Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Colored Volunteers

The American Civil War created an opportunity for the composition of hundreds of songs. Tunes written from 1861-1865 covered a wide array of subjects dealing with the conflict. Some praised various military leaders, and denigrated others. Some songs chided legal acts like conscription, while others told stories of heartbreak on the home front. Still others, took up political issues like emancipation and the enlistment of African American soldiers. “The Colored Volunteers,” was just one such song. Supposedly written by an unknown private in the 54th Massachusetts, it went:

“Fremont told us, when this war was first begun,

How to save this Union, and the way it should be done,

But Kentucky swore so hard, and old Abe he had his fears,

So that’s what’s the matter with the Colored Volunteers.



Give us a flag all free without a slave,

We will fight to defend it as our fathers did so brave

Onward boys, onward, it’s the year of jubilee,

God bless America, the land of liberty.


Little Mack went to Richmond with three hundred thousand brave—

Said keep back the negroes and the Union he would save;

But Mack he was defeated, and the Union now in tears,

Is calling for the help of the Colored Volunteers.



 Old Jeff he says he’ll hang us if we dare to meet him armed—

It’s a very big thing, but we are not at all alarmed:

He has first got to catch us before the way is clear,

And that’s what’s the matter with the Colored Volunteers.



 Here’s to the gallant Fourth which has not yet been tried,

They are willing and are ready with their brothers to divide;

General Birney leads us on, so we have no right to fear,

And that is the making of the Colored Volunteers.”

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Casualties for the 6th USCI at the Battle of New Market Heights

Sgt. Maj. Thomas Hawkins, 6th USCI

On March 2, 1870, Sgt. Maj. Christian A. Fleetwood (4th United States Colored Infantry), wrote in support of 6th USCI Sgt. Maj. Thomas R. Hawkins’ widow’s request for a pension. After providing a brief history of Hawkins’ life, which Fleetwood learned through their close friendship, he shared some of their army trials while under fire. “After engaging in various raids and foragings, the first severe engagement in which we were engaged was the heavy fighting in front of Petersburg on the 15th June 1864, and here fighting with all the cool courage of a veteran, he [Hawkins] was shot through the arm, and was sent back to hospital,” Fleetwood wrote.

Then Fleetwood shared their experience at New Market Heights: “He rejoined his regiment in September following, at the famous Dutch Gap Canal, and a short time afterwards we were ordered to Deep Bottom, Va., and in the terrible fighting to carry the works at New Market Heights, he fell shot through shoulder, hip and foot, and lay upon the field for three hours before he was found and taken to the rear.”

Unfortunately, Sgt. Maj. Hawkins was in common company with many of his comrades on September 29, 1864. So much promise was cut short or delayed that day because unselfish commitment to duty proved stronger than fear. Fleetwood paid tribute to his dear friend Hawkins’ character. “He was a young man of remarkable natural ability and talent . . . . Brave to a fault, generous as a prince, a gallant soldier, an affectionate and true husband and father, a faithful friend, his death leaves a void in the hearts of his associates that will never be filled by another.” It is likely that many of the men who fell killed, wounded or captured at New Market Heights could have had similar sentiments expressed about them.

A thorough search through the Compiled Military Service Records (CMSR) for all of the regiment’s soldiers helped total the heavy price the 6th USCI paid at New Market Heights. The numbers discovered are: 46 men killed in action, 20 fatally wounded, five missing in action, and 112 wounded but who survived. Of course, as the list below starkly shows, many of the wounded who lived had their lives forever changed by their New Market Heights injuries. Sgt. Thomas R. Hawkins was only one of many.

Killed in Action

Pvt. Richard Addison, Co. E, 24, Leesburg, VA; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. John Becket, Co. G, 40, Northampton, VA; Philadelphia, PA; drafted

Corp. Charles W. Berry, Co. G, 19, Washington Co, PA; Pittsburgh, PA

Pvt. Henry Blackston, Co. I, 23, Newcastle Co., DE; Smyrna, DE; substitute

Pvt. Peter Brice, Co. H, 21, Armstrong Co., PA; Pittsburg, PA

Pvt. William Brisco, Co. I, 23, Newcastle, PA; Philadelphia, PA

Corp. Richard Bryant, Co. D, 23, Philadelphia, PA; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. David Criswell, Co. H, 20, Lewiston, PA; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Moses Derry, Co. G, 30, Bucks Co., PA; Smyrna, DE; substitute

1st Sgt. George H. Ellet, Co. C, 31, Philadelphia, PA; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Charles H. Gibson, Co. D, 20, Adams Co., PA; Philadelphia, PA; drafted

Pvt. George W. Green, Co. F, 20, VA; Greensburg, PA; drafted

Corp. John Green, Co. B, 35, Bushtown, NJ; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Thomas W. Hamilton, Co. F, 23, Bucks Co., PA; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Charles Harris, Co. D, 27, unknown; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Charles Holland, Co. E, 34, Baltimore, MD; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Charles Hubbard, Co. D, 20, Harrisburg, PA; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. John James, Co. F, 20, Mathews Co., VA; Smyrna, VA; substitute

Pvt. Charles Johnson, Co. D, 22, Carroll Co., MD; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. George F. Johnson, Co. F, 21, Smyrna, DE; Smyrna, DE

Pvt. Peter Johnson, Co. B, 26, Loudon Co., VA; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Noah Jones, Co. D, 35, Fairfax Co., VA; Philadelphia, PA; drafted

Pvt. Neil Kempt, Co. B, 25, Georgetown, VA; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. William Kenny, Co. D, 22, unknown; Philadelphia, PA, substitute

Pvt. Thomas Kyser, Co. D, 20, New York, NY; West Chester, PA; substitute

Pvt. William H. Lewis, Co. K, 19, Washington Co., PA; Pittsburg, PA

Corp. William Lucus, Co. D, 23, Washington D.C.; Philadelphia, PA

 2nd Lt. Frederick Meyer, Co. B, 37, unknown; Washington D.C.

Pvt. John A. Norris, Co. G, 40, unknown; Pittsburgh, PA

Pvt. Emanuel Patterson, Co. D, 23, Greene Co., PA; West Chester, PA; drafted

Pvt. William Pence, Co. C, 25, Philadelphia, PA; Philadelphia, PA; drafted

Pvt. James Robinson, Co. I, 24, Philadelphia, PA; Smyrna, DE; substitute

Pvt. Alexander Rogers, Co. I, 21, Dover, DE; Smyrna, DE; drafted

Sgt. Thomas Scott, Co. E, 26, Pittsburgh, PA; Pittsburg, PA; drafted; “Always present with company and was prompt and faithful in the execution of all duty and brave in battle . . . .”

Pvt. William Scott, Co. F, 28, Chambersburg, PA; Smyrna, PA; substitute

Capt. George Wright Sheldon, Co. H, 26, Mount Morris, NY; Washington D.C.; previously served in 126th New York Infantry

Pvt. Amos M. Shinn, Co. B, Allen, PA; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. William Simpiss, Co. B; 22, DE; Philadelphia, PA

Corp. Henry Skeere (Skeen), Co. C, 27, Cecil Co., MD; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Henry Swartz, Co. B, 24, Lancaster, PA; Lancaster, PA

Corp. Jeremiah Walker, Co. D, 22, Hampton, VA; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Albert Waters, Co. K, 22, Kent Co., DE; Smyrna, DE; substitute

Corp. Robert Webster, Co. H, 20, Armstrong Co., PA; Pittsburgh, PA

Corp. John West, Co. C, 33, Washington Co., PA; New Brighton, PA

Corp. Archibald Wright, Co. G, 38, Loudon Co., VA; Harrisburg, PA; substitute

Capt. Charles V. York, Co. B, 25, NY; Washington D.C.; previously served with 10th New York Heavy Artillery

Fatally Wounded

Pvt. Thomas Anderson, Co. E, 20, Bucks Co., PA; Philadelphia, PA; head wound; “wounded in action September 29, 1864, and jumped overboard while being conveyed from Point of Rocks Hospital, Va to U.S. Gen. Hospital at Hampton, Va by steamer Thomas Powell Oct. 3, 1864. His wound produced insanity which caused the act.”

Corp. Thomas Augustus, Co. E, 20, Newark, DE; Philadelphia, PA; died at Fort Monroe on 10-14-64, from gunshot wound to right lung received at New Market Heights

Pvt. Enoch Boyer, Co. B, 27, Smyrna, DE; Philadelphia, PA; died aboard steamer George Leary on 10-29-64

Pvt. James Clark, 23, Indiana, PA; Greensburg, PA; substitute; died on 11-26-64 at Balfour Hospital in Portsmouth, VA from wounds

Corp. Robert Davis, Co. G, 34, New Castle Co., DE; Smyrna, DE; died on 10-11-64 from gunshot wound of left lung

Pvt. William Empson, Jr., Co. I, 28, New Castle Co., DE; Smyrna, DE; drafted; died on 10-2-64 from gunshot wound to abdomen

Pvt. Absalom Gibbs, Co. F, 21, Dover, DE; West Chester, PA; died on 3-12-65 from pneumonia and amputation of left thigh

Pvt. Perry Hamilton, Co. K, 21, New Castle Co., DE; Smyrna, DE; drafted; died on 10-10-64 from wound in back injuring spine

1st Sgt. William Hazzard, Co. K, 25, New Castle Co, DE; Smyrna, DE, died on 12-30-64 from wound to left leg

Pvt. Jonathan Henson, Co. G, 34, Chester Co., PA; Lancaster Co., PA; drafted; died on 10-1-64 from wounds

Pvt. Ellis Hughes, Co. E, 28, Rochester, NY; Schenectady, NY; died 10-12-64 from shell wounds

Pvt. James A. Kane, Co. C, 30, Allegheny Co., PA; Allegheny City, PA, drafted, died 10-13-64 from gunshot wound in leg

1st Lt. Lafayette Landon, Co H, 20; Jefferson County, NY; Washington D.C.; died on 10-28-64 from gunshot wound to left thigh

2nd Lt. William H. McEvoy, Co. I, 21, NY; Yorktown, VA; died on 11-9-64 from blood poisoning from exsection of left elbow due to gunshot wound

Pvt. Joseph Money, Co. C, 32, Salem, NJ; Frankford, PA; substitute; died on 10-24-64 from gunshot wound of left shoulder

Sgt. Richard Servant, Co. D, 24, Fort Monroe, VA; Philadelphia, PA; died on 11-6-64 from gunshot wounds

Pvt. Jacob Slyder, Co. C, 17, Franklin Co., PA; Philadelphia, PA; died on 10-14-64 from gunshot wounds

Pvt. John Smith, Co. F, 27, Delaware Co., PA; West Chester, PA; died on 10-12-64 from gunshot wound to left knee joint resulting in amputation, death resulting from second hemorrhage

Pvt. John A. Steele, Co. H, 19, Clarion Co., DE; Pittsburgh, PA; died on 10-27-64 from gunshot wound to left leg

Pvt. Edward Williams, Co. C, 27, Montgomery Co., PA; Philadelphia, PA; died on 10-6-64 from gunshot wound to abdomen

Missing in Action

Pvt. Henry Braxton, Co. B, 21, New Kent Co., VA; Yorktown, VA

Pvt. Nathaniel Danks, 25, Co. D, Philadelphia, PA; Philadelphia, PA; wounded and taken prisoner

Pvt. Benjamin Davis, Co. E, 24, Hertford Co., MD; Philadelphia, PA; missing in action since 9-29-64; supposed to have died in the enemy’s hands

Pvt. William W. Robinson, Co. B, 20, Delaware, PA; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Charles H. Steward, Co. B, 26, Concord, DE; West Chester, PA; drafted

Wounded Survived

Maj. Harvey H. Covell, 27, Ashtabula County, OH; originally served with 23rd Ohio Inf.; disability discharge on 4-25-65 due to gunshot wound to right forearm with fracture of radius

Sgt. Maj. Thomas R. Hawkins, 23, Cincinnati, OH; Philadelphia, PA; substitute; disability discharge on 5-9-65 from wounds in three places including thigh and great toe; Medal of Honor recipient

Wounded Survived

Company A

Capt. Robert B. Beath, 24, Philadelphia, PA; Philadelphia, PA; formerly of 88th Pennsylvania Inf.; amputation of wounded right leg; disability discharge 9-20-65

Pvt. James H. Cooper, 35, Hampshire County, VA [WV}; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. David H. Irons, 24, Chester Co., PA; Philadelphia, PA; disability discharge 5-16-65 from amputation of right leg

Pvt. John A. Wright, 30, Chester Co., PA; Philadelphia, PA

Company B

Pvt. John Crawford, 21, Harris, AL; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Joseph Gibson, 17, Bushtown, NJ; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. John Harvey, 26, Indiana, PA; Greensburg, PA; substitute

1st Lt. Nathaniel N. Hubbard, 21, Trumbull Co., OH; disability discharge on 3-3-65 from wound to left leg and scrotum

Pvt. John Marshall, 24, Delaware Co., PA; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. John McCroby, 22, Fayette, PA; New Brighton, PA; drafted

Pvt. Joseph Moore, 16, Chester, PA; Philadelphia, PA

Corp. Anthony Ridley, 22, Lewisburg, PA; Lancaster, PA; substitute

Pvt. Charles Ridley, 22, unknown; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Isaac Thompson, 26, Lancaster, PA; Lancaster, PA; drafted

Company C

Pvt. James Banks, 22, Washington Co., PA; New Brighton, PA

Pvt. Alfred Becket, 21, Wilmington, DE; Philadelphia, PA

Sgt. William H. Butler, 23, Philadelphia, PA; Philadelphia, PA; amputation of right thigh; disability discharge 5-29-65

Pvt. William Carson, 35, Delaware; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. William Gover (Grover), 17, Chester Co., PA; Philadelphia, PA

1st Lt. Enoch Jackman, 25, unknown, Washington D.C.; gunshot wound of left hand (slight)

Corp. Abraham Lewis, 29, Washington Co., PA; New Brighton, PA; drafted

Pvt. Charles Lewis, 31, Caroline Co., MD; Philadelphia, PA; disability discharge on 6-12-65 from gunshot wound to right shoulder and loss of use of arm

Pvt. James Miller, 24, Washington Co., PA; New Brighton, PA; drafted

Pvt. Josiah Nelson, 17, Ithaca, NY; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. John Wallace, 25, Philadelphia, PA; Philadelphia; disability discharge on 6-16-65

Company D

Sgt. Robert Biles, 20, Monmouth Co., NJ; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Joseph Brown, 21, Washington Co., PA; New Brighton, PA; drafted

Pvt. Phillip Cole, 23, Chester, PA; Chester, PA; substitute

Pvt. James Ferrill, 23, Greene Co., PA; New Brighton, PA; drafted; disability discharge on 8-14-65 from gunshot wound to left hand

Pvt. Jacob Hammond, 22, Chester, PA; Philadelphia, PA

Corp. Lawrence Jackson, 20, Northampton NC; Philadelphia, PA; substitute

2nd Lt. John B. Johnson, 17, unstated, Washington, D.C.; wounded in left arm

Sgt. Ephraim Maloney, 25, Philadelphia, PA; Philadelphia, PA; drafted; disability discharge on 1-3-65 from gunshot wound to right leg

Pvt. Andrew Mitchell, 23, Carroll Co., MD; West Chester, PA; gunshot wound of left thigh and right hip

1st Sgt. Miles Parker, 26, Philadelphia, PA; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. William H. Redmon, 20, VA; Chester Co., PA; substitute

Pvt. James Richmond, 26, Philadelphia, PA; Philadelphia, PA; drafted

Pvt. Henry Scott, 18, Culpeper, VA; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Robert Williams, 22, Baltimore, MD; Philadelphia, PA

Company E

Pvt. Joseph Fullum, 20, Washington Co., PA; New Brighton, PA; drafted; served out the war in hospital, no disability discharge provided

Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, 28, Unstated; Philadelphia, PA

1st Sgt. Thomas C. Johnson, 27, Unstated; Philadelphia, PA

Corp. Benjamin Richards, 34, Pittsburgh, PA; Pittsburgh, PA; drafted

Sgt. William Strange, unknown, Frederick Co., VA; Allegheny Co., PA; drafted

Company F

Pvt. Richard Chew, 36, New York, NY; West Chester, PA

Pvt. James H. Clinton, 20, Wilmington, DE; Smyrna, DE

Corp. John Davis, 23, Monmouth, NJ; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Lewis Dickson, 25, Kent Co., DE; Smyrna, DE; disability discharge 4-28-65 from exsection of right elbow joint

Pvt. Francis J. Griffith, 20, PA; Philadelphia, PA; substitute; disability discharge on 7-26-65 from amputation of right arm

Pvt. George S. Johnson, 27, Smyrna, DE; Philadelphia, PA; drafted

Pvt. Louis Mills, 35, Mifflin Co., PA; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Benjamin F. Phillips, 27, Allegheny Co., PA; Pittsburgh, PA

Pvt. John D. Rias, 30, Kent Co., DE; Smyrna, DE; substitute

Pvt. Charles Rider, 22, Wilmington, DE; Smyrna, DE; substitute

Pvt. Joseph Rider, 25, New Castle, DE; Smyrna, DE; drafted

Pvt. John Spence, 35, Talbot Co., MD; Smyrna, DE; drafted

Pvt. William E. Wilson, 20, Newville, PA; Philadelphia, PA; substitute

Company G

Pvt. Samuel Anderson, 23, New Castle, DE; Smyrna, DE; substitute

Pvt. James Black, 30, Fayette Co., PA; Greensburg, PA; drafted

Pvt. John H. Graham, 23, VA; Greensburg, PA; drafted

Pvt. Richard M. Johnson, 21, MD; Greensburg, PA; drafted

Corp. Charles Miller, 22, Lancaster, PA; Smyrna, DE; drafted

Pvt. Richard Riley, 18, Berkley Co., VA, Pittsburgh, PA

Pvt. James Smith, 26, Warren Co., NC; Smyrna, DE; substitute

Sgt. William Waters, 20, Cape Island, NJ; Philadelphia, PA; drafted

Company H

Sgt. Solomon Darrah, 27, Bucks County, PA; West Chester, PA; disability discharge 6-12-64 from gunshot wound in right elbow joint

1st Lt. Nathan Edgerton, 27, Belmont Co., OH; Washington, D.C.; wounded in right hand while carrying the colors; Medal of Honor recipient

Sgt. Wilson Grant, 24, Loudon, VA; Lancaster, PA; died 10-21-64 from wounds received in action

Pvt. Charles H. Johnson, 21, PA; Philadelphia, PA; disability discharge on 5-22-65 from gunshot wound of left knee

Pvt. Peter A. Johnson, 20, DE; Norristown, PA; substitute

Pvt. Henry Morgan, 33, PA; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. George Perkins, 18, Fayette Co., PA; Pittsburgh, PA

Pvt. Jacob Roberts, 18, Blairsville, PA; Pittsburgh, PA

Pvt. Charles Roland, 22, Philadelphia, PA; Philadelphia, PA; disability discharge on 5-17-65 from gunshot wound causing loss of 1/3 of lower jaw

Pvt. Franklin Viney, 25, Philadelphia, PA; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Spencer Wesley, 18, Lancaster, PA; West Chester, PA; substitute

Company I

Pvt. William Badger, 42, New Castle, DE; Smyrna, DE; amputation of left arm; surgeon’s certificate of disability, discharged 4-14-64

Pvt. Robert Butler, 21, King George Co., VA; Reading, PA; drafted

Pvt. James Dayton, 24, Kent County, DE; Smyrna, DE; disability discharge 4-19-65 from amputation of right leg

Pvt. John Duckery, 36, New Castle Co., DE; Philadelphia, PA; disability discharge 5-27-65 from gunshot wound to right side

Pvt. Alexander Goldsburg, 25, MD; Smyrna, DE

Corp. William Hall, 20, Kent Co., MD; Smyrna, DE

Pvt. George Harris, 21, Mercer Co., NJ; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Adolphus Johnson, 20, Sussex Co. DE; Smyrna, DE; substitute; deserted from hospital on 12-25-64

Pvt. Paterson Hartshorn, 32, Centre Co., PA; Philadelphia, PA; disability discharge 5-27-65 from gunshot wound to right foot

Corp. Charles Peter, 20, New Castle Co., DE; Smyrna, DE; drafted

Pvt. Charles Samson, 22, Kent Co., DE; Smyrna, DE; drafted; disability discharge 6-28-65 from gunshot wound to right arm

Pvt. William Thomas Simmons, 19, New Castle Co., DE; Philadelphia, PA

Pvt. Joseph Singer, 20, Caroline Co., MD; Smyrna, DE; substitute

Sgt. (Color Bearer) Daniel W. Smith, 22, Centre Co., PA; West Lock Haven, PA; disability discharge 6-28-65 from gunshot wound to right shoulder

Pvt. James Smith, 20, Kent Co., DE; Smyrna, DE; substitute

Pvt. Wilson Spencer, 35, New Castle Co., DE; Smyrna, DE; drafted

Pvt. Lewis Taylor, 27, Cecil Co., MD; Smyrna, DE; drafted

Pvt. George Wilson, 18, Bedford Co., PA; Philadelphia, PA

Corp. Hezekiah Wilson, 33, Philadelphia, PA, Philadelphia, PA; drafted

Company K

Pvt. Charles Berry, 21, Kent County, DE; Smyrna, DE; drafted

Pvt. David Coston, 20, Kent County, DE; Smyrna, DE; drafted; disability discharge 6-17-65 from White Hall Gen. Hospital due to amputation of right thigh

Pvt. Isaac Gales, 24, Kent Co., DE; Smyrna, DE; drafted; gunshot wound of left leg

Pvt. Joseph Gales, 28, Kent Co., DE; Smyrna, DE; drafted

Sgt. Charles Garner, 19, Clinton Co., PA; Williamsport, PA; substitute; gunshot wound left leg

Corp. Alexander Henry, 30, New Castle Co., DE; Smyrna, DE; drafted; gunshot wound to right shoulder

Pvt. Isaac Hubbardson, 24, Kent Co., DE; Smyrna, DE; drafted

Pvt. Isaac Lee, 30, New Castle, DE; Smyrna, DE; drafted; disability discharge on 6-16-65 from gunshot wound of left leg

Pvt. James Manlon, 25, Kent Co., DE; Smyrna, DE; drafted

Pvt. Edward Mills, 35, Centre Co., PA; Williamsport, PA; drafted

Pvt. Isaac Purnell, 22, Sussex Co., DE; Smyrna, DE; substitute

Corp. Edward Raner, 18, Weldon, SC; Harrisburg, PA; substitute

Pvt. Isaac Robinson, 26, Philadelphia, PA; Smyrna, DE; disability discharge on 7-25-65 from gunshot wound to left shoulder fracturing humerus

Pvt. John Short, 29, Philadelphia, PA; Philadelphia, PA; substitute

Pvt. William E. Snowden, 22, Georgetown, MD; Harrisburg, PA; substitute

Corp. William Williams, 26, New Castle Co., DE, Smyrna, DE, drafted

This list was not produced in attempt to sensationalize the pain these men suffered, but rather to acknowledge the sacrifices they were willing to endure to ensure the death of slavery, show themselves men and worthy of citizenship and thus the guarantees of the Constitution, and maintain the Union of the states. In addition, hopefully this enumeration helps descendants make connections with their soldier ancestors. Courageously done, men of the 6th!   

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Bold Black Mother Writes to Abraham Lincoln about USCT Fair Treatment

Buffalo, New York, resident Hannah Johnson, the mother of an African American soldier serving the the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, wrote to President Abraham Lincoln in July 1863 seeking fair treatment for the growing number of United States Colored Troops. The letter stands well alone without commentary from me. 

July 31 1863

Excellent Sir

My good friend says I must write to you and she will send it. My son went in the 54th regiment. I am a colored woman and my son was strong and able as any to fight for his country and the colored people have as much to fight for as any. My father was a Slave and escaped from Louisiana before I was born morn forty years agone. I have but poor edication but I never went to schol, but I know just as well as any what is right between man and man. Now I know it is right that a colored man should go and fight for his country, and so ought to a white man. I know that a colored man ought to run no greater risques than a white, his pay is no greater, his obligation to fight is the same. So why should not our enemies be compelled to treat him the same, Made to do it.

My son fought at Fort Wagoner but thank God he was not taken prisoner, as many were. I thought of this thing before I let my boy go but then they said Mr. Lincoln will never let them sell our colored soldiers for slaves, if they do he will get them back quick, he will rettallyate and stop it. Now Mr. Lincoln do you think you ought to stop this thing and make them do the same by the colored men. They have lived in idleness all their lives on stolen labor and made savages of the colored people, but they now are so furious because they are proving themselves to be men, such as have come away and got some edication. It must not be so. You must put the rebels to work in State prisons to making shoes and things, if they sell our colored soldiers, till they let them all go. And give their wounded the same treatment. It would seem cruel, but there no other way, and a just man must do hard things sometimes, that shew him to be a great man. They tell me, some do, you will take back the Proclamation, don't do it. When you are dead and in Heaven, in a thousand years, that action of yours will make the Angels sing your praises, I know it. Ought one man to own another, law for or not. Who made the law, surely the poor slave did not. So a man has lived by robbing all his life and his father before him, should be complain because the stolen things found on him are taken. Robbing the colored people of their labor is but a small part of the robbery, their souls are almost taken, they are made bruits of often. You know all about this.

Will you see that the colored men fighting now are fairly treated. You ought to do this, and do it at once, Not let the thing run along, meet it quickly and manfully, and stop this mean, cowardly cruelty. We poor oppressed ones appeal to you, and ask fair play.

Yours for Christs sake

Hannah Johnson

Image of unidentified African American woman in the public domain.   

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Pioneering Black Doctors of the Civil War

Lt. Col. Alexander T. Augusta

Due to pervasive racial discrimination in both the North and the South, occupational choices were limited for African Americans in the mid-Nineteenth Century. A number of professional careers, such as doctors and lawyers, seemed virtually unreachable at the time due to overt and covert prejudice and racial restrictions in education and career training. However, despite many obstacles, a few black men and women, who exhibited amazing perseverance and hard work, made their dreams a reality and helped change American society. The Civil War presented opportunities that helped accelerate progress.

Born in 1825 to free parents in Norfolk, Virginia, Alexander Thomas Augusta as a young man eventually moved to Baltimore, where he worked as a barber, a profession largely held by black men at the time. Soon he became interested in obtaining a medical education. After the prestigious University of Pennsylvania rejected his application, Augusta received private tutoring from a local white doctor. However, Augusta still desired formal training, so he migrated to Toronto, Canada, and gained entrance to Trinity Medical College. There he earned a medical degree in 1856, and began working as a doctor soon thereafter.

With the Emancipation Proclamation officially opening more military opportunities for African Americans, Augusta returned to the United States and expressed his willingness to serve as surgeon for a black regiment. After enduring an extensive examination, Augusta received a commission as major on April 4, 1863. At first assigned to administer physical examinations to new recruits, and treating black refugees in Washington D.C., he eventually received appointment as surgeon of the 7th United States Colored Infantry on October 2, 1863.

Being a black physician and army officer often placed Augusta in dangerous and trying situations. Once he was physically attacked in Baltimore merely for wearing his officer’s uniform. On another occasion a white doctor refused to work under his supervision. And in Washington D.C., he was the victim of discrimination while riding public transportation. Unwilling to endure such treatment silently, Augusta officially protested the bigoted act to military authorities.

Augusta eventually became the highest ranking (lieutenant colonel) African American soldier during the Civil War. After the war, he worked with the Freedman’s Bureau, started a private practice, and taught at Howard University’s medical school.  Lt. Col. Augusta died on December 21, 1890, and received a military burial in Arlington National Cemetery.

Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott
In addition to Augusta, at least two other black men served in the Civil War as commissioned surgeons: John van Surley DeGrasse and David O. McCord. Several, like Anderson Ruffin Abbott, Benjamin Boseman, Courtland van Rensselear Creed, and William Ellis, among others, worked as assistant and or contract surgeons healing both soldiers and refugees displaced by the war. Their inspiring and trailblazing efforts created countless opportunities that helped benefit future generations.  


Saturday, February 13, 2021

A Soldier's Comments on Hardtack and Coffee

I derive much pleasure, and certainly knowledge, from reading Civil War soldier's letters. Some come in the form of letters home to mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and all sorts of other relatives, and friends. Others letters were from soldiers at the front relating their experience to local newspapers, which were intended to inform a broader audience. Obviously, those written for print were often lacking in providing intimate details. But where they fell short in some areas, they prove advantageous in others. A good example is the group of letters that I'm currently reading in the book Voices from the Attic: The Williamstown Boys in the Civil War by Carleton Young. 

These letters are those from brothers Henry Martin (4th Vermont Infantry) and Francis, aka Frank Martin (2nd Vermont) to their family and friends. Frank, who enlisted later than Henry, also sent intermittent missives to the Vermont Watchman & State Journal newspaper under the pseudonym of "Conscript."  

Frank "Conscript" Martin's letter on November 27, 1863, included a mention of soldier's food. Food is one of the most commented upon aspects of soldier's life. The famous book Hard Tack and Coffee, originally published in 1887 by former soldier John D. Billings comes by its name honestly.   

Enough with the commentary . . . below is that portion of the letter as it appeared in the Watchman, which I found on the Library of Congress' "Chronicling America" database.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Black History Month Personality Spotlight: Sgt. James H. Harris, 38th USCI, Medal of Honor Recipient

We Remember: Sgt. James H. Harris, Medal of Honor, Co. B, 38th USCI; born 1828, died January 28, 1898

Thirty-six years old at the time of his enlistment, James H. Harris was the oldest of the Medal of Honor recipients from the Battle of New Market Heights. He joined the 38th United States Colored Infantry on Valentine’s Day, 1864, in his native St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Harris received appointment to corporal in the summer of 1864, and then promotion to sergeant on September 10.

At the September 29, 1864, Battle of New Market Heights, Sgt. Harris’ bravery stood out and he received recognition for displaying “gallantry in the assault.” As a non-commissioned officer, Harris led his company forward, which helped the African American Third Division break the Confederate line, which forced the Southerners to retreat.  Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler mentioned Harris in his October 11 special message to the Army of the James, bestowing a commendation (Butler) medal “for gallant conduct in the assault of the 29th instant.”

In the battle, Sgt. Harris received a wound that required treatment and a period of recuperation at Balfour Hospital at Portsmouth, Virginia, however, he returned to duty on November 1. Serving in Texas after the Civil War, Harris and the 38th faced many health challenges. Reduced to the rank of private in the summer of 1865, Harris continued to serve faithfully until the regiment mustered out in January 1867. 

Harris returned to Maryland after his service and received the Medal of Honor on February 18, 1874. Harris passed away on January 28, 1898. He rests in a soldier's grave in Arlington National Cemetery. We remember! 

Monday, February 8, 2021

Black History Month Personality Spotlight: 1st Sgt. Robert Pinn, 5th USCI, Medal of Honor Recepient

One of four African American soldiers in the 5th USCI who received the Medal of Honor for heroism at the Battle of New Market Heights, 1st Sgt. Robert A. Pinn lived his life as an agent of change for the better.

Born on March 1, 1843, in Stark County, Ohio, to a free man of color father who was born enslaved in Virginia and a mother born in Pennsylvania, Robert came of age in a farming household, the only boy among four sisters. He enlisted in Company I of the 5th USCI on September 5, 1863 in Massillon, Ohio. A quick promotion to sergeant came about a month later. During the summer of 1864 he served for a time as acting sergeant major. An official promotion to Company I’s 1st sergeant brought additional responsibilities just about a month before he displayed his leadership abilities at the Battle of New Market Heights.

On September 29, 1864, as the 5th USCI led a second assault wave against the Confederate breastworks just north of Deep Bottom, a high casualty rate among the officers of the 5th required the company non-commissioned officers like 1st Sgt. Pinn to take over. He did so unflinchingly. His Medal of Honor citation reads: “Took command of his company after all the officers had been killed or wounded and gallantly led it in battle.”

Despite the heroism of Pinn and his comrades at New Market Heights, they received the call to engage some of the same Confederates later in the day at Fort Gilmer, closer to Richmond. It was at Fort Gilmer that Pinn received a severe wound to his right shoulder. Sent to heal at Lovell General Hospital at Portsmouth Grove, Rhode Island, the injury incapacitated Pinn for several months. He eventually returned to duty and mustered out with the 5th USCI on September 20, 1865.

After the war Pinn returned to Ohio, attended Oberlin College, taught school, and then studied law. He became a member of the Ohio bar in 1879. A recipient himself of a pension for his service and disability, Pinn helped other black veterans gain benefits with his chosen profession and working for the U.S. Pension Bureau. An active member of both the Republican Party and the Grand Army of the Republic, Pinn served as commander of Massillon’s Hart Post 134 GAR. Pinn died on January 1, 1911, at age 67. He rests in peace in Massillon City Cemetery in his native Stark County, Ohio. We remember, and we thank you for your service!  

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Black History Month Personality Spotlight: 1st Sgt. Powhatan Beaty, 5th USCI, Medal of Honor Recipient

Powhatan Beaty was born enslaved on October 8, 1837, in Richmond Virginia. It is not clear how Beaty gained his freedom, but he lived in Cincinnati, Ohio before the Civil War and appears in the 1860 census in that city's 13th Ward. Beaty's listed occupation in both the census and his service records indicates he was skilled in woodworking. He continued in that profession after the war. However, it appears he had a personal passion for the theater. Beaty appeared in various local and regional Shakespearean productions in the post war years. He died on December 6, 1916, at 79 years old.

When Beaty left Virginia and slavery as a young men, he could not have imagined he would be back fighting in a way near his hometown to help end the institution and stake a claim to citizenship. Slavery's oppression limited opportunities for African Americans to pursue talents like acting and to demonstrate leadership skills. Beaty's work in theater, as well as his Medal of Honor citation, disproved slavery's premise of inferiority. When combat rages at the Battle of New Market Heights, Beaty "took command of his company, all of the officers having been killed or wounded, and gallantly led it." We remember!

Monday, February 1, 2021

Recent Acquisitions to My Library

Without deliberate intention, I've been making a practice of posting my library additions near the beginning of each month. That seems to be the easiest way for me to remember to share them. Plus, it's a good way to kick of each new month. 

I'm finding that scholars are discussing the process of African American citizenship more and more frequently. Books like Colored Travelers: Mobility and the Fight for Citizenship before the Civil War by Elizabeth S. Pryor, The Politics of Black Citizenship: Free African Americans in the Mid-Atlantic Borderland, 1817-1863 by Andrew K. Diemer, and Fighting for Citizenship: Black Northerners and the Debate over Military Service in the Civil War by Brian Taylor, have all appeared in the last five years. Adding to this growing body of study is Christopher James Bonner's Remaking the Republic: Black Politics and the Creation of American Citizenship. In Remaking the Republic, Bonner examines the various ways that African Americans sought to claim inclusion as United States citizens despite traditionally and legally (see Dred Scott decision) being excluded. I just finished reading it a few days ago and I recommend it. 

Sometimes books come to one's attention totally by accident. Many times it turns out to be serendipity. While searching for another title (I can't remember what I was looking for now) I happened across War's Relentless Hand: Twelve Tales of Civil War Soldiers by Mark H. Dunkleman. Published in 2006 by LSU Press, War's Relentless Hand examines the lives of twelve soldiers from the 154th New York Infantry. I love soldier's stories! That is probably obvious if you've read much of this blog. In my opinion, books like Ronald Coddington's "Faces" series and this one help pay tribute to soldiers who would likely otherwise be forgotten. I write lots of soldier's stories for this blog, for work, and for the Battle of New Market Heights Memorial and Education Association website, often using minimal source material, because many soldiers didn't leave much writing behind. It's often a challenge to come up with new angles as approaches, so I'm hoping this book will give me some additional ideas for future stories that I write. 

Every once in a while I receive an email from a publisher who happens across my blog, sees that I'm a voracious reader, and offers a free copy of a book to me. A couple of weeks ago I received such an email, and soon I received the book Soul City: Race, Equality, and the Lost Dream of an American Utopia by Thomas Healy from Metropolitan Books in the mail. Founded in 1969 by Floyd McKissick in rural North Carolina on the lands of a former plantation, "Soul City" had funding from the Nixon administration, a solid infrastructure, and an in-place industry that provided residents jobs. But Soul City seemed to be everyone's else's target and after about a decade it was no more. I'm intrigued by this attempt at community building in a Southern state when calls for Black Power rang out, and I'm interested to find out what happened and what might have been.  

Since reading Brian Matthew Jordan's Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War about six years ago, I've sought out more of his work. Recently I was happy to see that he had a new "soon to be released" book. I put in a pre-order with the History Book Club and it arrived in the mail today. In A Thousand May Fall: Life, Death, and Survival in the Union Army, Jordan uses the men of the 107th Ohio to examine soldier experiences. From the book's jacket: "Reclaiming these men for posterity, Jordan reveals that even as they endured the horrible extremes of war, the Ohioans contemplated the deeper meanings of the conflict at every turn--from personal questions of citizenship and belonging to the overriding matter of slavery and emancipation." Can't wait to start turning pages on this one!  

I don't own all of the books I read. I borrow from friends, make good use of the research library at work, and I've even been known to check books out at my local library. When I lived in Kentucky, my local library was amazing. In addition to their great selection of history books, they allowed patrons to make interlibrary loan orders online, and they also took suggestions for books to add to the stacks. While living there I read Lincoln's Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union by Louis P. Masur. It examines the critical period between the preliminary proclamation on September 22, 1862 and the final edict on January 1, 1863. Most people do not realize the amount of stress this document put on Lincoln. Here you lean about it all in a well written study. Now I have a copy of my own. I highly recommend it. 

Understanding how much time and energy goes into producing history, I've always been impressed by those historians who turn out books on a regular basis. James Oakes is one of those prolific historians. I've enjoyed and benefitted from reading a number of his previous books. His latest work is The Crooked Path to Abolition: Abraham Lincoln and the Antislavery Constitution. Continuing an earlier argument that the Constitution intended freedom to be a national intention, and that slavery was solely state sanctioned, Oakes contends that Lincoln pushed for efforts to eradicate slavery where he constitutionally could, and thus doing so showed a stronger commitment to abolition than previously granted. Happy reading!