Monday, April 8, 2013

William Wright, 114th USCI Soldier

One of the many fascinating photographs and stories of Kentucky's USCT soldiers in Ronald Coddington's African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album, is that of William Wright. Born of a mixed race relationship, Wright was a slave on the Franklin County, Kentucky plantation of the wealthy John Russell when he enlisted in the Union army in Lexington. He trained at Camp Nelson in Jessamine County.

Wright's owner, John Russell, was a War of 1812 veteran, a former member of the Kentucky senate, and a retired Mississippi River steamboat captain. A 1869 obituary called Russell "A Modern Sampson," who once bested the famous pirate Jean Lafitte in a brawl, and was a personal and intimate friend of Henry Clay.

In the 1850 census Russell is shown as the owner of 23 slaves, and 10 years later that figure had grown to 36 slaves. In 1860 he is listed as owning $20,000 in real estate and $53,200 in personal property.

William Wright's enlistment papers indicate that he was born in Franklin County and that he joined the army in Lexington on June 29, 1864 at age 26. He is listed as being a "laborer" before becoming a member of Company H, 114th United States Colored Infantry. Apparently Wright was illiterate as he made his mark instead of signing his name. 

Wright's papers indicate that he was not alone at the recruiting station. In the place where the document states "Consent of Parent or Guardian in case of a Minor, if a Free Man, or in case of a Slave, of the person to whom he owns service:" is signed "Jno. Russell of Franklin Co. . . the owner of William Wright  - A Slave."

Wright's service records indicate that he was 5 feet 5 inches tall, and is listed as "copper" complexioned.  He was mustered into service by a Captain Moore for three years.

Unlike some USCT units the 114th did not get to muster out early. After serving in Kentucky and then being transferred to Petersburg, Virginia, the 114th was sent to Texas where they performed occupation duty until April 1867.  Wright's papers show that he was a private until July of 1865, when he was promoted to corporal, a position he held for a year. Apparently he was returned to the rank of private, which he held when mustered out.

Coddington's research on Wright indicates that the former soldier and his family left Kentucky in 1871 and moved west to Iowa due to threats of racial violence in the Bluegrass State. He died in 1909 at 63 years old.

Wright image courtesy of Ronald S. Coddington
Documents courtesy of the National Archives

1 comment:

  1. I am interested in the detached 114th USCI with Capt. Alexander B. Coggeshall commanding. The records were not microfilmed as of Oct. 2002.