Sunday, September 5, 2021

Fallen, But Not Forgotten - Pvt. Emanuel Patterson, Co. D, 6th USCI

On October 10, 1858, Emanuel Patterson stood beside Elizabeth Perrill in the home of William Fox, justice of the peace for Aleppo Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania. Emanuel and Elizabeth were there to be joined in marriage. At the same time the young couple was just starting to form a united life, the United States steadily moved toward dissolution over the issue of slavery. On that 1858 autumn day of joy and merriment, Emanuel and Elizabeth Patterson probably never imagined that in a few short years the whirlwind of a civil war would engulf them and change their lives forever.

More often than not pre-war biographical details about men who ultimately served in United States Colored Troops regiments are difficult to locate. Unfortunately, Emanuel Patterson follows this pattern, too. He does appear in the 1850 census living in Wayne Township, Greene County. In that record he is nine years old and residing in the household of his father, Joseph, and mother, Mary, and two-year old brother, Taylor. Also living with the Pattersons is 76-year old Nancy Perrill. The space for Joseph Patterson’s occupation is blank, and apparently he owned no real estate. Either through the census taker’s error, or some other mistake, the Pattersons and Nancy Perrill are not identified as being people of color. This is interesting because listed above the Pattersons on the same page is a household consisting of Jesse Perrill, 76 years old; Ruth Milton, 66 years old; and Clement Burgis, age eight; all noted as “mulatto.” One wonders about the relationship between the Pattersons and the Perrills, as Nancy lived in the Patterson household, Emanuel married a Perrill eight years later, and another Perrill was a near neighbor. The Emanuel Patterson of this study apparently does not appear in the 1860 census, nor does his newly wed wife Elizabeth.

Another record that provides some information about Emanuel Patterson is his Greene County draft registration, made in May and June 1863. It shows that Emanuel was living in Gilmore Township, 22-years old, married, and working as a farmer. Officials apparently soon drew Patterson’s name, as his compiled military service records shows him as conscripted. He enlisted at New Brighton, Pennsylvania, in Company D, 6th United States Colored Infantry on July 16, 1863. Enlistment records give Patterson’s age as 23 and his complexion as “light.” The new soldier stood five feet eight inches tall, worked as a laborer, and confirmed that he was born in Greene County.

Patterson’s enlistment came on the heels of a major life event. Just about a month and a half before joining the 6th USCI he became a father when Elizabeth gave birth to their daughter Nancy on June 3, 1863. One can only imagine what the brand new father felt when he received the government’s demand to enlist. Patterson likely did not have the financial means to pay the required $300.00 commutation fee, or afford a substitute to go in his place to avoid service. Providing for a family while serving in the United States army concerned many soldiers, but it proved especially challenging for men of color. As James G. Mendez convincingly shows in his work, A Great Sacrifice: Northern Black Soldiers, Their Families, and the Experience of Civil War, the initial pay inequality and its inconsistent distribution by the paymasters placed many African American families in dire straits.

The 6th USCI organized and trained at Camp William Penn, located just outside of Philadelphia. Separated from his wife Elizabeth and infant daughter Nancy on the other side of the state likely worried Emanuel. In the fall of 1863, the regiment transferred to Fort Monroe, Virginia, for duty. The 6th participated in Gen. Edward Wild’s raid into northeastern North Carolina that winter. The following spring the regiment served on raids into eastern Virginia gathering supplies and freeing enslaved people along their routes of travel. In early May 1864, as part of the Army of James’ XVIII Corps, they helped capture and hold City Point. A difficult assignment came with Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s First Offensive at Petersburg on June 15. The 6th, along with the rest of Gen. Edwards Hinks’ Black infantry division fought well, and suffered significant casualties in capturing five forts and several artillery pieces at Baylor’s Farm and along the Dimmock Line that day. Pvt. Patterson’s records indicate he was present for all of these actions, and fortunately remained safe. 

Patterson apparently served on detached duty in August 1864, likely working with many of the other Black regiments on the labor teams building the Dutch Gap canal on the James River. Stationed at Dutch Gap until September 28, orders then came to the 6th USCI for an operation against the Confederate defenses along New Market Road, just north of the Union-occupied Deep Bottom landing. Pvt. Patterson’s captain, John McMurray remembered years later that, “Early on the morning of September 29th we were astir, and before sunrise were on the march directly toward the Confederate entrenchments at the foot of Spring Hill, or New Market Heights. . . .” McMurry continued that, “Had I known when I rose this morning what was in store for my company, for my regiment, within the next two or three hours, I would have been entirely unfitted for the duties of the day.”

At this point in Capt. McMurray’s memoir, he mentioned Pvt. Patterson. McMurray remembered that just before leaving Dutch Gap the day before, Patterson told McMurray that he was not well. The morning of the assault, Patterson again informed acMurray he was sick, so the captain took the private to the regimental surgeon to have him excused. However, the doctor claimed that Patterson was well enough and “must go ahead.” Patterson lined up with his comrades and marched forward toward the enemy. The next time that McMurray saw Patterson was “in thick of the fight.”

Capt. McMurray sadly remembered: “As I was pushing on through the slashing I met him [Patterson] suddenly, presenting one of the most terrible spectacles I ever beheld. He was shot in the abdomen, so that his bowels all gushed out, forming a mass larger than my hat, seemingly, which he was holding up with clasped hands, to keep them from falling at his feet. Then, and a hundred time since, I wished I had taken the responsibility of saying to him that he could remain in the rear.”

Col. Steven Duncan’s Brigade, consisting of the 4th and 6th USCI regiments, went into the fray first, taking terrible causalities. They then fell back in an attempt to reorganize. Col. Alonzo Draper’s Brigade made up of 5th, 36th, and 38th went in next. Attacking in column, this force slowed at the double lines of defensive abatis due to heavy enemy fire, as had the first attack. However, the assault regained momentum when many of the non-commissioned officers took over for wounded lieutenants and captains and successfully drove the Confederates from their earthworks. The battlefield was a sea of dead and wounded. Pvt. Patterson’s Company D went into the fight with 30 soldiers. After the battle, Capt. McMurray counted only three out of those 30 men not killed, wounded or missing.

Some of the brave Black soldiers killed in action at New Market Heights eventually ended up interred in the Fort Harrison and City Point National Cemeteries in identified graves. Pvt. Patterson may rest among those comrades, too, but in an unknown soldier’s grave.

Elizabeth Patterson eventually learned of her husband’s death in battle. She remarried in December 1865 to Henry Copenhaver. Something may have happened to Elizabeth and Henry Copenhaver not too long after their marriage, because an 1868 record in Emanuel Patterson’s pension file shows daughter Nancy being assigned a guardian to receive her pension funds as she was a minor. Nancy Patterson appears in the 1870 census living in the household of William and Elizabeth Grinage. A clue that something may have happened to Elizabeth and Henry Copenhaver is that three year old Solomon Copenhaver is also in the household. From there, Nancy Patterson, Emanuel’s only child, seems to fade into history. Hopefully however, despite resting in peace in an unmarked grave, the memory of Pvt. Emanuel Patterson’s brief life and courageous sacrifice in service to the United States will never be forgotten.  

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

The Effects of the Wilson-Kautz Raid through Newspaper Advertisements (Part 2)

Read Part 1

Evidence of the amount of disorder the Union horsemen wreaked on the region’s citizens appears in numerous newspaper advertisements placed by individuals seeking to reclaim their property. As mentioned at the beginning, much of that property came in human form. An accounting of some of the enslaved people comes from an advertisement published in the Petersburg Daily Express newspaper in July by James H. Pearce, who served as assistant adjutant general for Brig. Gen. Henry Wise. The printed enumeration gives the names, owners, and counties of origin of 48 people recaptured by the Confederates. On July 11, 1864, M. M. Rodgers, provost marshal for Wickham’s Cavalry Brigade, advertised in the Express the arrest on July 3, near Reams’ Station, of an enslaved man named Owens, who Rodgers “supposed to have been with Wilson’s raiders and been separated from them in this neighborhood.”  

In the hectic scramble to get back to Union lines, while along the Stage Road near Reams’ Station, some children, who briefly got a taste of freedom while with the raiders, found themselves left behind and recaptured. James Hargrave advertised in the July 18 issue of the Petersburg Express that he “picked up . . . three negro children.” Willie, Minnie, and “a little boy, name unknown” who were ages 5, 4, and 3 respectively. Dr. D. J. Claiborne, Sr. of Brunswick County sought to reclaim three of his enslaved people, as he believed, “taken from me by the last Yankee raid. . . .” Claiborne offered a liberal compensation for 19 year old Lucy, 15 year old Irmma, and nine year old Charles; all siblings. From the same Brunswick County neighborhood as Dr. Claiborne, Peter Stainback advertised on July 22 that “The Wilson raiders visited my plantation . . . and carried off the following negroes:” Henry, George, Jim Martin, and another Jim. Children seemed to have the hardest time escaping recapture. John Dodson advertised on July 28 in the Express that he had on his place a girl named Amy who was about six years old. Dodson also provided the names of the girl’s mother and father, but Amy was “unable to give any other account of herself or owner.” Abram W. Marshall of Lunenburg County wanted “Harod, but was generally known by the name Peter . . . Armistead . . . and Kenner,” “who were taken . . . by the Wilson’s raiders.” Dr. Thomas Blandry offered a $200 reward for Sarah Ann and her two children Minna and Garland who fled with the raiders at Blacks and Whites Station on the Southside Railroad.

The day after the raid ended, Maj. W. H. Kerr at Petersburg posted a notice in the Express warning “not to purchase or trade in any way for property captured from the enemy.” Kerr listed commonly confiscated items including: “horses, mules, carts, wagons, buggies &c. . . .”  Nelson Griffin of Dinwiddie County advertised that “a body of retreating Yankee soldiers,” took away two mules, a mare and a horse. Griffin also claimed that the raiders or “vandals” as he referred to them, took “every pound of bacon, all the corn, butter, and everything else of value. . . .” R. R. Collier took out a classified ad that claimed that Wilson’s men “robbed my negro man, Bob, a faithful slave, of two and a half dollars in silver.” Collier offered a $20 reward for anyone who would deliver the thief to him in Petersburg. For items “Stolen by Wilson’s Yankee Raiders,” T. A. Proctor offered a $1000 reward. He explained in the July 11 issue of the Express that the raiders took silverware including spoons, knives, and forks. Also missing were “one Pitcher and Waiter, two Goblets, Cake Knife, Pickle Knife and Forks, two Salt stands, on Butter Stand,” among other items that were “prized beyond their pecuniary value . . . .”

Lunenburg County resident Sterling Neblett lost horses and mules that he sought back by advertising the July 13 Express. John Puryear of Brunswick also wanted his six horses back from “The Wilson Raiders who visited my plantation and stole” them. Ed. T. Jeffress of Nottoway County wanted his “large family carriage” that was “taken from my residence . . . by Wilson’s raiders.” Jefferess offered a “liberal reward” in his ad placed in the July 19 Express. Robert Jackson lost five horses and mules and advertised for their return in the August 8 issue of the Express.

In the grand scheme of the Petersburg Campaign, the tangible military advantages gained by Federal forces through the Wilson-Kautz Raid were probably quite minimal. A good number of the enslaved people who followed the raiders seeking freedom, and materials and animals confiscated along its course, fell back into Confederate hands at the end of the raid. But, some in Federal high command believed the effort was well worth its costs in casualties. Certainly, the raiders created enough damage to Confederate rail and communications infrastructure that it took time, as well as valuable manpower and resources away from the Confederates—who had little to spare—to repair them.

However, the raid’s greatest effect was likely the many disturbances it had on white Southern civilians, and as expressed in their advertisements attempting to reclaim their possessions. The raiders’ ability to range as far as they did and seemingly take what they wanted all while helping enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, continued to erode the confidence that white Southern civilians placed in their military and government officials to protect them. While raids like that conducted by Wilson’s and Kautz’s cavalrymen across Southside Virginia certainly embittered some Southerners, in others it started to dent their resolve and caused them to wonder when they again might experience “the hard hand of war.”  


A. Wilson Greene, A Campaign of Giants: The Battles for Petersburg, Volume 1: From the Crossing of the James to the Crater, University of North Carolina Press, 2018.

Greg Eanes, ‘Destroy the Junction’: The Wilson-Kautz Raid & the Battle for the Staunton River Bridge, June 21 to July 1, 1864, H. E. Howard and Company, 1999.

Map of Virginia: Showing the distribution of its slave population from the Census of 1860 accessed via Library of Congress

Richmond, Virginia Daily Dispatch

August 6, 1864

August 26, 1864

Petersburg, Virginia Daily Express

July 1, 1864

July 7, 1864

July 11, 1864

July 13, 1864

July 18, 1864

July 19, 1864

July 22, 1864

July 28, 1864

August 5, 1864

August 6, 1864

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The Effects of the Wilson-Kautz Raid through Newspaper Advertisements (Part 1)


Slave trader E. H. Stokes placed an advertisement in the August 6, 1864, edition of the Richmond Daily Dispatch, offering a $4,500 reward for nine individuals who “left my farm, Lunenburg [County Virginia] about the last of June, with the Wilson raiding party.” Stokes was not alone in seeking to reclaim lost property. Numerous other citizens placed notices in Petersburg and Richmond newspapers mentioning and describing their possessions—in the form of human beings, animals, and objects—fleeing with or taken by the Federal cavalrymen of Brig. Gen. James H. Wilson and Brig. Gen. August V. Kautz during a week-long raid across several Southside Virginia counties in the summer of 1864.

The objective of the Wilson-Kautz Raid, which was part of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Second Offensive at Petersburg, was to wreak havoc on Confederate communication routes previously unaffected by Federal forces. Of particular interest were the Southside Railroad, which ran west from Petersburg to Lynchburg, and the Richmond and Danville Railroad that connected those two important cities. The cavalry raid supplemented Grant’s main effort, which he hoped would result in the capture the Petersburg Railroad (also known as the Weldon Railroad) by the Army of the Potomac’s II and VI Corps.

Grant did not allow his foe much rest between the final First Offensive attacks on Petersburg, which wrapped up on June 18, 1864, and the start of the Second Offensive that began on June 22. The Wilson-Kautz Raid portion of the Second Offensive started from their camps early on the morning of June 22 with about 5,500 cavalrymen and supported by three batteries of artillery. From their location southeast of Petersburg, the raiders first stuck for the Weldon Railroad at Reams’ Station, just a few miles to the southwest. They inflicted damage by burning the depot and some rolling stock parked there. However, they soon moved off to the west toward Dinwiddie Courthouse, where they arrived about mid-day. After a brief rest, the riders pushed on north toward the Southside Railroad. At Ford’s Depot they inflicted more damage and started ripping up rails as they worked their way west.

Many of the counties that the raid coursed through contained large numbers of enslaved people. The 1860 census figures show that just under half of Dinwiddie County’s population were enslaved, numbering 12,774 people. Nottoway County, adjacent to the west, held 6,478 individuals in bondage. Ranked as the state’s highest, Nottoway enslaved 74% of its inhabitants. Along the way and at each stop African Americans seeking freedom followed the raiders however best they could.  

While Kautz’s command rode on further west to Burkesville Station, Wilson’s men worked destroying material found at Blacks and Whites Station (modern day Blackstone). After burning a rail car, a water tower, and a supply of cotton, they continuing on. Wilson’s force soon encountered some of Gen. W. H. F. “Rooney” Lee’s Confederate cavalry and fought a skirmish near Nottoway Courthouse.

At Burkeville Station, where the Richmond and Danville and Southside Railroads intersected, Katutz’s raiders tore up track on both lines. They then headed southwest along the Richmond and Danville line. Wherever they encountered telegraph lines, rolling stock, water towers, bridges, pull-off sidings, warehouses, lumber piles, and anything else that the Confederates might use to their advantage, the Federals destroyed or disabled it in the most complete and efficient way possible. In addition, some of the cavalrymen used the raid to appropriate non-military personal possessions from the area’s citizens.

Three days into the raid the Federal’s horses began to show wear. That day, June 25, the recombined force encountered the Staunton River Bridge on the Richmond and Danville Railroad on the Charlotte County and Halifax County border. Charlotte, like the other counties the raiders traversed included large numbers of enslaved individuals. Charlotte County included over 9,236 enslaved people who made up 65% of its population. At the Staunton River covered bridge a cobbled together Confederate force under Capt. Benjamin Farinholt set up a soild defense.

Farinholt’s Rebels were able to protect the covered bridge after several assaults by the Union cavalrymen. The Southerners’ efforts saved a good deal of their railroad track and rolling stock, in addition to the bridge. Unable to budge the defenders or burn the bridge, and with their horses flagging, Wilson decided to return to Union lines. To do so required heading back east through Mecklenburg (64% enslaved), Lunenburg (62% enslaved) and Brunswick counties (64% enslaved). However, the return trip proved difficult. Confederate opposition, excessively hot days, jaded horses, worn riders, and an ever-growing contingent of African American refugees who followed the riders, all made the second half of the raid particularly challenging.

Receiving valuable intelligence, Fitzhugh Lee, Wade Hampton, and two brigades of Gen. William Mahone’s Confederate infantry from Petersburg worked to get into position at points along the Petersburg (Weldon) Railroad in attempt to trap the raiders before they returned to the safety of Union lines. A fight at Sappony Church with Hampton’s horsemen on June 28 and into June 29, encouraged the raiders to divert north to Reams’ Station where they hoped to find Union infantry from the II and IV Corps in control of the Petersburg Railroad. However, as the raiders arrived at Reams’ Station on the morning of June 29, they met Mahone’s infantry and Lee’s cavalry, with Hampton closing on their rear.

A sharp battle developed where the raid kicked off a week before. During the fight, the Confederates broke Wilson’s line and split the Union force. Kautz and his men not captured escaped south then back east. Wilson’s men scattered and fled south taking a much longer route to make their way back to Union lines three days later. At Reams’ Station the Confederates inflicted numerous casualties on the Federals—most being prisoners. Also lost were all of the artillery, most of the wagons and carts filled with provisions and goods obtained along the way, and many of the refugee men, women, and children who were following the raiders. Wilson suffered additional casualties and lost additional captured items crossing a section of Stony Creek due to a bottleneck at the bridge over that stream. Here many of the refugees following Wilson’s force were recaptured or killed by the furious Confederates. Wilson’s remnant made it back into Union lines on July 2.

The Wilson-Kautz Raid covered over 350 miles, and certainly inflicted significant damage on the Confederate rail infrastructure. It took weeks to complete some of the repairs. But perhaps the greatest achievement of the raid was the disruptions that the raiders inflicted upon the Southern civilians’ farms and plantations that they encountered along their route.

(Originally published on the Emerging Civil War blog)

Friday, July 30, 2021

"Union or Nothing"


One reason we know so much about Civil War soldiers is because they wrote so much about their experiences. One of the things that those fighting for the United States often mentioned was their love for the Union. 

In the rush of our modern day lives it is sometimes difficult for us to comprehend the deep commitment Federal soldiers felt toward the idea of an indivisible Union. In a letter in the collections of Pamplin Historical Park, and dated, August 13, 1864, Capt. E. Forrest Koehler of Company C, 114th Pennsylvania Infantry commented to his brother his willingness to sacrifice comforts for the preservation of the Union. “Today I have been three years and five months in the service, (the same time that you have) but Jack understand me distinctly, I am not tired of the service, but I am really tired of the separation from my dear wife & child . . . . But yet we have both made great sacrifices, but I know you will be like me, that is to glory in it, and feel that we have but done our duty to our country and at the same time feel, that we still owe her a debt that we can never repay. I often feel as if I would like to leave the service, especially when I think about the ‘dear ones at home.’ But Jack I am determined to say in the service until the ‘last armed foe expires,’ and this cruel rebellion is crushed out. You must not think that this determination of mine is made upon the spur of the moment, but it has been my object ever since the war commenced. I trust my course will satisfy you of that fact. If the rebellion is not crushed out, I do not wish to live. I recognize one flag, and that I have carried successfully through many a bloody field, and I pledge you my honor that it will never be disgraced so long as God spares my life.”

Koehler ended his letter with even more words of commitment to the principle of Union. “Believe me staunch for the Union at all hazards, and affectionately, Your Brother Forrest.” In post script Koehler continued the theme, “God bless you, stand by the flag. Union or nothing.”

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Still More Praise for New Market Heights USCTs

 Evansville, Indiana Daily Journal, October 13, 1864

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Col. William C. Oates Offers Reward for Enslaved Man

Today, while working on some research about a different topic, I came across the above advertisement in the August 6, 1864, edition of the Richmond Daily Dispatch.  

In it Col. William C. Oates offered a $500 reward for the capture of his enslaved body servant William. Oates was the colonel of the 15th Alabama, which is probably known best as one of the regiments of Gen. Evander Law's Brigade that assaulted the famous 20th Maine at Gettysburg's Little Round Top on July 2, 1863. The repulse of the 15th Alabama and Law's Brigade eventually made the 20th Maine's colonel, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain a well known name.  

According the advertisement, the enslaved William, at about 20 years of age, was on his third owner. Raised in Richmond, but sold to a Thomas A. Powell of Montgomery, Alabama, one assumes that Oates purchased William from Powell. 

One wonders if William made successful on his bid for freedom. If he made it to the Federal lines, did the young man join a United States Colored Troops regiment and fight to end slavery and claim his right to citizenship?  

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

"To-day their praises have been on every tongue. . . ."

This clipping is part of a larger article filed by correspondent H. J. W. for the Chicago Tribune and ran in the October 6, 1864 issue. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Civil War Soldiers and Homesickness


An old saying goes, “there’s no place like home,” and for many Civil War soldiers that sentiment rang true. With so many young men in the ranks, most of whom had not ventured far from home before, their time as soldiers strained their sense of independence and self-assuredness and left them longing for the comfort, familiarity, and support of those back home.

Sometimes referred to “nostalgia,” “the blues,” and “melancholia”, homesickness often struck soldiers who were starting the process of seasoning into veterans. Those who returned from furloughs, and thus received a renewed taste of home life, suffered, too. Lt. Samuel S. Elder, 4th U.S. Artillery, wrote in March 1863 to his sister Annie, explaining, “I already feel as though I had not had . . . leave for five years. I really believe that I came nearer being homesick two days after my return to the army, than I did two days before I obtained my leave.”

While mail provided a connection with those at home, that form of communication sometimes only stirred memories and left soldiers yearning to be back home. Tally Simpson, 3rd South Carolina Infantry wrote, “A letter from home renders [the soldier] oblivious of all his trials and sends him dreaming such dreams as thought of home can alone suggest.” Not receiving mail could have a similar homesick effect. African American soldier Sgt. John Collins, 54th Massachusetts, wrote, “You can just imagine how they feel, when finding no news from home, from mothers, sister, wives, nor friends, they exclaim, ‘Well, I’m forgotten.’”

Some soldiers not suffering from the malady viewed homesickness as weak and unmanly. Sgt. Bradford F. Thompson, 112th Illinois wrote to his wife from Lexington, Kentucky in the fall of the 1862 complaining about, rather than empathizing with, some fellow soldiers. “We have a few men who are always ready to shirk and pretend to be sick, but they are troubled only with . . . laziness, and homesickness,” he wrote.

Sgt. John Warrington Caldwell, 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry, penned his sister Kate from near Huntsville, Alabama in February 1864. He explained that he had been away from home for 30 months and only had six more to finish out his enlistment obligation. He wrote, “No person can feel what home is without going away.” However, to perhaps draw himself out of his funk or to refocus, he stated, “But that is enough of such talk. If I keep on, I will get homesick, and that will not do.”

Soldiers vehemently denied claims of homesickness, either to not worry their loved ones or to emphasize their masculinity. Pvt. Bryant L. Vincent, 12th Indiana Cavalry tried to reassure his mother: “You must not worry about me, for I am all right and have probably seen the hardest I will have to see. You said something about homesick. I ain’t homesick.” Similarly, early in the war, Pvt. William H. Morse, 3rd Michigan Infantry, writing to his wife said “the privations of camp life are far worse than the chance on a battlefield. They may say I’m homesick, or afraid, but I am neither.”

When most Civil soldiers enlisted they did not consider the many off the battlefield health threats that they eventually encountered while in service. Survival on the march and in camp required practical measures to endure those environments. However, even fewer probably realized the impact of being away from home for long periods, and the homesickness that often came with it, would have on their mental health and morale.     

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Sgt. William Carney, Medal of Honor, July 18, 1863

Today, I honor of Sgt. William Carney, Co. C, 54th Massachusetts Infantry. Born enslaved in 1840, in Norfolk, Virginia, Carney's family moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts after his father, who escaped slavery, purchased them.

During the Battle of Battery Wagener, South Carolina, on July 18, 1863, "when the color sergeant was shot down, this soldier [Sgt. Carney] grasped the flag, led the way to the parapet, and planted the colors thereon. When the troops fell back he brought off the flag, under a fierce fire in which he was twice severely wounded."    

Although Carney did not receive the Medal of Honor until 1900, his courageous act was the first of the Civil War by an African American soldier who eventually received the medal. 

Carney died in 1908 and was buried in New Bedford, Massachusetts. 


Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Wanted--Surgeons and Assistant Surgeons for the Colored Troops

 From September 29, 1864 edition of Portland, Maine, Daily Press.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Dying Far From Home – Pvt. Thomas Young, Co. A, 5th USCI


African Americans in mid-nineteenth century America experienced the road to freedom differently. Some found the course short and straight. They claimed personal liberty as a right of birth by place or circumstance. However, being a free person of color—regardless of residence in a free state or slave state—still often did not entitle them to the same rights afforded to white citizens. Others had a longer, steeper path, filled with hurdles and detours. Yet, in spite of the many obstacles placed in their way, many individuals made their way to freedom and went on to fight for liberty and equality for others.

Documents that help tell Pvt. Thomas Young’s biography are sparse. Gathering bits and pieces of information here and there we can only gain a small picture of his life before enlisting in the United States Colored Troops. Born in South Carolina around 1836—likely enslaved—Young somehow someway relocated to Ross County, Ohio, where he lived before enlisting. A draft registration from 1863 lists Young’s occupation as a farmer.

Young apparently married Margaret Hawkins in May 1863. Although Young does not appear in the 1860 census for Ross County, Hawkins does. At that time the future Mrs. Young lived in the household of Mary Jackson, perhaps her mother. Margaret, 14-years old at that time, attended school and was born in Ohio. Ms. Jackson was born in North Carolina. In their small family was six-year old Louis Jackson, also born in Ohio.

Enlisting on June 17, 1863, in Company A, 127th Ohio Infantry, which soon received designation as the 5th United States Colored Infantry (USCI), Young mustered in with his comrades at Camp Delaware on August 7. At enlistment, Young stated his age as 27, and blacksmith as his occupation. He was a half inch over 6 feet tall, and the enlisting officer described his complexion as “black.” At several places in Young’s service records the note “free on or before April 19, 1861” appears, which indicates that he was entitled to equal wages and allowances when Congress finally passed a bill in June 1864, equalizing pay between white and black soldiers that retroacted to January 1, 1864.

Pvt. Young likely went through the same process that hundreds of thousands of other Civil War soldiers endured as they transitioned from civilian to military life. At Camp Delaware, Young drilled, learned army protocol, and formed close bonds with his mess mates, and other comrades in his company and regiment. He probably complained about the lack of variety in his rations, the long hours of drill, the high prices of the sutlers, and those officers he found overbearing. Regardless, his service records indicate he remained ever faithful to his military commitment, as he appears present for duty on each and every muster card.

Transferred to the seat of war, the 5th USCI reported to Norfolk, Virginia, in the fall of 1863, and participated in expeditions into eastern North Carolina. Moved to Yorktown, Virginia in early 1864, forays into the Old Dominion’s countryside freed enslaved people and helped recruit more men into the USCT ranks.

As part of Brig. Gen. Edward Hinks’ Division of the XVIII Corps, the 5th USCI found themselves in camp near City Point, Virginia, when May turned to June 1864. While much of May involved fatigue duty building fortifications to protect the Union army’s hold on City Point, June brought the 5th their first experience in combat. They performed marvelously during the first attacks on Petersburg on June 15, 1864. Both in the capture of an advanced Confederate position at Baylor’s Farm that morning, and later that evening in helping capture parts of the Dimmock Line at Petersburg, Hinks’ USCTs began changing doubtful minds about their ability in battle. During that day’s fighting, Pvt. Young received a wound of some kind. It may have been minor, as he was again present for duty the following month.

For Pvt. Young and many of his comrades, their next fight would be their final one. The September 29, 1864, Battle of New Market Heights tested the resolve of Brig. Gen. Charles J. Paine’s 3rd Division of the XVIII Corps, but they proved true to the task. The first assault came from the 4th and 6th USCI regiments of Col. Samuel Duncan’s brigade. Taking heavily causalities among the double rows of abatis, they fell back. The 5th USCI of Col. Alonzo Draper’s brigade led the second attack. The 5th, along with the 36th and 38th ultimately proved successful in driving out the entrenched Confederate defenders along the banks of Four Mile Creek. During the fighting, numerous enlisted men, non-commissioned officers, and officers performed courageous acts under a terrible hail of rifle and artillery fire. As officers fell killed and wounded, NCOs and privates stepped up and led the way to victory. Four soldiers from the 5th USCI received Medals of Honor for their courageous fighting at New Market Heights.

During the furious battle, Pvt. Thomas Young received an undescribed wound. Evacuated from the field and transported by hospital steamer down the James River, ultimately to Balfour Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia, Young battled for his life until he finally succumbed on December 5, 1864.

Today, Pvt. Young’s grave, number 1859, is among the thousands of United States soldiers in Hampton National Cemetery. Young’s participation as a soldier helped secure freedom for millions formerly held in bondage. It was his and his comrades’ hard service that helped ensure the Constitutional amendments of African American citizenship and male suffrage. Young’s commitment to duty and the hope of a better future outweighed the pains of battle and the chance of death. He fell in a noble cause, attempting to hold the United States accountable for the promises enclosed in its founding documents, while seeking a “more perfect Union.”  

Friday, July 9, 2021

"A Sad Incident Occurred"

Dutch Gap Canal (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

In September 1864, Capt. Samuel Vannuys (Co. E, 4th USCI) served as Acting Assistant Adjutant General for Col. Samuel Duncan's Brigade headquarters, stationed at that time at Deep Bottom, Virginia. Before coming into the United States Colored Troops Vannuys fought with the 7th Indiana Infantry. Born in 1840, in Johnson County, Indiana, Vannuys often wrote home to his parents back in the Hoosier State informing them of his army adventures.

On September 15, just two weeks before his death at the Battle of New Market Heights, Vannuys sent his second to last letter home. He wrote:

"Affairs remain quiet here. The work on "Butler's canal" progresses slowly; the rebels keep tossing mortar shells regularly during the day at the working parties--of late their practice has been much better than usual. Yesterday, three men were killed and two wounded. Butler has lately erected an enormous 'signal tower' about 140 feet high near us, at which the 'Howlett Battery' sends her iron complements. So far they have missed their mark and their shells whistle over us a half a mile to the rear. I will add for ma's information that our Head Qrs. are sheltered from this battery, or at least so concealed that they can't discover us.

Last evening a sad accident occurred by which one of the members of our staff lost his life. About 7 P.M., Lieutenant Kingsbury went over to the Head Qrs. of the 6th [USCI] Reg. While there, a shell which had been been thrown during the day accidently exploded, a piece struck Lieut. Kingsbury on the forehead. He lingered unconscious until 2 o'clock this morning, then died. Today we had his body embalmed and sent home. No news from the left [Petersburg]--guess Grant is waiting for something to turn up. Recruits are said to be arriving rapidly at City Point.

Look out for something important from this quarter soon."

That "something important" came on September 29, 1864, when Vannuys and the Third Division of the XVIII Corps attacked the Confederate defenses along New Market Road. And although the young Hoosier lost his life battling the foe with his men, he helped achieve a monumental (albeit too often overlooked) victory.  

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

"Our Colored Soldiers"

 As you can see from my recent posts, I've been digging into the newspaper archive again. There is so much rich stuff waiting to be found, it just takes a good deal of curiosity, time, patience, and sometimes luck, to locate the gems. 

The above article appeared in the October 19, 1864, issue of the Lewistown Gazette (PA). This story included a couple of things that I found interesting. 

First, it included several names of soldiers from, or had ties to, the Lewistown area. Fortunately, it got some of the information incorrect in terms of the men killed during the Battle of New Market Heights. Newspapers of the day often rushed information to press and sometimes got things wrong, so when possible, it is always a good point to double check against other sources.

Pvt. David Criswell, Co. H, 6th USCI, was in fact killed in action.

Pvt. George Anderson, Co. E, 22nd USCI, was not wounded. 

Pvt. Walker Stills, Co. F, 22nd USCI, was not wounded.

Pvt. Joseph Patterson, Co. E, 6th USCI, was not wounded.

Pvt. William Snowden, Co. K, 6th USCI, was wounded.

Pvt. Abe Patterson, Co. F, 22nd USCI, was not wounded.

Pvt. Peter Johnson, Co. B, 6th USCI, was killed in action.

Corp. Charles Miller, Co. G, 6th USCI, was wounded.

Second, I found it rather progressive (and refreshing) for a newspaper of that day to share the ending of the article: "We commend their fate to sundry men, women, girls and boys in this town who cannot see a colored person on the street without uttering a low-bred remark as mean as it is cowardly. They may think themselves 'smart' in doing so, but forget when they do it they are not lowering the negro, but themselves."

Monday, July 5, 2021

One Way to get a Reader's Attention

The above advertisement appeared in the October 19, 1864, edition of the Lewistown Gazette (PA). I've happened across these type of ads in several mid-19th century newspapers. They make use of current events in the headline text to help draw in the reader's attention. I can't help but wonder how successful they ultimately ended up being in getting the sales they were looking for.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

"Put the Enemy to Confusion"


The above article ran in the Washington Evening Star on October 3, 1864, just four days after the Battle of New Market Heights. In the post war years, and especially from the Confederate perspective, (but also from some noted historians, too) there has been a stream of interpretation that claims the southern defenders received orders to withdraw to the Fort Harrison line further west, and thus the United States Colored Troops charged into a virtually undefended position along New Market Road.

I've previously argued that the high number of casualties sustained by the second wave of USCT attackers (5th, 36th, and 38th USCIs) seems to provide a solid counter claim that they did not charge virtually unopposed. As I continue to seek out evidence from diverse sources, I continue to find it, like that above, that says "The successful accomplishment of their task put the enemy to confusion, and sent them in rapid retreat up the road toward Richmond." 

I'll continue to provide evidence here and other places as I find it, so that the old traditional narrative can be replaced.