Monday, February 18, 2019

Sgt. Alexander Heritage Newton

At Pamplin Historical Park and National Museum of the Civil War Soldier’s permanent exhibit, “Duty Called Me Here: The Experience of the Common Soldier in the American Civil War,” guests can chose a soldier comrade to help them explore the museum galleries. One of the thirteen choices available is African American soldier, Alexander Heritage Newton.

Born free on November 1, 1837, in New Bern, North Carolina, Newton grew up fully aware that although not enslaved, he lived as a second-class member of his town’s population. But also, having an enslaved father, he knew full well the additional burdens placed upon those who labored in bondage.

In his autobiography, Out of the Briars, originally published in 1910, Newton explains that he left his native slave state in 1857. Working as a cook aboard a schooner, he soon landed in New York City. There Newton reunited with his mother, who had preceded his arrival. In New York, Newton worked a variety of odd jobs, married, and became committed to his church, where he developed a keen sense of helping others. “I was convinced even then that it does not follow that because our skins are dark and that we are identified with the Negro race that there is no chance for us to become potent factors in the uplifting of humanity and especially my own people . . .” Newton wrote.

In 1861, although not allowed to formally enlist at that point in the war, Newton accompanied the 13th Brooklyn Infantry Regiment “to the front.” In what capacity Newton served the 13th is unknown, but perhaps he helped the unit with cooking as it was skill he had previously acquired. However, when the 13th received a transfer to New York to help quell the draft riots in 1863, Newton got caught up in the racial violence, but fortunately made his escape to New Haven, Connecticut.

On December 18, 1863, Newton enlisted in Company E of the 29th Connecticut Infantry Regiment, one of the few African American units allowed to keep its state designation rather than receive a United States Colored Infantry regimental number. Newton’s enlistment papers show he was just over 5’ 8” tall, with black hair, black eyes, and black complexion. His stated occupation was that of mason. The 26 year old Newton immediately received the rank of sergeant, and later received appointment to commissary sergeant.

The 29th Connecticut’s first assignment was in South Carolina, but in the summer of 1864 they transferred to the fighting raging around Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia. On September 29, 1864, Newton participated in Battle of Chaffin’s Farm. “I, myself, feared, shook, and thought that my time had come. I was full of thoughts of my loved ones at home.  I knew that they were praying that I should be delivered from the jaws of death. This thought cheered and comforted me; and yet I saw friends falling around me, whose loved ones and friends, were also praying for them,” he explained.

Fortunately, Alexander Heritage Newton survived the war. After a transfer to Texas, he mustered out with the 29th Connecticut in November 1865. He returned to New Haven, became a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, serving in numerous congregations. Newton died in 1921 in Camden, New Jersey from heart ailments and rests there in Mount Peace Cemetery.


  1. How heroic he was, great story.

  2. Yes indeed! He could have played it safe and stayed out of the war in the North. But he didn't!