Saturday, June 29, 2019

Dying Far From Home: Pvt. Augustus Cook, Co. H, 4th USCI

In yesterday's post, I shared the story of Pvt. William Nellis, of the 29th Connecticut Infantry (an African American regiment), who was wounded in the north of the James fighting during Gen. Grant's Sixth Richmond-Petersburg Offensive. Only 34 gave spaces separate Nellis from another black patriot, Augustus Cook, who gave his life so that this nation might be a "more perfect Union."

Pvt. Augustus Cook's story is as remarkable as his grave stone is nondescript. Cook was 23 years old when he enlisted on August 11, 1863, in the 4th United States Colored Infantry in Baltimore. His service records list his pre-war occupation as that of "laborer," an apt label for one who was enslaved and born in Carroll County, Maryland. Cook stood 5 feet 8 3/4 inches and was described as "mulatto" in his complexion.

Augustus Cook achieved his freedom through his enlistment. Included among his numerous service records are several documents that relate to that process. Cook's owner was Benjamin W. Bennett of Carroll County. Bennett is showing as owning three slaves in the 1860 census: one 22 year old female, one 20 year old male (likely Cook), and one 16 year old male, who all lived in one slave dwelling. Bennett, a farmer, appeared to be quite wealthy, claiming $20,000 in real estate and $10,000 in personal property. He was 50 years old and was joined by wife Margaret (44) , daughters Sarah (17), Margaret (11), and son Binkney (13) in the household.

One of the documents in Cook's service records is a claim by Bennett seeking compensation for Cook's enlistment, and thus Bennett's loss of a laborer. It states that "In proof of my loyalty to the Constitution and Government of the United States, I present the accompanying oath, which I have taken, signed, and acknowledged . . . ." Bennett was paid $300.00 for freeing Cook and allowing him to enlist.

Another document provides the actual deed of manumission it states in its opening: "Whereas my slave Augustus Cook has enlisted in the service of the United States, in consideration thereof, I, Benj. W. Bennett of Carroll County State of Maryland do hereby, in consideration of said enlistment, manumit, set free and release the above named Augustus Cook from all service due me; his freedom to commence from the 11th of August 1863 the date of his enlistment as aforesaid in the 4th Regiment of Colored Troops in the service of the United States." Another paper, an "Evidence of Title" states that Bennett "became possessed of him [Cook] by birth, in the month of October, eighteen hundred forty one."

Other than an episode of sickness in May/June 1864, Pvt. Augustus Cook was always present for duty. The 4th USCI participated in the initial attacks on Petersburg on June 15, 1864, and then again, leading the charge during the horrific combat at the Battle of New Market Heights on September 29, 1864. From his service records it is not for certain that Cook endured the wound that would eventually kill him at New Market Heights, but it appear highly probable in that the 4th USCI did not participate in active combat operations in those Sixth Offensive (October) actions that killed Pvt. William Nellis. Unfortunately, his records do not provide more information, they only state that he "Died Oct. 29, 1864 at Point of Rocks [hospital], Va. of wounds received in action." The hospital was the 18th Corps base hospital. Other papers state that he died at that hospital on October 27. An inventory of Cook's personal effects claimed he had "No Effects."  Cook was paid while attempting to recover in the hospital, so one wonders why he did not have at least some pocket money. He was indebted to the the regimental sutler, W. C. Cooper, for $2.00.

Regardless of where Cook received the wound or wounds that ultimately caused his death, he gave his life for a cause he believed in. Becoming a soldier transformed him from an enslaved individual to a free man, and his fighting and death helped abolish slavery and gain citizenship and voting rights for his fellow black men. It is only right and fitting that we take a few minutes to research and learn about the lives of men like Pvt. Augustus Cook, who paid the ultimate price for their service.

*If you found this "Dying Far From Home" post edifying, please search for others on this blog.

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