Sunday, March 1, 2020

Dying Far From Home: Pvt. Charles Alexander, Co. K, 22nd USCI

Whenever I can, or just when I need take a moment away from the busyness of life, I take a short drive over to Poplar Grove National Cemetery and stroll through the thousands of graves there. Doing so restores a sense of humility and gratefulness that few other places can. Included among those buried in Poplar Grove are a number of men who served in various United States Colored Troops regiments. Since moving back to the Petersburg area in 2015, I've made an effort to show my appreciation to them by doing some research on their time in service and posting the information here for others to read and also offer their gratitude.

Resting in grave number 4417, just a few steps inside the cemetery's entrance gate, is Pvt. Charles Alexander, who fought with Company K of the 22nd United States Colored Infantry (USCI). The 22nd was one of the many regiments that was raised primarily of men from Pennsylvania and who mustered and trained at Camp William Penn, which was just outside of Philadelphia.

Pvt. Alexander's compiled service records tell us that he enlisted in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on December 30, 1863. Since his service records state that he was born in Centre County, Pennsylvania, I wondered if I could locate him in the 1860 census. Doing so, would tell me more about him. I was fortunate! I found him!

Alexander was on Eden Township's enumeration in Lancaster County. He is shown as a 30-year-old head of household with the occupation of "farm hand." Living with him was his 27-year-old wife Emaline Alexander, 6-year-old daughter Savila A. Alexander, 4-year-old son William E. Alexander, and 1-year-old son Judge Burnsides Alexander. One has to wonder why Charles named his youngest Judge Burnsides. Did a Judge Burnsides do Charles a favor somewhere along his life path for which he was thankful?  Hmmmmmm. Also living with the Alexanders was 17-year-old "Domestic" Hannah E. Johnson (perhaps Emaline's younger sister?), and 8-month-old Margaret J. Sharp (perhaps Hannah's daughter?). Charles is not shown owning any value of real estate or personal property. Apparently, Charles was literate.

Charles Alexander's service records also tell us he was 34-years-old when he enlisted. He was only 5 feet 3.5 inches tall, and was described having a "brown" complexion. A note on one of his cards says that Alexander had a "varix" or varicose vein on his left leg. In February 1864, while stationed in Yorktown, Virginia, he spent time in a hospital.

The 22nd USCI participated in the June 15, 1864 attacks on Petersburg as part of Hincks' Division of the XVIII Corps. They fought at both Baylor's Farm and along the Dimmock Line of Confederate defenses ringing the Cockade City. It appears that he made it unscathed through those fights. However, in the weeks before their brigade was sent to Deep Bottom to prepare for the fight at New Market Heights they served in the earthworks near Petersburg. It was during this time, when on September 17, 1864, Pvt. Alexander was "killed . . . by explosion of a shell."

A list of last effects are not included among Pvt. Alexander's compiled service records, but his enlistment paper is. It confirms that he was literate, as his neat penmanship signature appears, written with a sure hand.

I cannot help but wonder, if and how, Emaline heard of her husband's death. How did she tell this heartbreaking information to her three children? By the time of his passing they would have been 10, 8, and 5, all old enough to realize their dear loss. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any of them in the 1870 census. However, in searches for Savila Alexander and Judge Burnsides Alexander, two of the couple's children, I located both. Savaila (later Valentine) died in 1944 at West Bradford, Chester County, Pennsylvania. Judge's 1920 death certificate shows he worked as a barber and lived in Bristol, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and died of a kidney ailment.

I salute you Pvt. Charles Alexander. Rest in peace.

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