Soldiers in the War

Men of Color! To Arms! (Philadelphia, 1863). Courtesy Library of Congress.

Men of Color! To Arms! (Philadelphia, 1863). Courtesy Library of Congress.

Upwards of fifty members of the 102d US. (Colored) Infantry met at the Court house on the 28th last and perfected arrangements for a reunion of said regiment here [Ann Arbor], on the 31st of July and August 1st. A committee, consisting of six members of this city, and five from Ypsilanti, were appointed for that purpose, to meet and report May 12th, when another meeting will be held. The following were chosen (is a committee of arrangements. H. Freeman, J. Freeman, Rey. J. K. Hart, Win. N. Johnson, J. H. Davis and Hon. E. B. Thompson, of this city, and John Bolls, John AndersonWm. Ambrose, T. Rodman and Moses Marks, of Ypsilanti. Also committees on speakers and reception were chosen. Ex-Gov. Blair, of this State and Mayor Harriman will be called upon to deliver addresses to the soldier, and Hon. Jas. E. O’Hara and Daniel Mills, of Detroit, to orate Aug. 1

Ann Arbor Courier, April 30 1884.

Dozens of men with Ypsilanti connections, perhaps as many as 75, served in the United States Colored Troops (USCT) during the Civil War. This constituted a huge proportion of available black men in Ypsilanti. Many are buried in the Soldiers’ Plot or elsewhere in Highland Cemetery on the City’s northeast side. For a full list of over seventy black men with Ypsilanti connections who served in the see the page on this site, Ypsilanti’s Black Civil War Soldiers. A list giving information on all those from Michigan who served and died or were wounded with the 102nd as a “Roll of Honor” is also available on this site.


David York and Jeremiah Snively. Highland Cemetery.

One third of households in South Adams street had a veteran or widow in residence. In 1900 veterans living on South Adams Street included John AndersonWilliam PearlCharles Anderson and Dick HamiltonPhebe Lowe and Rebecca York were veteran’s widows. In addition, there were children and countless other relations of veterans living on the street.

1st Michigan Volunteer Colored Infantry/102nd United States Colored Troops

Benjamin Harper, 102 USCT. Highland Cemetery

Most of those who fought served with the Michigan raised 102nd USCT. Some, like South Adams’ David York , joined 102nd at the earliest moment they could, when the recruiting train came through Ypsilanti in the early fall of 1863.

Here are just a few stories of other Ypsilanti men who joined the 102nd, some of whom were former residents of Adams Street, itself just one street in aclose-knit African American neighborhood that stretched from South Washington to Hungry Hill and surely well-known to the folks listed above.

They came home from victory to the harsh reality of an unfinished revolution; continued racial discrimination and violence and the exploitation inherent to their class. All of them deserve mention, but here are a few.

Jeremiah Snively joined the Regiment at the age of 19 in January, 1864. He lived in Ypsilanti after, working as a day laborer. His Grand Army of the Republic grave marker is one of several new markers bought by a kind individual to replace the deteriorated originals.

John Gay died of disease in South Carolina in 1865. He is buried there. Elias Rouse from Ypsilanti who joined the 54th Massachusetts and died in 1899, would raise John’s children with his widow Mary and they would have some children of their own.

Henry Thornton joined the Regiment later, in October 1864, at the age of 38. His grave is also marked with a Grand Army of the Republic headstone from the time of his death.

Ypsilantian. August, 1906.

Ypsilantian. August, 1906.

Benjamin Harper, originally from Indiana joined the Regiment in November, 1863 at the age of 20 and served the life of the unit. He saw battle in Florida and participated in raids into the Carolina interior that destroyed plantations, skirmished with Confederates and liberated the enslaved. His comrade of the same company was Jesse Oliver from Ypsilanti. He would die of wounds received at the Battle of Honey Hill. After the war Benjamin would live next to the Yorks for a while and marry a woman named Martha from Canada.

Henry Thorton. Highland Cemetery.

Henry Thorton. Highland Cemetery.Percival Murphy joined the Regiment at the age of 39 in February, 1864. Originally from Ohio, Percival had come to Ypsilanti some years before the war. Percival  raised a family with his wife Catherine, originally from Delaware.

Thomas Davis joined at the ripe old age of 44 near the end of the war. Originally from Virginia he had also come to Ypsilanti some years before the war where he worked on farms with his brother Daniel. He would marry a woman named Margaret who would die young. He would later marry Elizabeth and work as a peddler. He died on April 13, 1895.

The 54th and 55th Massachusetts and Other Regiments

For others, that was not soon enough. Groups of Ypsilanti men left for Massachusetts in the spring of 1863, possibly organized by the local Masonic Lodge, to join the 54th and 55th Massachusetts infantry.

They included Elias Rouse, an escaped slave from Kentucky who joined Company K of the 54th and was wounded in the arm in the assault on Fort Wagner.He would later marry the widow, Mary, of another volunteer, John Gay of the 102nd United States Colored Troops, who died of disease and is buried in South Carolina. Elias is buried in Ypsilanti’s Highland Cemetery.

Grave of Elias Rouse, 54th Massachusetts. Highland Cemetery, Ypsilanti, Michigan

Grave of Elias Rouse, 54th Massachusetts. Highland Cemetery, Ypsilanti, Michigan

John Bird a farmhand originally from Ohio, who joined the 55th and died of disease on Morris Island, South Carolina in January.

Nelson Wilson, a young hotel worker claiming to be from Canada though he was from Kentucky, also possibly an escaped slave, joined the 55th and was promoted to Full Corporal and later moved to Saint Louis.

James Wood originally from Indiana would join the 55th and serve through the war moving to Detroit afterward where he became a cook.

Napoleon Hamilton, originally from Alabama, joined the 54th and was promoted for his role at Fort Wagner later to have his rank reduced for ‘carelessness’.

William Casey, originally from Virginia, joined the 55th at the age of 48, though he lied and said he was 40. He injured his back doing fatigue-duty and was assigned to regimental duties after that, discharged for disability at the very end of the war.

Charles August, a black smith originally from Delaware was captured during the assault and died in the notorious Andersonville prison in September of 1864.

John Leatherman, a merchant marine, joined the 54th and was either killed in the assault on Fort Wagner or was captured and later died at Andersonville (the records say both). The thought of an experience of a captured black soldier is terrifying. Very few of the men captured at Wagner survived.

Charles Scott, a day laborer, joined the 54th and died of wounds received in one of the very last battles of the war, Boykins Mills, South Carolina in April, 1865.

Three units with Ypsilanti men; the 54th, 55th and the Michigan raised 102nd USCT, which included over seventy Ypsilantians, would all serve together in the same operations from South Carolina to Florida and there is ample evidence that the men related across the regimental boundaries, including at memorials for fallen comrades from Ypsilanti. In addition to these regiments men with Ypsilanti connections served in other USCT regiments, most notably from Ohio and Indiana.

The vast majority served with the 102nd, here is a record of their service from  “A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion”  by Frederick H. Dyer, 1908.

Perry Plantation. Port Royal. Library of Congress.

Perry Plantation. Port Royal. Library of Congress.


  • Organized May 23, 1864, from 1st Michigan Colored Infantry.
  • Attached to District of Hilton Head, S.C., Dept. of the South and District of Beaufort, S.C., Dept; of the South, to August, 1864.
  • District of Florida, Dept. of the South, to October, 1864.
  • 2nd Separate Brigade, Dept. of the South, to November, 1864.
  • 2nd Brigade, Coast Division, Dept. of the South, to February, 1865.
  • 2nd Separate Brigade, Dept. of the South, to March, 1865.
  • 1st Separate Brigade and Dept. of the South to September, 1865.


  • Garrison at Port Royal, S.C., until June 15.
  • Moved to Beaufort, S.C., and garrison duty there until August 1.

    Port Royal Island, 1861. South Carolina Library of Congress.

    Hilton Head Island, 1861. South Carolina Library of Congress.

  • Moved to Jacksonville, Fla., August 1-3.
  • Picket duty at Baldwin until August 15.
  • Attack on Baldwin August 11-12.
  • Raid on Florida Central Railroad August 15-19.
  • At Magnolia until August 29.
  • Moved to Beaufort, S.C., August 29-31,
  • and duty there until January, 1865, engaged in outpost and picket duty on Port Royal, Lady and Coosa Islands.

    Battle of Honey Hill Harpers Weekly.

    Battle of Honey Hill Harper’s Weekly.

  • (A Detachment at Honey Hill November 30, 1864. Demonstration on Charleston & Savannah Railroad December 6-9. Deveaux’s Neck, Tillifinny River, December 6 and 9.)
  • Detachment at Beaufort; rejoined other Detachment at Deveaux’s Neck, S.C., January 24, 1865.
  • Moved to Pocotaligo February 28.
  • Advance on Charleston February 7-23.
  • Skirmish at Cuckwold Creek February 8 (Cos. “B,” “E” and “I”).

    Wrecking the South Carolina Railway. Library of Congress.

    Wrecking the South Carolina Railway. Library of Congress.

  • Duty at Charleston Neck until March 9.
  • Moved to Savannah, Ga., March 9-16.
  • Moved to Georgetown March 28-April 1.
  • (Right wing of Regiment, under Chapman, moved to Charleston April 7-9, thence march to join Potter at Nelson’s Ferry April 11-18.)
  • Potter’s Expedition from Georgetown to Camden April 5-29.

    Potter's Raid Camp. Harper's Weekly.

    Potter’s Raid Camp. Harper’s Weekly.

  • Statesburg April 15.
  • Occupation of Camden April 17.
  • Boykin’s Mills April 18.
  • Bradford Springs April 18 (right wing).
  • Dingle’s Mills April 19.
  • Singleton’s Plantation April 19.

    Potter's Raid, 1865. South Adams Street Photo.

    Potter’s Raid, 1865. South Adams Street Photo.

  • Beech Creek, near Statesburg, April 19.
  • Moved to Charleston April 29,
  • thence to Summerville May 7-8;
  • to Branchville May 18;
  • to Orangeburg May 25, and provost duty there until July 28.

    South Carolina Coast. Library of Congress.

    South Carolina Coast. Library of Congress.

  • March to Winsboro July 28-August 3, and duty there until September,
  • Moved to Charleston and muster out September 30, 1865.

A notice for a 102nd USCT Reunion to be held in Ann Arbor Emancipation Day, 1884. The guest speaker was pioneering black nationalist Martin R. Delaney, one of the highest ranking black officers in the Union Army during the Civil War. South Adams Street’s Robert De Hazen, whose family was at the center of many community events, was Vice President of the day’s events.


Courier. May 5, 1884. Courtesy Ann Arbor Public Library.

Below are a sample of notices for the deaths of Ypsilanti USCT veterans.

Ypsilanti Sentinal, 1909.

Ypsilanti Sentinal, 1909.

Argus. April 16, 1895. Courtesy Ann Arbor Public Library.

Argus. April 16, 1895. Courtesy Ann Arbor Public Library.


Argus. March 23, 1897. Courtesy Ann Arbor Public Library.

Daily Press. 1916.

Daily Press. 1916.

For more on black soldiers in the Civil War, here’s a very short list:

Searchable database of 102nd soldiers.

Negroes in Michigan during the Civil War, by Norman McRae (this is the only book that details the history of the 102nd USCT).

The Negro’s Civil War, by James McPherson.

DSC_1863A Grand Army of Black Men: Letters from African-American Soldiers in the Union Army 1861-1865, edited by Edwin S. Redkey.

African American Soldier in the American Civil War: USCT 1862-66, edited by Mark Lardas.

A History of the Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion, by George W. Williams, 1887. (this is the earliest full-length history I am aware of).

Freedom by the Sword: The US Colored Troops, 1862-1867, by William A. Dobak.

African American Civil War Memorial and Museum.

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