Friday, December 27, 2019

Capt. John McMurray Recollects Pvt. Nathaniel Danks

In my December 21 post about Capt. John McMurray's book, Recollections of a Colored Troop, I promised to share some of the stories he told about a few of the men that served with him. Some of these stories are heartbreaking, as the one I shared in the original post about Pvt. Manuel Patterson. Other are significantly more lighthearted. Learning a bit more about these men through their compiled service records, and if possible other sources, gives the modern reader a better understanding of who they were than just a name mentioned in passing. However, often the search leaves us with more questions. 

On page 12, McMurray gave us a glimpse of Pvt. Nathaniel Danks' personality. He wrote:
"During the six months we remained in camp at Yorktown we must have marched up and down the Peninsula through Williamsburg at least a half a dozen times. The town was about half a mile long, and seemed to have only one street. Every time we would go through both sides of this Main street were lined with colored people, old and young, male and female, to see the colored soldiers, of whom they were very proud. One day as we were approaching the town going up, I looked ahead, perhaps a quarter mile, and just at the end of the street where we entered the town I saw a negro woman dancing. She continued dancing until we came to where she was, when I observed she was in an ecstasy of excitement. As we marched by her she kept on dancing until she sank to the ground from sheer exhaustion.

On this same occasion a very amusing incident occurred when were about midway of the town, marching through the street. On the right side of the street as we went through stood a large dwelling, with a portico in front extending into the pavement, with steps up either side. On this portico, with several other colored people, stood a handsome colored girl, looking at the soldiers and talking and laughing as they passed by. Nathaniel Danks, a handsome lad of my company noticed her, and running out of the ranks went onto the pavement, sprang up the steps, and putting his arms around her neck kissed her with a resounding smack that was heard half a block away, and was down on the pavement on the other side before the girl had time to realize what had happened. And what a mighty cheer ran along that line of marching soldiers. Danks was the hero of that day."

Unfortunately, Danks' service records only give a few additional hints of personal information. Danks, born in Philadelphia, and thus apparently a free man of color when he enlisted, was only 25 years old when he joined up at New Brighton, Pennsylvania. New Brighton is on the west side of the state, northwest of Pittsburgh. His service records only give the vague pre-war occupation of "laborer." I was hoping to find him in the 1860 census with fuller information, but nothing came up in my search, nor was he in the 1850 census. Danks is described in his service records as 5 feet, 8 inches tall, with a "dark" complexion and black eyes and hair.

Danks enlisted in Company D of the 6th United States Colored Infantry for three years on July 16, 1863, and formally mustered in on August 10 in Philadelphia, at Camp William Penn. He is shown as present for duty on every company muster roll, until the September and October card, for which he is described as "missing in action taken prisoner or killed Sept. 29, 1864."

McMurray's Recollections (pg. 55) later tells us that Danks was among the killed in the desperate charge at the Battle of New Market Heights. McMurray's Company D went into the fight with 30 men and came out with only three. The 6th USCI as a whole lost almost 60% of its men killed, wounded, or missing.

Rest in peace Pvt. Danks. Thank you for your service to the United States and for sacrificing your life for the Declaration of Independence's ideal that "all men are created equal."

No comments:

Post a Comment