Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Dying Far Far From Home: Harrison Graham, 116th USCI

One of the early scenes in Steven Spielberg's movie, Lincoln, shows the president speaking with a soldier who mentions he was a member of the 116th United States Colored Troops. The soldier explains to Honest Abe that his unit was sent east after training at Camp Nelson, Kentucky. The 116th was indeed transferred from the Bluegrass State to Virginia in the fall of 1864 to fight with the Army of the James. In the winter of 1864-65, the unit was moved to the all-African American XXV Corps. They participated in actions around Petersburg and helped pursue the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to Appomattox. After Lee's surrender, the 116th returned to Petersburg for duty and was later shipped to Texas for duty. However, one solider that had fought with the unit through its time in Virginia did not make the trip. Corporal Harrison Graham would remain in Petersburg, forever.

Harrison Graham was 25 years old when he enlisted in Company H, 116th United States Colored Infantry. He is noted as being five feet, nine inches tall, which was about average for Civil War soldiers. Graham was described as "black" complexioned with black hair and black eyes, and was born in Garrard County. He joined his unit on July 9, 1864 at Camp Nelson. Before his enlistment Graham was owned by Richard Robinson, who apparently lived in Madison County, as it was credited for his service.

According to Graham's service records he was a reliable soldier, who was rewarded for his ability and character. On November 20, 1864, he was promoted to corporal while in the field by his colonel. However, noted on the same card was the fact that he had lost his canteen and was charged for it.

As mentioned above, Graham survived several engagements in the Petersburg and Appomattox Campaigns and returned to Petersburg sometime in mid-April 1865. While stationed in the Cockade City, Graham was shot. His service record states that he had died in camp on April 18, 1865 "of G.S. [gun shot] Wound received through criminal carelessness of a guard in camp [of] 115th U.S.C.T." While another of his service record cards also states that Graham was killed in the camp of the 115th, one claims it was the camp of the 116th.

Regardless of which camp it was, this tragedy is particularly sad. To have made it through the "shooting" part of the war, only to be killed by a gun shot wound inflicted by a comrade in camp is as tragic as those poor fellows that died in the last fighting at Appomattox. If Graham had not been shot in Petersburg it is not certain that he would have have survived various accidents and diseases before the 116th was finally mustered out in early 1867 after their service in Texas and Louisiana.

Graham, like his fellow 116th comrades, Henry Maddox and Daniel Anderson (who I have also profiled), would not make the trip back to their old Kentucky homes. These men who enlisted and trained at Camp Nelson would rest forever in Poplar Grove National Cemetery in their lonely soldiers' graves.

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