Friday, November 27, 2020

Dying Far From Home – Pvt. Perry Hamilton, Co. K, 6th USCI


The 6th United States Colored Infantry (USCI) recruited its soldiers largely from the New Jersey, Delaware, and southeastern Pennsylvania area. Organized and mustered in at Camp William Penn near Philadelphia in the summer and fall of 1863, the regiment moved to Virginia for duty that fall.

Not all new recruits were volunteers. Some men came to the ranks by way of the draft. Recent historical scholarship explains that many free African Americans took pause before enlisting or showed little interest in signing up when finally allowed to serve the United States army. Much of the vacillation came from the difficult lessons learned from black service in past conflicts. Participation in the armed forces during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 brought few political, social, or economic gains to men of color. Early on, there was not much evidence the Civil War would be different from previous wars in terms of rewards and fulfilling the latent promises of the Declaration of Independence.

We do not know why Perry Hamilton ended up being drafted rather than volunteering. Perhaps he would have enlisted if had he not been drafted first. Perhaps he had his eyes on an opportunity that he felt offered a brighter future. Maybe he was supporting family members financially who could not do without his earnings. Regardless, he fulfilled his duty by enlisting in Company K, 6th USCI on August 13, 1863, at Smyrna, Delaware.

Hamilton’s Compiled Military Service Record provides a brief physical description of the newly minted soldier. The 21 year-old young man measured five feet ten inches tall and possessed a “light” complexion. In the 1860 census, Hamilton appears described as a “mulatto,” residing in the household of Abram and Matilda Brinkly in New Castle, Delaware, which is located just south of Wilmington. There are a number of other individuals in the household, so his may have been an extended family home. His occupation, “laborer,” was by far that which was listed most often by his regimental comrades.

Hamilton, like countless Civil War soldiers, experienced a period of illness during his service that required medical attention. He missed a significant amount of time in the spring of 1864 while in the hospital at Fort Monroe for treatment. His unspecified illness may have prevented him from experiencing the 6th USCI’s first taste of combat on June 15, 1864, at Baylor’s Farm that morning and the assaults on the Dimmock Line at Petersburg that evening. However, apparently after recovering, Hamilton spent time working on the Dutch Gap canal project.

Back in the ranks of the 6th USCI, Hamilton participated in the assault on the Confederate line at New Market Heights on September 29, 1864. Company D’s Capt. John McMurray remembered the thoughts of the soldiers as they anxiously awaited the charge. “I know there was a big lot of thinking done by us while we stood there. We knew there was a strong line of Confederates behind the rifle pits, across the slashing from us. We knew that as soon as we would move forward they would open fine on us. We knew the order to move forward would soon be given. But beyond that, what? Would it be death or wounds, or capture? Would it be victory or defeat?,” he recollected.

Company A, and Hamilton’s Company K, served as skirmishers, out ahead of the initial assaulting regiments. Skirmishers, fighting in dispersed formation, probed forward and engaged the pickets of the defenders. It was likely in the role of skirmisher that Pvt. Hamilton received a grievous wound. Right behind the skirmishers, Col. Samuel Duncan’s brigade, composed of the 6th attacking right behind the 4th USCI, tried to make their way though the slashings of abatis. The 4th and the 6th took heavy casualties. According to one count, the 6th lost 42 killed, 161 wounded, and seven missing out of the 367 men and officers who entered the battle.

Evacuated from the battlefield due to a gunshot wound in the back that injured his spine, Hamilton received transportation by boat to Fort Monroe, where he had previously received treatment for a sickness. He must have experienced excruciating pain due to the nature of his wound. Unlike a wound received to a bodily extremity that may receive amputation in effort to mitigate infection and prevent the patient’s death, a wound to the body’s core or head often limited a surgeon’s ability to help. Hamilton suffered for 11 days before death released him from his pain on October 10, 1864. An inventory of possessions showed that Hamilton owned no personal effects.

Having faithfully performed his duty, Pvt. Perry Hamilton rests only a few short rows from a shady tree in grave number 1373, and surrounded by fellow soldiers who gave their lives for a “more perfect Union,” in Hampton National Cemetery.

Image of the 6th USCI flag courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

The Sweet Potato

In many homes across the United States, sweet potatoes are a Thanksgiving staple. Sometimes served as a side dish and topped with melted marshmallows, or even better, in pie form, sweet potatoes have a long history, especially in the South.

Sweet potatoes were a common tuber grown on Southern plantations. These highly nutritious root plants flourished in the gardens of both the free and the enslaved. Sweet potatoes are native to the tropical Americas and are often confused with the African and Asian yam due to its similarity in look and taste.   

The sweet potato first came to the colonial South from the Caribbean Islands in the late 17th century. The hearty root plants quickly gained favor with black and white Southerners for their versatility, longevity, ease of cooking, and flavor. The enslaved often cooked sweet potatoes by roasting them in the ashes of their fires, or boiling them, mashing them, and then baking or frying as a type of bread.

To help preserve sweet potatoes, slave quarters often included a floor hole where they could be stored for long durations. As an enslaved boy in Virginia, Booker T. Washington remembered:

“There was no wooden floor in our cabin, the naked earth being used as a floor. In the center of the earthen floor there was a large, deep opening covered with boards, which was used as a place in which to store sweet potatoes during the winter.  An impression of this potato-hole is very distinctly engraved upon my memory, because I recall that during the process of putting the potatoes in or taking them out I would often come into possession of one or two, which I roasted and thoroughly enjoyed.”

Although free and enslaved Southerners knew little to nothing about the vitamins and minerals that root plants like sweet potatoes afforded them, the tuber’s high levels of beta-carotene, calcium, iron, and fiber added significant nutrients to a diet largely composed of pork and corn. 

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Sgt. George W. Hatton, 1st USCI Expresses Disappointment on Unfair Treatment

 After receiving a serious wound to the left knee in the June 15, 1864 fighting at Petersburg, 21 year old Sgt. George H. Hatton received medical treatment at the army hospital at Hampton, Virginia. While there he wrote to the Christian Recorder newspaper to express his disappointment. 

"I have been silent for a long time, but today I must speak, for it is a day long to be remembered by me, a wounded soldier of the U.S. Army.

I was wounded at the battle of Petersburg on the 15th of June last, and arrived at the Hampton Hospital on the 20th. On my arrival there, I wrote to my father, stating that I was wounded and would like him to come and see me, and if possible, take me home, where I should have the attendance of my kind and loving mother. My father complied with my request, and arrived at Fortress Monroe on the 30th. I was overjoyed to see him.

Today, he departed with a hung-down head, leaving me with an aching heart. I must here state the cause of my trouble. It is as follows:

On my father's arrival at the hospital he stated the object of his visit to the doctor in charge, who, very short and snappish, referred him to Dr. White, one of the head surgeons. Father immediately proceeded to Dr. White's office, where he expected to receive a little satisfaction, but to his heart-rending surprise, received none. After making every exertion in his power to get a furlough, he failed in so doing, without receiving the slightest shadow of satisfaction.

All of this I was willing to stand, as I had discharged my duty as a soldier from the first of May, 1863, up to the time I was wounded, for the low United States' degrading sum of $7 per month, that no man but the poor, down-trodden, uneducated, patriotic, black man would be willing to fight for. Yes, I stand all this; but the great wound I received at the hospital was this: A white man, whose name I did not learn, came from Washington with my father for the same purpose, to see his son and carry him home. His success needs no comment; let it suffice to say that he was white, and he carried his son home.

Such deception as that I thought was crucified at the battle of Fort Wagner; buried at Milliken's Bend; rose the third day, and descended into everlasting forgetfulness in the Appomattox River at the battle of Petersburg.

Mr. Editor, when, oh! when can one of my color, and in my position, at this time, find a comforter? When will my people be a nation? I fear, never on the American soil; though we may crush this cursed rebellion."

1st Sgt. Hatton transferred to Summit House General Hospital in Philadelphia in August 1864. He apparently retuned to duty on November 28, 1864. However, he became ill on March 17, 1865, and appears to have remained so until he was mustered out due to disability on June 17, 1865. Hatton appears in the 1870 census living in Washington D.C.'s Fourth Ward with his wife Frances. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Amazing Account: Pvt. Oliver W. Norton, 83rd Pennsylvania Infantry at the Battle of Gaines' Mill

While preparing to give a recent tour of the Seven Days Battles (June 25-July 1, 1862), I came across an account by Pvt. Oliver W. Norton, 83rd Pennsylvania Infantry, describing his experience during the Battle of Gaines' Mill, which was fought on June 27, 1862. Norton, a bugler, had just come back from a serious bout with dysentery a day before the battle. After what he went through in the fight, he might have wished he stayed sick just a bit longer.

"Suddenly I saw two men on the bank in front of us gesticulating violently and pointing in our rear, but the roar of battle drowned their voices. The order was given to face about. We did so and tried to form in line, but while the line was forming, a bullet laid low the head, the stay, the trust of our regiment--our brave colonel, and before we knew what had happened the major shared his fate. We were then without a field officer, but the boys bore up bravely. They rallied round the flag and we advanced up the hill to find ourselves alone. It appears that the enemy broke through our lines off on our right, and the word was sent to us on the left to fall back. Those in the rear of us received the order but the aide sent to us was shot before he reached us and so we got no orders. Henry and Denison were shot about the same time as the colonel. I left them together under a tree. 

I retuned to the fight, and our boys were dropping on all sides of me. I was blazing away at the rascals not ten rods [55 yards] off when a ball struck my gun just above the lower band as I was capping it, and cut it in two. The ball flew in pieces and part of it went by my head to the right and three pieces struck just below my left collar bone. The deepest one was not over half an inch, and stopping to open my coat I pulled them out and snatched a gun from Ames in Company H as he fell dead. Before I had fired this at all a ball clipped off a piece of the stock, and an instant after another struck the seam of my canteen and entered my left groin. I pulled it out, and, more maddened than ever, I rushed in again. A few minutes after, another ball took six inches of the muzzle of this gun. I snatched another form a wounded man under a tree, and, as I was loading kneeling by the side of the road, a ball cut my rammer in two as I was turning it over my head. Another gun was easier got than a rammer so I threw that away and picked up a fourth one. Here in the road a buckshot struck me in the left eyebrow, making the third slight scratch I received in the action. It exceeded all I ever dreamed of, it was almost a miracle."

Norton, indeed, miraculously survived the Battle of Gaines' Mill, the Seven Days Battles, and, in 1863 started serving as a 1st lieutenant in the 8th United States Colored Infantry. He mustered out of service in November 1865 with the 8th USCI. 

Norton's experiences are captured in Army Letters, 1861-1865, published in 1903. It contains loads of letters that Norton wrote home. One of the recorded excepts has received quite a bit of attention in Civil War soldier's studies. On Oct. 9, 1861, Norton wrote: "I commenced writing yesterday, but was obliged to stop to attend drill, a very common incident in soldier life. The first thing in the morning is drill, then drill, then drill again. Then drill, drill, and a little more drill. Then drill, and lastly, drill. Between drills, we drill, and stop to eat a little and have a roll call."

However, Norton has gone down in history for a more significant contribution. He is credited as the first soldier to have played "Taps." Written by his brigadier general, Daniel Butterfield, in July 1862 at Harrison's Landing on the James River after the repulse from Richmond's environs during the Seven Days Battles, Butterfield had Norton play the tune for the first time for "lights out." It caught on quickly and has remained a mainstay since. 

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Wide Awakes


During the presidential election year of 1860, a group of young men sought change. They identified themselves as “Wide Awakes.” 

The Wide Awakes started in Connecticut in the spring of 1860. The organization, composed largely of young men in the free states in their twenties and thirties, developed clubs or “companies” with the goal of seeing a successful Republican Party candidate in that coming fall’s presidential election. Recognized by their glossy-black military-style capes and caps, and bearing pole torches and Wide Awake open-eye banners, they marched in formations to enhance their size and show their solidarity.

Most young men who joined their local Wide Awake companies grew up in the politically turbulent 1840s and 1850s. Nationally divisive issues such as the annexation of Texas, the Mexican-American War, the Compromise of 1850 and Fugitive Slave Act, Bleeding Kansas, and John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, along with fragmented and short-lived political parties, all left these young men disillusioned and seeking a more hopeful future. For the Wide Awakes, the Republican Party offered that hope. 

Established in the mid-1850s, the Republican Party formed primarily around a platform plank of preventing the further expansion of slavery into the western territories. The party’s first presidential candidate, John C. Fremont, ran a surprisingly strong race in 1856, but ultimately lost to Democrat James Buchanan. As a new election year dawned, Republican young men desired better organization, more visibility, and the opportunity to have their voices heard this time around. They also sought to display their manhood and embody their party and their candidate’s messages.  

Started with the aim of giving Republican Party proponents the ability to speak freely in public forums without interruption from opposition hecklers, the Wide Awakes grew rapidly and spread across the free states from Connecticut to Wisconsin through party networks and newspaper coverage. Their youthful enthusiasm, militaristic uniforms, martial formations, and collective sense of political objectives only added to their appeal. Historians estimate that about 100,000 young men participated in Wide Awake clubs during 1860.

By the time Abraham Lincoln received the Republican Party’s nomination for president (May 18, 1860) the Wide Awakes were growing rapidly. The Wide Awakes fully supported their party’s choice of the “Rail Splitter,” and as the election neared, their numbers continued to grow. On Election Day, the Wide Awakes attempted to ensure a peaceful vote by patrolling polling stations. Lincoln’s election ultimately resulted more from the split nature of the election (4 candidates) than from the influence of the Wide Awakes, but they provided an energy and sent a message of change that certainly aided Lincoln’s win.

On the heels of Lincoln’s election came the secession of South Carolina, and eventually ten other slave states. Few Wide Awakes prophesied the war that eventually came while they were organizing in the spring and summer of 1860. However, many transitioned from political soldiers to actual fighting men by joining the United States army and naval forces during the Civil War.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

"Will Miss Him Sadly:" Capt. Samuel W. Vannuys, Co. E, 4th USCI


The research process often uncovers helpful evidence that fill in otherwise exasperating gaps of knowledge. For example, while recently looking for information about an officer from the 4th United States Colored Infantry (USCI), who was killed in action at the Battle of New Market Heights, an obituary in his hometown newspaper came to light. This notice, printed in the Franklin Jeffersonian, provides significant details of a heroic life and death that would otherwise likely be lost to history, but instead, it along with other sources, helps construct a biography for this patriotic soldier. Corroborating the obituary’s information are the diary entries and letters home that Vannuys wrote and were later published in 1913 in History of Johnson County, Indiana (pages 420-485).

According to his gravestone Samuel Watson Vannuys was born on January 23, 1840, in Franklin, (Johnson County) Indiana. His parents, John and Caroline, ran a successful farm and Samuel grew up as the eldest of a group brothers and a sister. Educated at local Hopewell Academy, young Vannuys was preparing to obtain a college education when the Civil War erupted. As the obituary declares “he left this school, abandoned his studies and, although, of fine manly form, and commanding personal appearance, he modestly stepped into the ranks as a common soldier” and enlisted on September 13, 1861, in Company F, 7th Indiana Volunteer Infantry. Vannuys soon received recommendations for promotion to officer status, but with no vacancies in his regiment, “his papers were forwarded to Washington, and he was eventually appointed to a first Lieutenancy, in the 4th U.S. Colored Regiment.” Vannuys passed his officer’s board of review examination in Washington D.C. His service records show that he received appointment as 1st lieutenant in Company H on July 23, 1863, and reported for duty on August 7.

As a lieutenant, Vannuys “engaged with zeal in the training of these Colored patriots, in the use of firearms, and the duties of the soldier.” As he worked with his soldiers Vannuys lost any “doubt as to their possession requisite of the soldier—bravery in the face of danger.”

It appears that Vannuys missed leading his troops in the June 15, 1864, fighting at Petersburg, which served as the combat initiation for the 4th, as he was absent serving as adjutant at division headquarters. Although he received promotion to captain of Company E on July 1 to fill the place of its former captain, Vannuys continued to serve in his adjutant role. However, unfortunately, Vannuys’ time as captain of Company E proved short lived.

During the September 29, 1864, attack by the 4th and 6th USCIs at New Market Heights, “Captain Vannuys’ horse was killed and he led his men on foot to within a few yards of the rebel pits [earthworks], when they were met by such a murderous fire, as no men on earth could stand.” Devastated by the concentrated fire of the Texas Brigade on the two initial assaulting regiments, the attack lost its momentum and began to withdraw. “As they turned [Vannuys] received a shot in the neck, severing the carotid artery, and, it is supposed, killing him instantly.” However, “the men were soon rallied and reinforced and returned to the charge and drove the enemy from their works. Although, not more than 20 minutes elapsed between the retreat and the return of the attacking party—the enemy had robbed [Vannuys] of his watch, money and clothes.”

Much of the information in the obituary apparently comes for a letter written to Capt. Vannuys’ father from Lt. Z. F. Wilbur, Acting Assistant Quartermaster for the 3rd Brigade of the 3rd Division, XVIII Corps, and obviously Vannuys’ good friend. His warm sentiments provide ample evidence of their friendship: “What can a stranger say to comfort those nearest and dearest to him. But of one thing I can assure you, that you and your lady have the heartfelt sympathies of every officer in our Brigade, for Van as we called him was universally esteemed as a man and soldier. He has no enemies, but many friends, warm friends. It could not be otherwise with one of fixed principles, strict integrity and kindly heart. The death of no other officer in the 4th regiment, or of this brigade, has created such a sensation, and we who were his daily companions will miss him sadly at our mess table and at our little circle around the camp fire.”

The last letter written by Capt. Vannuys to his Indiana family did not come from him, but interestingly from an unknown Confederate soldier. In a small envelope postmarked Old Point Comfort, Virginia, and cancelled on October 10, 1864, was a small piece of paper. On it, written by Capt. Vannuys and dated two days before his death at New Market Heights, it read: “This testament [Bible] belongs to Capt. S. W. VanNuys, Acting Ass’t Adj’t General 3d Brigade, 3d Div., 18th Army Corps. Should I die upon the field of battle, for the sake of a loving mother and sister, inform my father, John H. VanNuys, Franklin, Indiana of the fact.” In postscript the Confederate soldier wrote: “Mr. John H. Vanings: It is my painful duty to inform you that your son was killed on the 29th of the last month near Chaffin’s farm, Va. I have his testament. I will send it if you wish. From your enemy, one of the worst rebels you ever seen.” The postscript was initialed “L. B. F.”   

Vannuys’ body was recovered from the battlefield by Lt. Wilbur, who had it embalmed and returned to his “stricken parents and friends” back in Indiana who had the pleasure of beholding once more, the noble form of the fallen Patriot and Hero.” The young captain was only 24 years old.

Today, Capt. Samuel Watson Vannuys rests in peace in Greenlawn Cemetery in Frankiln, Indiana, having performed his duty faithfully and giving the last full measure of devotion to his country.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Civil War Soldiers and Tobacco Use


During the Civil War, almost all soldiers, both Union and Confederate, enjoyed a taste of tobacco from time to time. Many of the fighting men were unfamiliar with what all went into producing the substance they so enjoyed chewing or smoking, while others knew well from first-hand experience.

The popularity of tobacco among Civil War soldiers is evident from the large numbers of photographs showing men smoking pipes and cigars. Whether in formal studio sittings, or in candid camp scenes, soldiers proudly displayed their love for tobacco by including it in their images. Pamplin Historical Park has several of these photographs in its collections.

Tobacco’s ubiquity among Northern and Southern fighting men also comes out in their correspondence. Soldiers often wrote about the comfort that tobacco brought. One man, writing to a cousin claimed: “There seems to be a pride felt in enduring what at home we would consider hardships. But the soldier’s life is not all hardship. It is a pleasant sight to look on a group sitting round a fire in the evening, whiling away the time with stories of the past and speculations of the future. Then you would always see the pipes there. That you wouldn’t like. But for some reason a soldier does enjoy his tobacco.” He went on to explain that out of 87 men in his company 61 used tobacco. An Andersonville prisoner wrote in his diary that a friend’s gift of tobacco “’saved my life,’ for 24 hours at least.”

Other soldiers either mentioned experiencing tobacco’s ill effects or feeling a moral responsibility to stop using it. A 4th Virginia Infantry soldier wrote, “I think I shall quit the use of tobacco altogether, as I am inclined to believe that it injures me.” Another Confederate used the excuse of scarcity to halt consumption: “I have quit chewing tobacco from necessity. I can not procure the weed at any price, so I thought it was as good a time to quit as I will ever find,” he wrote. Sometimes soldiers had to trade to get the valuable substance. A soldier at Petersburg marveled watching pickets swap. “These men who take one another by the hand this minute, may the next send one another to the spirit-land. These who are now trading tobacco for coffee and sugar, may, ere another hour rolls around, be trading lead for lead,” he wrote. 

Regardless of it perceived concerns then, and known adverse health effects today, tobacco’s place among America’s soldiers predated and went long past the Civil War. Its use by soldiers from colonial times to the Revolutionary War, Mexican-American War, Spanish American War, through the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and to the present conflicts is ample evidence of its continuing appeal to fighting men.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Recent Acquisitions to My Library

Studies on individuals who participated in John Brown's 1859 raid on Harper Ferry continue to emerge to inform us. Previously works on white raider John E. Cooke, and black raider John Anthony Copeland are now joined by The Untold Story of Shields Green: The Life and Death of a Harper's Ferry Raider by Louis A. DeCaro, Jr. I've enjoyed and benefitted from DeCaro's previous works on John Brown, so I am confident this one will prove highly insightful as well.

An area of Civil War scholarship that is finally receiving much needed attention is army logistics. This critical aspect to understanding the success of the conflict's campaigns has largely escaped historians' focus. Civil War Supply and Strategy: Feeding Men and Moving Armies by Earl J. Hess looks to help fill a yawning void. Hess previously approached the topic with his Civil War Logistics: A Study of Military Transportation (2017), which I recommend reading before jumping into his most recent work, as it provides a solid foundation for better understanding the more campaign-focused Civil War Supply and Strategy


The men who served in the United States Colored Troops gave a number of reasons for why they fought. Some did so to to abolish slavery, some to save the Union, and many did so to stake a claim to the benefits of citizenship. In fact, a key element in the postwar move toward amending the Constitution to grant citizenship to African Americans born in the United States was the service and sacrifices of black soldiers in the Civil War. This was particularly true in the demands made by northern African Americans who tried to make the most of their service and who had learned from previously unsuccessful attempts for citizenship rights after military service in earlier American conflicts. Fighting for Citizenship: Black Northerners and the Debate over Military Service in the Civil War by Brian Taylor is an exciting new study exploring this relevant topic. I look forward to learning more about this political process.


 H. W. Brands is a prolific historian who publishes on various topics and diverse eras. His latest book, The Zealot and the Emancipator: John Brown, Abraham Lincoln and the Struggle for American Freedom looks at the different paths that these two giants of the mid-19th century American history took in attempting to solve the problem of slavery. One seemingly set things in motion with action, while the other responded to and negotiated the stream of emancipation politically. 

Happy reading! 

Monday, November 2, 2020

Dying Far From Home - Sgt. Lafayette Tibbs, Co. H, 5th USCI


The Civil War was by and large a young man’s conflict. Most enlisted men and noncommissioned officers fell within the 18-26 age group. A large number of commissioned officers also were under 30. It is a tragedy that so many of these young men fell victim to disease and battle. So many bright futures wiped out prematurely and so many generations left unrealized.

What motivated Lafayette Tibbs to enlist as a 19 year old? Were his reasons practical? Did he need steady income to help provide for his family? Were his reasons altruistic? Did he want to end slavery to help provide a brighter future for his race? Did he want to prove that black men were as brave as white men and thus as worthy of the rights of citizenship? Did he envision the promising future of an indivisible Union? Was it a combination of these things? We’ll likely never know, as his short life came to an end on October 19, 1864, succumbing to wounds he received at the Battle of New Market Heights.

Unfortunately, like so many men who served in the United States Colored Troops, little information is available about Lafayette Tibb’s developmental years. A small clue does survive with his appearance in the 1850 census, living in the household of his 50 year old mother Matilda Tibbs in Hocking Township, Fairfield County, Ohio. The seven year old Lafayette is the youngest of the five boys in the family. The whole family, all categorized as “mulatto,” were born in Virginia, except for Lafayette, who was born in Ohio. Perhaps Matilda and the other boys left enslavement in the Old Dominion and established a new life in the free state of Ohio either by self-emancipation or manumission by their former enslaver. Lafayette does not appear in the 1860 census, but Matilda and one of his older brothers are listed in the household of a man named John Brown, his wife, and their infant. At 17 years old, Lafayette may have been working locally elsewhere and missed by the census taker.

Lafayette Tibbs enlisted as a private in Company H, 5th United States Colored Infantry on June 27, 1863, at Lancaster, Ohio. Now, 19 years old, Tibbs measured five feet, eight inches tall, and was described as “yellow” in complexion. His given occupation was “farmer.” Tibbs officially mustered into service at Camp Delaware in Delaware, Ohio, where the 5th USCI trained, as well as the 27th USCI. Young Tibbs soon received a promotion to sergeant.

Tibbs must have adapted well to the demands of military life as evidenced by his promotion, and his appointment for service as a member of the 3rd Division, XVII Corps sharpshooter unit. It is unknown if Tibbs was operating as part of the sharpshooters, fighting as forward skirmishers, or within the ranks with Company H, when he received wounds during the assaults on September 29, 1864, at New Market Heights. Tibbs’ service records do not specify his wounds, but he received treatment for them after the battle at Balfour U.S. Army General Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia. He died there on October 19. The paperwork for his personal effects, completed four months later, lists no possessions. 

 A soldier’s life, however brief, deserves a soldier’s resting place. Sgt. Lafayette Tibbs rests in grave number 80 in Hampton National Cemetery. This beautiful cemetery sits among buildings at Hampton University, a historically black institution of higher learning. Sgt. Tibbs would likely be proud that so many African American young men and women have had the opportunity to obtain a quality education and pursue the livelihood of their choosing partly due to the sacrifices he and his comrades willingly made during the Civil War.