All Men are Brothers
By Tom Brooks
Copyright 1995. LWF Publications. Posted from the April, 1995 edition of the historical quarterly, Lest We Forget.
The history of Afro-British North Americans and Afro-Others who fought in the United States Colored Troops for the freedom of Afro-Americans during the War of the Renellion -- Co-Researched by Edward Milligan and Tom Brooks.
An estimated 180,000 soldiers, a combination of ‘free men of colour’ and men of color formerly not free, served in the armies of the United States of American during the Civil War.
Though the overwhelming majority of the men were American born, such was not the case with all of them. Some of these volunteers, a few hundred perhaps, maybe as many as a thousand or more, were ‘free men of colour’ born outside the United States of America. The largest source of foreign born ‘free men of color’ came from the six British North American colonies.
Men of colour were segregated into units separate from their comrades in arms of European background. There were six regiments of cavalry designated 1st through 6th United States Colour Cavalry, plus a seventh unit, the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry.
United States Coloured Troops, as the infantry arm was called, numbered regiments 1st through 138th, plus the 29th and 30th Connecticut Infantry, the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Infantry, and the 6th and 7th Louisiana Infantry.
The Unites States Coloured Heavy Artillery numbered fourteen regiments designated 1st through 14th.
There was only one regiment of United States Coloured Light Artillery. It consisted of nine batteries. It was known as the 2nd USCLA. In addition, there was one independent battery of light artillery.
At the first formation of coloured regiments, the units were given state designations similar to that borne by the other regiments with the word ‘coloured’ however, specifically added to the name to distinguish them from the rest. These state designations eventually gave way to the universal designation of USCC (cavalry), USCT (infantry), and USCHA (heavy artillery), a designation devoid of state association.
The 14th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery for instance was redesignated the 11th USCHA. The 1st Michigan Coloured Infantry was re-named the 102nd USCT. The name of the 1st South Carolina Coloured Infantry was changed to the 33rd USCT. The 2nd North Carolina Coloured Infantry became the 36th USCT. The 1st Regiment of Cavalry, Corps d’Afrique, from Louisiana, was subsequently called the 4th USCC. The 1st Kansas Coloured Volunteers, the first coloured regiment raised in a northern state, though most of it’s recruits were escaped slaves from a southern state, Missouri, became the 79th USCT. And so it went.
Only the New England states of Connecticut and Massachusetts, with their 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, the 29th and 30th Connecticut Infantry, and the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Infantry, apparently eschewed this practice of segregation by designation and allowed all men, regardless of colour or lack of, to be state proud.
The coloured population of the six British North American colonies in 1860 has been estimated at about 40,000 individuals, with the majority of these people residing in Canada West, present day Ontario.
Much of this population were recent fugitive slaves, that is, recent within the last decade or two before the outbreak of the Civil War, and therefore were American born. There was a portion within this population, however, that was British North American born, particularly so in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada East. This was a segment that had not personally known slavery.
The most famous of the coloured regiments was probably the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. Formed in May 1863, it being the second coloured regiment raised in a northern state, the regiment actively recruited in Canada West. Certainly, a number of former slaves went south from British North America to enlist in this regiment, but they were American born born and count as such. With them, however, went at least 18 ‘free men of colour’ who were indeed British North American born.
Three of the 18, Hammel Gilyer, Samuel Hazzard, and Thomas Page, were born in Nova Scotia. All three were sailors by trade. Three of the men, John W. Amich, Abraham Brown, and William Silvers, gave as there place of birth, Toronto, Canada West. Two were waiters and one was a sailor. Charles Holmes, a waiter, and Benjamin Morey, a farmer, gave as their place of birth, Hamilton, Canada West. John Weeks claimed Catham, Canada West as his birth place, Jerimiah Thomas, London, Canada West, and Moses Jackson, Galt and Roy Johnson, Woodstock, Canada West. Their occupations included cook, waiter, barber, and labourer.
James Haskell and Thomas F. Smith, a stone cutter and labourer respectively, claimed Montreal, Canada East as their place of birth.
Of the remaining four, John Johnson, William W. Hull, William Parritt, and William Davis, no place of birth is given except to say ‘Canada’. Their occupations included those of cook, labourer, glass maker, and waiter.
Of their ages, one man was 18 years of age, two were 19, four were 20, one was 21, two were 23, two were 24, one 28, one 29, two 31, one 39, and the age of one man is not known.
Of the eighteen, all signed their names to their enlistment papers except two, John Amich and John Weeks. The enlistment papers of Amich and Weeks were endorsed with an ‘x’. This would indicate a relatively high degree of literacy among the British North American born recruits to the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. By way of comparison, of the ninety-nine British North American born of European blood in the 57th Massachusetts Infantry, seven were Illiterate.
It is interesting to note that five of the eighteen British North American born recruits in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry were waiters by occupation. In a study of one thousand two hundred other British North American born in a selection of Union regiments, though a great variety of occupations were documented, not one of the one thousand two hundred was a waiter.
John Weeks is listed as ‘missing’ at Fort Wagner, South Carolina, July 18, 1863, and presumed killed in action. If so, he is buried in a mass grave, unidentified.
Five British North American born are listed in the 1st United States Coloured Troops. Eighteen year old Jerry Marks, a farmer from Chatham, Canada West, was reduced to the ranks for drunkenness and insubordination. James Peaks, a 23 year old cook from St. Catherines, Canada West, was sentenced to hard labour by a General Court Martial. James St. Dana, a 27 year old farmer from Canada West, died in hospital at Fort Hatteras, North Carolina on July 10, 1865. He lies buried in the National Cemetery in New Berne, North Carolina in plot number 123, in grave number 14.
John Simmons, 18 years old, and William Thompson, 35 years old, both farmers from Canada, served until their muster out dates in late 1865.
Fourteen British North American born served in the 3rd United States Coloured Troops. Half of these men were hired substitutes for Americans who did not want to serve. Henry Blackwell, John Henry, and Edgar Ranlain were born in Toronto, Canada West. George Hutchinson, William Jones, and Charles Phillips claimed as their place of birth, St. John, New Brunswick. Niagara, Canada West was the place of birth for Andrew Walker. William Pernel was born in Nova Scotia. Theodore Waters, Charles Harrison, John Mosier, Charles Hawkins, and H. Singleton simply listed ‘Canada’ as the place of birth.
Their ages ranged from 18 years to 59 years. Their occupations included four labourers, two waiters, two sailors, two hostlers, a cook, a groom, a harness maker, and an engineer.
There were twelve British North American born in the 6th, 7th, and 8th United States Coloured Troops. John Douglass, Joseph Thompsom, both of the 6th, and Thomas Breslin of the 7th, were born in Montreal, Canada East. John Lewis of the 6th, and William H. Minor of the 8th were born in St. John, New Brunswick. William Chandler was born in London, Charles Gredon in Windsor, and Henton Griffin in St. Catherines, all in Canada West. Thomas Ward and Thomas Martin, both of the 6th, and Thomas Jones and William Boyd, both of the 8th, simply list their place of birth as ‘Canada’.
Their ages ranged from 20 years to 31 years. Four of the twelve were hired substitutes. Their occupations included four labourers, three farmers, three sailors, a carpenter, and one unknown.
The roll of the 12th United States Coloured Troops includes the names of sixteen British North Americans but interestingly enough, all of these names but one coincidentally appear on the roll of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. As the 54th Massachusetts Infantry mustered out on August 20, 1865, and the 12th United States Coloured Troops not until January 16, 1866, it is possible that these men transferred from one unit to the other to complete their three year enlistment.
The exception to the above in the 12th Unites States Coloured Troops was Henry Allen, a 23 year old tobaconist from ‘Canada’ who enlisted as a substitute for one year.
There were 24 British North American born ‘free men of colour’ in the 18th USCT. All but three were in the same company, company ‘E’. All appeared to have been hired substitutes for Americans who did not want to serve. Of the 24, at least three died in service. Three rose to the rank of sergeant, including Jerry Watson who became 1st Sergeant of Company ‘E’. The two other Canadian born sergeants in the company were William Burton, and William Fromman. John Adams, Henry Brown, Edmond Burrell, and John Lewis were promoted to corporal. Six of the seven promoted men were born in Canada West. The exception was William Fromman who was born in Montreal, Canada East.
Henry Thomas, from London, Canada West, succumbed to illness on November 25, 1864 at Benton Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri. He was 18 years of age.
Samuel Washington, age 21, and Smith White, age 19, both died at Bridgeport, Alabama, one on March 21, 1865, and the other on February 16, 1865. Both men were from Canada West.
It is possible that it was Samuel Washington who was buried in grave number 363 in Bridgeport, Alabama and transferred to grave number 553 in the coloured section of the National Cemetery in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and not the British North American born George Washington of the same company and regiment, who is listed on the Chattanooga cemetery roll. George Washington was a hired substitute who deserted on September 16, 1864, a month after his enlistment.
Smith White was likewise buried in the coloured military cemetery at Bridgeport, in grave number 432, and transferred to the coloured section of the National Cemetery at Chattanooga. He now lies in grave number 498 in the latter cemetery.
The third British North American born Washington in Company ‘E’, 18th USCT was August Washington.
The other British North American born soldiers in Company ‘E’ were William Adams, Major Green, William Johnson, John Owens, Pryor Monroe, Henry Taylor, Albert Tomson, and Peter Williams, all from Canada West, and Thomas Hill from Canada East.
Almost half the 24 British North American born soldiers in the 18th USCT were inland water boatmen by occupation. The rest were either common labourers or farmers, except for John Williams from Hamilton, Canada West in Company ‘F’, who was a waiter, and Peter Postent in Company ‘I’, also from Canada West, who was a blacksmith.
Thomas Willis, a native of Canada West, was the sole British North American in Company ‘G’ of the regiment. He was a 26 year old boatman.
From the Buxton, Canada West area, fourteen British North American born ‘free men of colour’, along with several dozen American born ‘free men of colour’ they who were formerly slaves, crossed the St. Clair River at Detroit, and in the fall of 1863, enlisted in the 102nd USCT, a unit otherwise known as the 1st Michigan Coloured Infantry.
At least two of the British North American born, 21 year old Samuel Patterson, a native of Malden, Canada West, and 18 year old James Bailey, also of Canada West, never saw home again. Patterson died of typhoid at Beaufort, South Carolina on October 11, 1864. He is buried in the Union military cemetery, ‘coloured section’, in Beaufort. A blacksmith by trade, he had been the 1st Sergeant of Company ‘B’, 102nd USCT. Bailey of Company ‘A’, died on November 19, 1864 and is likewise buried in the ‘coloured section’ of the military cemetery at Beaufort.
Another of the British North American members of the 102nd USCT was William Thomas. He was a 20 year old farmer. He enlisted in Detroit on September 16, 1864 and was paid a $100.00 bounty. He was discharged, probably on account of disability, on June 16, 1865.
James Henson, another of the British North American volunteers in the 102nd USCT, joined the Union army in Detroit on October 22, 1863. He had the unfortunate circumstance of being sentenced by General Court Martial to forfeit nearly all his pay, $10.00 per month, and to be held in confinement for the term of his service, probably three years.
The other British North American volunteers in the 102nd USCT included John Allen, age 40, James Anderson, age 22, Benjamin Blackburn, age 26, William Bowles, age 30, John Boyer, age 41, Frank Carter, age 19, Elijah Doo, age 19, Charles Hancey, age 19, and John Holland, age 20.
There were 101 foreign born soldiers of colour in the 20th USCT of whom 62 were British North American born. The vast majority of British North Americans in the 20th USCT were Canada West born, but their number did include David Walters born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, James Benjamin, also born in Halifax, George E. Jarvis another Nova Scotia native, Perry B. Mott born in St. John, New Brunswick, and James B. Armstrong a Montreal, Canada East native. At least six of these 'free men of colour' from British North America in the 20th USCT died in the service of this foreign country, the United States of America. Jacob Hicks, John Martin, and George Montgomery, all born in Canada West, are buried far from their native land. They lie in the coloured section of the Union military cemetery in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Jacob Jacobs and Isaac Wilson, both of the 20th USCT, and both Canada West born, are listed as being buried in two different cemeteries. Jacob Jacobs, died on September 24, 1864, is on the roll of the cemetery in New Orleans, and is listed as being buried in the National Cemetery down river from New Orleans, in Chalmette, Louisiana. Isaac Wilson, who died on August 7, 1865, is likewise listed as buried in New Orleans, and on the roster of the USCT buried in Chalmette, on the latter occasion, as a member of the 1st USCC (cavalry). Such is the exactitude of Civil War military records.
James Benjamin from Nova Scotia, the sixth whose record states that he died, is not listed in the cemetery roll in New Orleans.
Among the occupations of the 62 British North Americans in the 20th USCT are 9 waiters, 8 sailors, 4 cooks, the occasional barber, blacksmith, and butcher, a few farmers, and 29 labourers.
The other 'free men of colour' who served, those who were not born in British North America, came from a world wide array of countries.
John Adams of the 6th USCT was born in Honalulu. The Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), as was John Brown of the 11th USCT. Samuel M. Watt of the 20th USCT was likewise born in The Sandwich Islands.
Joseph Fernandez, who came all the way from somewhere in the East Indies to end up serving in the 19th USCT, drowned in the Rio Grande River in 1866. He is buried in section 'G', grave number 67, in the National Cemetery in Brownsville, Texas.
Tarquin Freeman, a 'free man of colour' born in Africa, a volunteer in the 20th USCT, lies in the Union military cemetery in New Orleans.
Oswald Grant of the 20th USCT was born in St. Croix, the West Indies. William H. Lane of the same regiment, was born in Liverpool, England as was William Thompson of the 18th USCT. Henry Adams was the lone Chilian in the 20th USCT.
James Valentine and John Brandon were two 'free men of colour' born in Jamaica who volunteered for service in the 20th USCT. William Hood, also Jamaican born, was in the 18th USCT. Hood died in Chattanooga, Tennessee on March 21, 1865. He is not listed on the Chattanooga National Cemetery roster.
Mitchell King was another foreign born 'free man of colour' to perish in the war. A native of Mexico and a soldier in the 13th USCT, he was killed in action at Nashville, Tennessee on December 16, 1864. Steven Johnson of the 20th USCT and William Silkhind of the 4th USCT were born in Port O'Spain, Trinidad. Antonio Francis was the lone Brazilian in the 20th USCT. John Rhodes, a native of Goshen, Germany, in the 11th USCT, died in service. William Cook of the 20th USCT, born somewhere in South America, likewise died in service. Cook is buried in the Union military cemetery in New Orleans. Nelson Marshall of the 20th USCT, born on an unspecified West Indies island, was another to die in service. He is buried in the Union military cemetery in New Orleans.
Max Hassan of the 11th USCT was African born, as was Peter Hampton of the same regiment. Alas, Hampton died of disease in Memphis, Tennessee on March 26, 1865. He is buried in the Mississippi River National Cemetery near Memphis, Tennessee. Nicholas Said of the 55th Massachusetts Infantry, was born in Bornu in the Sudan in the so-called Horn of Africa. He came to the regiment with a tattooed face. Apparently, he could speak and write English, French, German, and Italian, and spoke fluently in two African dialects, as well as Turkish and Russian. An unusual man indeed.
Joseph R. Robinson from Canada West, another unusual man, was a 21 year old servant by trade at the time of his enlistment. He was something of an anomaly for his time. As a 'free men of color', he served in the 1st Battalion Nevada Mounted Volunteers, a non coloured regiment. Odd indeed, very odd for the time.
Cuba, Nassau, Santa Domingo, St. Martin, St. Thomas and other West Indies islands, all contributed a share of the foreign born 'free men of colour' to the USCT regiments.
Not all 'men of colour' served in the army of course. The United States Navy was a great depository for non-white volunteers, and unlike the army, the navy was not segregated as such though this is not to say that 'free men of colour' were necessarily accepted as equals in the United States Navy.
Among the British North American born 'free men of color' who served in the United States Navy was Benjamin Jackson, a native of Lockartville, Kings County, Nova Scotia. He was born in freedom on January 2, 1835, two years after slavery had been outlawed throughout the British Empire. He enlisted in New York City on May 21, 1864 as a hired substitute for an American citizen, Lewis Saunders, who did not want to serve his country. Jackson went to war a married man. He had married Rachel Carter on September 23, 1858. He was the father of one at the time of his enlistment. Jackson served onboard the USS Potomac, the USS North Carolina, and the USS Richmond. On the last named vessel, he was gun captain of piece number 10, and was wounded while engaged in clearing Confederate torpedos (mines) from the Mississippi River. He was honorably discharged from the United States Navy on June 2, 1865, and in time, duely received a war pension from the United States government. Jackson died on September 4, 1915 and was laid to rest in an unmarked grave, in Stoney Hill Cemetery near Hantsport in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley. A few years after his death, the Lockhartville Road was renamed the Benjamin Jackson Road in his honour. It is a rare honour in British North America for anyone to have a road named after them.
Not all British North Americans who served in USCT were necessarily 'men of colour'. Any man of European stock who transferred to a USCT regiment, regardless of his previous rank, invariably became an officer. With but rare exceptions, 'men of color, were not allowed to become officers, even in USCT regiments.
It is impossible to discern the motivation of those British North Americans of European heritage who did transfer to the USCT. Perhaps they did believe in the equality of the races, perhaps not.
Slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire thirty years before the American Civil War, and thirty years earlier then that even, it was abolished by John Graves Simcoe in the colony of Canada West, then Upper Canada. Possibly the last slave sold in British North America was 33 year old Emmanuel Allen. He was put on the auction block in Montreal, Canada East, then Lower Canada on August 25, 1797 and sold for $180.00.
And it is true that Uxbridge, Canada West native Stuart Taylor did die with John Brown at Harper's Ferry in October 1859 in an attempt to free the slaves. But another British North American, Pictou, Nova Scotia born William Hill Blackadar, fought on the side of the Virginians to defeat the intended slave rebellion. Though the idea of men as chattel was generally scorned in British North America, hence our holier-than-thou attitude vis-a-vis our American cousins, certainly there were differences of opinions then on the issue of the equality of the races.
Joseph W. Fitzgerald and Alonzo Wolverton for instance, born in Middlesex County, Canada West, after previous service in the 20th Ohio Light Artillery, transferred to the 9th USCHA, the former with the rank of 1st Lieutenant, the latter with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.
Charles E. Graham, from Hereford, Canada East, after previous service in the 5th New Hampshire Infantry and the 13th New York Infantry, transferred to the 45th USCT with the rank of 1st Lieutenant.
Allen F Camera was born in Lower Canada on February 21, 1836. His father had been the colour-sergeant in the 79th Regiment of Foot. The Queen's Own Camera Highlanders. Camera enlisted in the 5th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery and was promoted to 1st Sergeant in company 'A'. He transferred to the 11th USCHA (14th Rhode Island Coloured Heavy Artillery) as a 1st Lieutenant in Company 'I'.
Robert M. Bocces was born in Canada East in 1843. When he was ten years old, his family immigrated to Boston, Massachusetts. On September 14, 1861, he enlisted in company 'G', 99th New York Infantry, where he became 1st Sergeant. On October 18, 1863, he re-enlisted, this time in the 5th U.S. Cavalry. At the expiration of this enlistment, on June 25, 1865, he re-enlisted again, on August 12, 1865, this time as a Lieutenant in the 115th USCT. He served in this unit until taking his final discharge on March 7, 1866.
A number of British North American doctors of European descent likewise found service in USCT regiments. William Clunie of Toronto and William Noden of Hampton, both towns in Canada West, were assistant surgeons in the 10th USCT. William S. Tremaine, born in the British North American province of Prince Edward Island, was promoted from assistant surgeon in the 24th Massachusetts Infantry to surgeon in the 31st USCT. Charles M. Wight of Canada West was surgeon in the 32nd USCT, and Anselm Achim, Montreal born, saw service as an assistant surgeon in the 41st USCT.
Toronto born Anderson Ruffin Abbott was probably the most famous British North American born surgeon to serve 'coloured' soldiers during the Civil War. Educated at the University of Toronto, he was the son of an escaped slave from Mississippi and was thus himself, a 'free man of colour'. He was said to be one of only eight 'coloured' doctors in the entire Union army. Another 'coloured' doctor, though born in Virginia a slave, was Augustus T. Alexander, also University of Toronto trained.
Interestingly enough, Abbott declined to serve in a USCT regiment. He eventually hired on as a contract surgeon. In a letter written in 1907, he explained his reason for not becoming regularly enrolled in the USCT. He felt that he was equal to the task of healing any man, not just 'men of colour'. Having been born in a land where all men were free, he was not about to submit to government endorsed segregation, even that of a government fighting to end slavery.
This decision though admirable did have an unfortunate repercussion. In 1927, after Anderson Ruffin Abbott's death, his wife Mary applied for a Civil War widow's pension. Though Anderson Ruffin Abbott had been the recipient from Mary Todd Lincoln of the shawl that the President had worn to his first inauguration, a gift in recognition of services rendered in preserving the Union, Mary Abbott's application for pension was declined. Abbott did serve, and he did wear a uniform, but he was a contract surgeon and therefore not regularly enrolled in the Union army.
Although 18 British North Americans were executed as the result of Capital Court Martial proceedings during the Civil War, no 'free man of colour' born in British North America appears to have been among the 50 or so USCT soldiers permanently discharged from the army in this fashion. Interestingly, the rate of formal military execution of coloured soldiers in the Union army was nearly double the rate of the formal military execution of soldiers of European heritage in the same army. A number of the coloured soldiers were shot or hung for simply pointing out the obvious, the discrimination in pay scales between coloured and non coloured soldiers in the same army. A coloured 1st Sergeant for instance, was paid the same rate as a non coloured private. Such protests alas, were deemed mutiny.
Well over half the coloured soldiers made subject to capital punishment were executed after the Confederate armies had surrendered in April and May 1865. To wit, the war was over.
This article is not intended to be a definitive study of the contribution of foreign born 'free men of colour' to the cause of freedom. Only a dozen of the 170 Coloured regiments have been analysed by this author. What this article does do, I hope, is shed a slight light on a virtually unknown part of Canadian and American history in the Civil War.
Tom Brooks is a Civil War Historian and Confederate Reenactor (11th Louisiana Infantry). He resides in Gravenhurst, Ontario.
Units in which foreign-born served
Regiment | State Where Organized
1st USCI | District of Columbia
2nd USCLA | Tennessee
3rd USCI | Pennsylvania
6th USCI | Pennsylvania
7th USCI | Maryland
8th USCI | Pennsylvania
9th USCI | Maryland
11th USCHA | Rhode Island
11th USCI | Alabama
12th USCI | Tennessee
13th USCI | Tennessee
18th USCI | Missouri
19th USCI | Maryland
20th USCI | New York
31st USCI | New York
32nd USCI | Pennsylvania
45th USCI | Pennsylvania
102nd USCI | Michigan
115th USCI | Kentucky