted child?

Martin was quite wealthy. He claimed $21,000 in real estate, and $20,000 in personal property. Much of that personal property was invested in 33 enslaved individuals that ranged from 65 years old to 2 years old. The average Kentucky slaveholder in 1860 had about 5 or 6 slaves, so Martin's large number put him in select company.

Conway Madison appears to have been born in Scott County. Whether that was on Harrison Martin's farm or if Martin came to own Madison later is not known. Interestingly, Madison enlisted in the 116th United States Colored Infantry in Lexington the day after Independence Day, 1864. He was 37 years old. His enlistment papers indicate that he had Harrison Martin's permission to enlist. Madison's service records also state that Scott County, in District 7, was to be credited toward the county's quota for his enlistment. In other words, since Madison was serving, a white man would not have to serve from Scott County.

Like most Scott County men that served in the USCT, Madison was forwarded to Camp Nelson in Jessamine County for training. The 116th was ordered to Virginia in the late summer of 1864 and joined the Army of the James, which was commanded by Gen. Benjamin F. Butler. It participated in combat during the Petersburg Campaign, served fatigue duty at Dutch Gap Canal on the James River, and was part of the Appomattox Campaign after Petersburg and Richmond fell to Union forces in early April 1865.

In the fall or early winter of 1864 Madison's records show that he was charged for "1 set tin plate, cup, knife, fork and spoon, 1 canteen & 1 unpainted haversack." This was about the time the 116th was stationed at Dutch Gap Canal. But, later while participating in operations around Petersburg, Madison must have shown some leadership and military ability, because on March 9, 1865, he was promoted to corporal. Promotion from private to a non-commissioned officer position (corporal or sergeant) was usually conferred upon black soldiers by their white commissioned officers (lieutenant, captain, major, lieutenant colonel or colonel).
In June 1865, the 116th was sent to Texas for duty. Madison received promotion again, this time to sergeant on February 1, 1866.  The 116th remained in the Lonestar State, on the Mexican border, until finally mustered out in New Orleans on January 14, 1865.

Conway Madison's history gets quite murky after he mustered out of the army. I was unable to locate any federal census record for him the in years following the war. However, I did find a "C. Madison," a laborer, who was listed as a 45 year old African American man that was born in Kentucky in the 1875 Kansas state census.  He was living in Levenworth with his wife M. Madison (23), and B., a 6 year old male, R., a 3 year old male, J. a 1 year old male. Wife M. was born in Kentucky, too. All of the children were shown as born in Kansas. Previous residence was listed as Missouri.

Was this man Conway Madison? Had he left Kentucky, lived briefly in Missouri, and moved on to Kansas, like other so-called "Exoduster" Kentucky African Americans - many of which came from Madison's own home county of Scott?  I believe it is more than quite likely. However, if the records are correct and the oldest child, who was 6 in 1875, was actually born in Kansas, that would have placed Madison in Kansas by 1869 - much earlier than most Kentucky Exodusters.  Still it is more than possible that Madison was mustered out of the army in 1867, moved to Missouri for a short time and then on to Kansas by 1869, and started a family.

Madison apparently filed for a service pension with the federal government in 1889. If those records were to be obtained, many of the questions I have posed could probably be answered. Regardless, Madison must have moved back to Kentucky at some point since he is buried there. The problem with many of these early veteran headstones is that they don't provide a death date. If one contacted the Veteran's Administration, the branch that issued the stones, it might be determined when Conway Madison passed away.

More important than dates, though, is the evidence that survives. His headstone is certainly there in Greenhill Cemetery and his service records corroborate that he was a dependable and conscientious soldier - a soldier who served his country even before that country recognized him as a citizen.

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