Saturday, April 30, 2011

Remembering Jenkins Ferry

When General Frederick Steele sent a large contingent of Union soldiers into the Camden Arkansas area, there were black soldiers among them from the 1st and 2nd Kansas Colored Infantries.  After a major military campaign, Steele led the Union forces into southwestern Arkansas. The plan was to join forces with another battalion of Union soldiers to secure northern Louisiana and then move to secure southwestern Arkansas before moving into Texas. 

However, the Union Army forces in northern Louisiana had suffered defeat at Confederate hands, now leaving General Steele's Union soldiers less secure than had been planned.  In addition, the Union forces were suddenly very low on supplies.

General Frederick Steele
Source:  Library of Congress, Civil War Photograph Collection, Photographs Division

Earlier in the month, Steel had occupied the area around Camden Arkansas, but his forces had lost many men at Poison Springs, and at an incident at Mark's Mill.  Steele had to turn his forces back towards Little Rock. After a heavy rain had fallen, Steele's troops were crossing the flooded waters of the Saline River, when suddenly they were attacked, and the battle had begun.

The confederate leader, Edmund Smith had launched the attack, and the battle began in knee deep waters. Although the Union forces were able to hold off the attack long enough to cross the swollen river, they were not able to secure the area, and had to retreat back northward towards Little Rock. The battle was fought with many injuries to both sides.

Illustration depicting the Battle of Jenkins Ferry

The ambulance corps from the 2nd Kansas Colored had been ordered to collect some of the wounded, when they too were ambushed. Many died and many were injured in the process. Steele eventually got most of his forces across the river and ordered his men to destroy the pontoon bridge. From the Union Army over 700 men were killed or reported missing, and it is said that close to 1000 men from the confederate army also died.  

It is said that at this battle of Jenkins Ferry, men from the Kansas Colored were motivated by their battle cry, "Remember Poison Springs" and that some engaged in revenge killing of the enemy retaliating for their comrades killed at Poison Springs. 

The south was successful in controlling the area, forcing a retreat of Union soldiers back towards Little Rock. However, the forces under the control on Gen. Steele were still intact including the men of the Kansas Colored, and they would meet the enemy again in Arkansas, and later Indian Territory later the same year. 

I share this story on this day, in honor of my ancestor John Talkington, who was injured at Jenkins Ferry.

Pvt John ( AKA Tuckington) Talkington
In Memory of John Tuckington (Talkington), my ancestor, wounded at Jenkins Ferry

Sunday, April 24, 2011

When Dey Listed Colored Soldiers


Someone recently asked if anyone had a favorite Civil War poem. Well I do have a favorite Civil War Poem It was not written during the War, but after the war, by noted poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.  

I have loved the poem because it puts a human face on the hundreds of black soldiers who enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War years. The poem was published in 1911 in the book Candle Lightin' Time  by Dunbar. For many years I have owned and treasured my first edition copy of that book.

Told from the perspective of an enslaved woman, she speaks about her husband Elias, whom she lovingly calls, 'Lias. She speaks about the time that, "dey listed colored soldiers, and her 'Lias went to war." Written in the old then called  " negro dialect" it reflects the southern cadence in which many slaves spoke, and it captures the sounds and the times as they were.

With this beautiful poem, photographic images were also published, all taken by the Hampston Institute Camera Club.

In honor of my ancestors who were among the many who joined when "dey listed colored soldiers",  I gladly share this poem so well written by Dunbar.  (His own father Joshua Dunbar was also one who enlisted in the US Colored Troops.) Dunbar also wrote another poem about black Civil War soldiers, called simply "The Colored Soldiers".  This one, however, speaks to me the most.

DEY was talkin' in de cabin, dey was talkin' in de hall;
But I listened kin' o' keerless, not a-t'inkin' 'bout it all;
An' on Sunday, too, I noticed, dey was whisp' rin' mighty much
Stan'in' all erroun' de roadside w'en dey let us out o' chu'ch.
But I did n't t'ink erbout it 'twell de middle of de week,
An' my 'Lias come to see me, an' somehow he could n't speak.
Den I seed all in a minute whut he'd come to see me for; --
Dey had 'listed colo'ed sojers an' my 'Lias gwine to wah.

Oh, I hugged him, an' I kissed him, an' I baiged him not to go;
But he tol' me dat his conscience, hit was callin' to him so,
An' he could n't baih to lingah w'en he had a chanst to fight
For de freedom dey had gin him an' de glory of de right.
So he kissed me, an' he lef' me, w'en I'd p'omised to be true;
An' dey put a knapsack on him, an' a coat all colo'ed blue.
So I gin him pap's ol' Bible f'om de bottom of de draw', --
W'en dey 'listed colo'ed sojers an' my 'Lias went to wah.

But I t'ought of all de weary miles dat he would have to tramp,
An' I could n't be contented w'en dey tuk him to de camp.
W'y my hea't nigh broke wid grievin' 'twell I seed him on de street;
Den I felt lak I could go an' th'ow my body at his feet.
For his buttons was a-shinin', an' his face was shinin', too,
An' he looked so strong an' mighty in his coat o' sojer blue,
Dat I hollahed, "Step up, manny," dough my th'oat was so' an' raw, --
W'en dey 'listed colo'ed sojers an' my 'Lias went to wah.

Ol' Mis' cried w'en mastah lef' huh, young Miss mou'ned huh brothah Ned,
An' I did n't know dey feelin's is de ve'y wo'ds dey said
W'en I tol' 'em I was so'y. Dey had done gin up dey all;
But dey only seemed mo' proudah dat dey men had hyeahed de call.
Bofe my mastahs went in gray suits, an' I loved de Yankee blue,
But I t'ought dat I could sorrer for de losin' of 'em too;
But I could n't, for I did n't know de ha'f o' whut I saw,
'Twell dey 'listed colo'ed sojers an' my 'Lias went to wah.

Mastah Jack come home all sickly; he was broke for life, dey said;
An' dey lef' my po' young mastah some'r's on de roadside, -- dead.
W'en de women cried an' mou'ned 'em, I could feel it thoo an' thoo,
For I had a loved un fightin' in de way o' dangah, too.
Den dey tol' me dey had laid him some'r's way down souf to res',
Wid de flag dat he had fit for shinin' daih acrost his breas'.
Well, I cried, but den I reckon dat 's whut Gawd had called him for,
W'en dey 'listed colo'ed sojers an' my 'Lias went to wah.

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This poem has always touched me.  I have two gr. grandmothers who lost their loved ones in the Civil War, and I dedicate this poem to them.  

Amanda Young Barr, lost her husband Berry Young, left to join the US Colored Troops. With him went her father and son as well. None were ever seen again.

Lydia Walters Talkington, whose husband John Talkington (Tuckington) joined the 83rd US Colored Infantry was severely injured at Jenkins Ferry and died from his wounds.  This week will mark the anniversary of the battle of Jenkins Ferry.

For these women, and these men, and those who loved them, I appreciate the fact during that difficult time, that indeed,  "Dey Listed Colored Soldiers" and my kinsmen, went to war."

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Pvt John ( AKA Tuckington) Talkington
Headstone - John Tuckington (aka Talkington)
(Photo Taken by Tonia Holleman)

Rest in Peace John Talkington, you are still remembered as I call your name.

Berry Young, Rest in Peace wherever you may be.

Monday, April 18, 2011

"Remember Poison Springs!"

Image from Encyclopedia of Arkansas



From the perspective of Black Union Soldiers the Battle of Poison Springs Arkansas would become the catalyst for a more determined effort in their battle for freedom. Simply put--it became their battle cry! The 79th US Colored Infantry was remembered by black soldiers on the western frontier throughout the remainder of the war, and is said to have propelled the Kansas Colored and later 83rd US Colored soldiers to victory from that point forward.

It should be noted that many of the soldiers of the 1st Kansas Colored were former slaves from Indian Territory, and the among the confederate soldiers that they confronted were former slave holding Indians from the Choctaw Nation.  (Choctaws along with the other tribes from the Trail of Tears, were also owners of African Slaves, and this was the first major battle in which former slaves from these tribes would meet former slave holding Confederate Indian regiments. They would later engage the Indian confederates at Honey Springs, Indian Territory in the same year.)

At Poison Springs Arkansas, General Frederick Steele had ordered a foraging expedition of about 600 men to gather corn from area farms and plantations, to address the Federal forces shrinking supplies. About 18 miles from Camden Arkansas the forces which included members of the 1st Kansas Colored (later known as the 79th US Colored Infantry) were to supply of many wagons with corn in order to secure much needed food. The Union soldiers were said to have been ambushed by Confederate forces that had outnumbered this smaller band of Federal soldiers. With approximately 3600 men, the Federal soldiers were attacked.

Official records indicated that at first, the Kansas Colored fought off two of the attacks..  The Confederate forces were then joined by the Choctaw Brigade, a Confederate unit led by tribal leader Tandy Walker, forcing the Union soldiers into retreat. As the Union soldiers retreated the fighting was halted.

Tandy Walker, Choctaw leader, & Confederate General.  He led the brigade at Poison  Springs

As the soldiers retreated, attention was then given to the injured black soldiers of the Kansas Colored.  The sight of black men in uniform often brought out immediate rage from Confederate soldiers.  And as had taken place at Ft. Pillow,  and later Saltville and other places, the injured black soldiers were seldom taken prisoner--they were slaughtered.

It has been explained by some historians that the very sight of black men, who throughout the lifetime of many southern soldiers had been held in a lesser societal status, to now see them now fighting equally as men, immediate rage, rose from their inner core, and no military training would allow them to treat these former slaves as prisoners---their rage would take over, and men from Ft. Pillow, to Poison Springs would pay the ultimate price for freedom. No protocol would be followed, no quarter would be given to those men, and on that fateful day in Arkansas, many of the men of the 1st Kansas Colored would become martyrs in their own fight for freedom.

[For a useful reference on the treatment of black soldiers, and understanding of the emotional reasoning behind these events, this following work is recommended as a guide to understanding the motives behind massacres at places like Poison Springs, Ft. Pillow, Saltville and others:
Urwin, Gregory J. W. “‘We Cannot Treat Negroes… as Prisoners of War’”: Racial Atrocities and Reprisals in Civil War Arkansas.” In Civil War Arkansas: Beyond Battles and Leaders, edited by Anne Bailey and Daniel Sutherland. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1999]

For the remainder of the Civil War, Remember Poison Springs became the battle cry of Black soldiers, on the western frontier.

(Today an artifact of the Kansas Colored still exists---one of the flags of the Kansas Colored has been preserved by the State of Kansas, where they were organized.)


Description of the Kansas Colored at the battle:

These excerpts were taken from:

A few months later this battle cry was heard at Jenkins Ferry.  I have an ancestor who died  after receiving wounds the Jenkins Ferry Battle. He served with the 2nd Kansas Colored, (later known as the 83 US Colored Infantry). Being part of an ambulance corps from the 2nd Kansas, he would most likely have heard that Poison Springs battle cry from his comrades, though as fate would have some of them to fall to the enemy, that battle cry would be heard for the remainder of the war. And although my ancestor lost his life in the battle, the greater battle for freedom was still won. And as I think about him, I honor the battle cry that propelled him, for I also remember those from brave men the 1st Kansas Colored who paid the ultimate price on this day, April 18th 1864.

Today, I remember Poison Springs!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Tennessee Black Soldiers Honored at National Cemetery

As one who has six ancestors from Giles County Tennessee who served with the 111th US Colored Infantry, I was delighted to see this wonderful video about a monument dedicated to the honor of the US Colored Troops at the National Cemetery in Nashville! My ancestors were from Giles County Tennessee, served with the 111th US Colored Infantry and were captured at Sulphur Branch Trestle in September 1864.

Sephus Bass, his brother Braxton Bass and his own two sons Henry Bass and Emmanuel Bass, all joined together. Another close relative Thomas Bass also served in the same unit, In addition to that, there were two who had married sisters of my Uncle Sephus--James and William Oddaway who were also in the 111th. So that is seven all from Giles County who joined the Union Army.

I was pleased two years ago when researching for a  man who happened to be the mayor of one of the cities in Arkansas, and to discover that his family roots are tied to North Alabama.  I became interested in his history and I was most surprised to see that his own family had served in the Union Army with mine. In fact he had 17 ancestors that had joined the 110th US Colored Infantry and 2 who had joined the 111th US Colored Infantry.  What a legacy! Of the 17 men connected to him, 7 of them were either corporals or sergeants.

Both regiments fought in the same area, both were captured at Sulphur Trestle, Alabama, and his direct ancestors  were living in Giles County immediately after the war.  They more than likely knew my own ancestors!

I have learned how so many men joined in groups when so many were seizing their own freedom after the Bureau of US Colored Troops were established.

As much as I research USCTs I have seen so few monuments devoted to these men.  I am so happy to see Tennessee honor these men at the National Cemetery.  My goal is to visit that cemetery, to see the monument, and to see the grave sites of the men who served with my ancestors all brave men, who fought for freedom.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What an Impression They Must Have Made: the 11th US Colored Troops of Ft. Smith Arkansas

Rare Image of US Colored Troops on Parade
1st US Colored Cavalry on Parade
Source: Library of Congress

In November 1864, the US Colored Troops were on parade in Ft. Smith Arkansas where they were organized.  An article appeared in the newspaper describing them and the impression that was made on the local population in the community.  

FORT SMITH NEW ERA  November 5, 1864, 

The Second Brigade.

 Last Monday the colored troops were in all their glory.  The 2d Brigade was on review, and presented an appearance that made every loyal heart throb with pleasure, and every rebel that saw the "darks," tremble when he remembered that "God is just," and that it was for the perpetual enslavement of these black patriots that this rebellion was inaugurated.  Every man was in his place, and stepped with the music as if he felt the whole thing depended on himself.
The 1st and 2d colored are as well drilled as any regiments in the District, if not better than any, and their movements on Monday were a credit to the blacks as well as the noble men who command them.  The 11th and 54th are of more recent organization, but are well drilled and ready for double their number of rebs at any time.
 It is but two years since the 1st colored was raised and then months passed before it was fully organized and its officers commissioned.  Then but few thought it possible for any good to come out of the movement, and the whole Copperhead fraternity and a good many weak kneed Republicans cried out against it.  "It was well enough to put them in the ditches with spades in their hands, but to arm and drill the nigger and thus make them the equals of white soldiers was outrageous," while at the same time the colored man is by far the superior of any copperhead or rebel.  They said the "nigger was a coward, wouldn't fight, and that a white man with a whip in his hand could run a dozen blacks though armed with the minnie."  How has it turned out?  Has any company of the 2d Brigade ever showed the least sign of cowardice though some of them have at different times been attacked by three times their numbers?  No!  and every man that saw them last Monday acknowledged to himself that they were more than a match for the same number of rebels in any open field fight.

 Two years ago none but men of true moral as well as physical courage would accept positions in colored regiments.  All honor to the Officers of the 1st Colored, who, disregarding the sneers of the world, and risking their chances of being commissioned and the threats of assassination by the rebels if they were ever taken, went forward in the path of duty and won for themselves and their men an honorable positon in the grandest army in the world.
"Look out dar" rebels, when you come in contact with the 2d Brigade, for they're "gwyne to shoot." 
(The article appeared on page 2 column 2 in the newspaper in 1864.)

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A Tennessee Regiment on Parade
Source:  Library of Congress