Dayton National Cemetery
in memory of
Father of Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar
Civil War service in Company F, 55th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and Company F, 5th Regiment, Massachusetts Colored Cavalry
A community-based effort has been launched to solicit your support to benefit one of Dayton's little known heroes. Many citizens of Dayton and throughout the country and world have heard of the accomplishments of Paul Laurence Dunbar and the impact his words have had. Few people know that his father, Joshua Dunbar, was a man worthy of knowing. Born and grew up enslaved in Kentucky, Joshua escaped and settled in Canada. During the Civil War in late 1862 or early 1863, he came to Ohio from Canada, and while residing in or passing through Troy in the spring of 1863 he was recruited to serve in a unit being organized in Massachusetts made up of men of African descent. Upon arrival at Readville, Massachusetts Joshua was assigned to Company F, 55th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.
On October 28, 1863 while serving with his regiment on Folly Island, South Carolina, Joshua was discharged due to a disability caused by injuries received on August 24, 1863. He returned to Camp Meigs, Readville, Massachusetts, apparently without his medical records, and enlisted in the 5th Regiment, Massachusetts Colored Cavalry on January 9, 1864. The regiment saw duty at Washington, DC, and numerous locations in Maryland and Virginia until June 16, 1865, including participating in the Siege of Petersburg. The regiment was deployed to Texas with duty at Clarksville until October 31, 1865 when it was mustered out, and the men returned to Readville, Massachusetts.
Joshua returned to Ohio and married Matilda Murphy in 1871. Their son, Paul Laurence, was born in 1872. A few years later Joshua became ill and was unable to work. A divorce decree was finalized in 1876 awarding Matilda custody of their son. Shortly thereafter Joshua was admitted to the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (known now as the Dayton Veteran's Affairs Center) where he died of Pleuro Pneumonia on August 16, 1885.
Paul Laurence became the catalyst for much of our current knowledge of his father. He visited his father often and listened to stories on slavery and the Civil War which gave him the inspiration to reflect on those subjects in many of his poems and essays.
The Friends of Dunbar desire to commemorate his service to our country with a legend/marker within sight of his burial marker. It would list his known life story and a picture of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. This legend is designed to be weather proof and a comfortable height for reading. Such a memorial is already being used in other national cemeteries and would enliven the historic aspects of our own National Cemetery.
We hope that you and others in the community will help in the fundraising for this marker. The cost is $2,000 including the placement; any support will be appreciated. Names of all contributors will be placed on a permanent plaque at the Dunbar State Memorial, 219 Paul Laurence Dunbar Street, Dayton, Ohio.
Assuming all funds are in hand, dedication of the exhibit is tentatively scheduled for August 16, 2004 at the Dayton National Cemetery. For further information contact John Mitchell at 937-277-3701. Please send your contribution (check or money order - no cash) to:
Friends of Dunbar
c/o American Legion Post #776
5530 Burkhardt Road
Dayton, Ohio 45431
Make checks payable to: The Friends of Dunbar c/o American Legion Post #776
5530 Burkhardt Road - Dayton, OH 45431 (Tax Exempt #31-960013)
Bennie J. McRae