Saturday, December 14, 2013

In Search of Quarantine Island

Documents from two soldiers of the 56th US Colored Infantry
who died of Cholera at Quarantine Island.

Prior to this year, I had never heard of Quarantine Island. But several months ago, it came to my attention when some friends and colleagues of the St. Louis African American Genealogy & History Society told the story of soldiers from the 56th US Colored Infantry who died of cholera in 1866.

The regiment was from Arkansas, but many of the men were formerly enslaved in their home state of Missouri. Man enlisted in Arkansas, would serve there and even fight there, and towards the end of their service they left Helena Arkansas for St. Louis to be mustered out. But as fate would have it, many men became gravely ill. Some died aboard the steamer taking them to St. Louis. Others were treated at either Jefferson Barracks, or placed on Quarantine island, and within a few days, 175 men would succumb to this disease.

Most were buried on Quarantine Island. They would remain there till 1939 when industry demands required that their bodies be moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. They were moved but sadly, they buried in a mass grave at the cemetery.

The story unfolded this year when the genealogy group began to research this story and decided to see if
they could honor these men who never made it home. The group worked hard and finally on August 16, 2013, they were successful in having the men honored with a moving ceremony for them.

While research continues on these men and their history, by the St. Louis genealogists, I was a bit curious to learn more about where they were initially buried, Quarantine Island. I learned that as the course of the river changed, and as there were more interests by industry, the course of the Mississippi River was altered and within time Quarantine Island disappeared.

But on a search to see what part of the river the island may have been, I came across a fascinating video by the Missouri History Museum. The Video was about an island unfamliar to me, called Smallpox Island. This was a place where early in the Civil War, men who had contracted smallpox were taken to be treated and in most cases, to die. But what caught my attention in this 18 minute video that mentioned Quarantine Island.

In that video Alex Fees, was the producer and host, and he asked some questions about the history of the island. He began pointing out the names of other islands that he had previously heard before, including Quarantine Island.  He spoke with Dr. David Meyers, a professor and historical re-enactor, and he also spoke with  Barnes Bradshaw of the museum with good questions about Smallpox Island.

In that video, Dr. Terry Norris, District Archaeologist with the US Army Corps of Engineers also spoke about Smallpox Island. He also mentioned a confederate prisoner of war camp near Alton Illinois. When an epidemic of smallpox arose, the residents of Alton were concerned about the patients with smallpox infecting the larger population. A small island called Sunflower Island, was closer to the Missouri side of the river and it was selected to become the site where these men infected with smallpox would go. I did wonder if Quarantine could have been Smallpox Island, because of the fact that smallpox was one of those diseases that the population would have wanted to distance itself from, thus the concept of putting patients in "quarantine" made me wonder.

But the illness that affected the Black soldiers of the 56th US Colored Infantry was not smallpox, but cholera, were known to have caught cholera on the Steamer Continental and when they arrived in St. Louis, many were placed on an island referred to as Quarantine Island. Again, I asked ---is this the same island? 

The records indicate that the soldiers were buried right there on Quarantine Island. In the video Dr. Norris mentioned that the prisoners from 1862 were buried on Sunflower Island--Smallpox Island as well. And in the 1930s interest arose in that area, when construction for Lock and Dam #26 began.

My curiosity continued while watching the video, as Dr. Norris pointed out that interest in Civil War soldiers buried along the Mississippi arose when construction brought up skulls and other remains of these prisoners. Apparently the construction site for the Lock and Dam was in the exact place where Smallpox Island was. 

So, did Smallpox Island "become" Quarantine Island? It was explained that as the river course was changed during construction of the Lock and Dam, Smallpox Island simply disappeared from the surface. It was filled in by the river, never to be seen again.

Meanwhile 1939 another reburial decision was made to remove Union Soldiers to Jefferson Barracks. But these were the 175 Black Union Soldiers of the 56th US Colored Infantry who died of cholera in 1866. Their story was a bit different, as it was said that though they were removed, there were somehow place no longer in single graves, but this time upon arrival at Jefferson Barracks, their remains were placed in one mass grave. Two memorial stones saying "Unknown Soldier" were placed above this now mass grave and Quarantine Island where they were once buried was now free to erode with the changes in the river. And as  the construction needs of the community, and this island too, was simply forgotten.

So was Smallpox Island the same as Quarantine Island?

Smallpox Island got public attention again in the 1980s when the newer Melvin Price Locks and Dam were constructed. While much of the soil was being moved that came from the same area where Smallpox Island once was, human remains were found. It was then noted that there had already been so much disturbance of the resting place of those soldiers, a decision made to not try to obtain all of their remains, but to erect a memorial was built with the names of the men who died at Smallpox Island, at the small abutment in West Alton MO, which is according to their research, where Smallpox Island once stood.

NOTE: At 11 minutes 30 seconds on the video (11:31) the question was asked: "Smallpox Island, Quarantine Island, is this all one and the same?" Dr. Terry nodded and said "Smallpox Island, Quarantine Island, Sunflower Island, there're several more names that came and went, during the late 19th century and early 20th centuries."

So now we have three names, "Smallpox Island", "Sunflower Island", and "Quarantine Island". Yet, the video made no mention of the men of the 56th US Colored. If they died on the same island, I thought how sad that they were not mentioned.

Then I noted some additional information provided by the National Park Service. The remains of many Union soldiers were transferred from Smallpox Island, that was also known by another name--Arsenal Island. And according to the park service another name for Arsenal Island was Smallpox Island.  So now there is yet another name for Smallpox Island--Arsenal Island. 

Again the question---were Arsenal, Smallpox, and Quarantine Island the same? If this was the case, I was completely perplexed as how the history of the US Colored Soldiers were completely omitted by a video featured on the Missouri History Museum. In addition, I located a website that actually posted the names of the men whose names were placed on the West Alton MO monument, and none were US Colored Troops. Surely there could not be such a blatant omission of black soldiers!

I watched the remainder of the video, and even said aloud, "why was there no mention of the soldiers from the US Colored Infantry who had contracted cholera?" And these men are known to have originally had personal burials on Quarantine Island. But something occurred to me. One of the most significant policies during that time was also to segregate men of color from white soldiers.

So although Dr. Terry said that they were one and the same, I began to wonder if there was a strong possibility that Quarantine Island was a different island entirely and Black soldiers may have been treated and died of cholera from this different island.

I had a discussion about this with genealogist and researcher Sarah Cato, of St. Louis, who is spearheading the effort in the St-L AAHGS to honor the men who were put in the mass grave. From her research, the men were re-interred at Jefferson Barracks in 1939 from Quarantine Island. I suggested that we both look high and low for a 19th or early 20th century map that might show the Mississippi River and reflect any island called Quarantine Island.

Then Thursday a break came from Ms. Cato! She had gone to work, and she had located a map!! And this map was printed in 1909 and it had two significant islands marked, in the Mississippi River. Arsenal Island and Quarantine Island! "Arsenal and Quarantine", I asked just to be sure. She replied, "I am sending you some email with the image."

Within a minute the email arrived and there it was, an image of the Mississippi River, with St. Louis on the left side of the river, and the state of Illinois on the right side of the river. And sure enough---there were two islands clearly marked. To the north was Arsenal Island, and further south, closer to Jefferson Barracks and extending southward, was Quarantine Island.

The map appears on the website HistoricMapworks. On that site came an old map of St. Louis County, and there if one zooms in are two significant features in the Mississippi River. One was called Arsenal Island and further south was another island, Quarantine Island. They were not one and the same!

(The Map of St. Louis County is found HERE.)

Zooming in closely one can see two distinct islands clearly marked on the map.
Images of Map from HistoricMapworks, reflecting Arsenal Island and Quarantine Island as two different islands.

Since I realized that the map was one of St. Louis County and not of St. Louis City, I decided to see if I could find another map also reflecting the two different islands. I came across one map that I didn't expect to reflect anything, because this map was of St. Louis County, but it was printed in 1857, which was four years before the Civil War. But since this was a searchable map I decided to examine it.

To my surprise--the islands in the Mississippi River were reflected on the map, and there were two distinct islands again. This site reflected Wagner's Map of St. Louis County. And this map also revealed that there were was an Arsenal Island and a Quarantine Island.

Arsenal Island (Later known as Smallpox Island) in 1857

Quarantine Island in 1857

So-- once again here was evidence that they were not the same islands! And it is now understood why the 56th US  Colored Infantry would not have been in the video, as their history was different, they died in two different places, and they were treated on two distinct islands.

I understood how Smallpox Island---also known as Arsenal Island disappeared when work began on the Lock and Dam project, and it is now completely gone. However, I wondered if anything remained of Quarantine Island. I notice two things in common on both maps. Quarantine island was close to the Illinois banks of the Mississippi River, and there was a small canal that ran between the island and the Illinois river banks. Could the traces of the island be seen today?

I decided to use Google Maps to see what could be seen from an areal view.  I had to get my bearings first, and on both maps I could see that Quarantine Island would be adjacent to Jefferson Barracks if one were to draw a horizontal line. The island extended southward, and came to almost a pointed shape at the southern most tip. So I looked for something similar using Google.

On one of the older maps, I noticed that Quarantine Island appeared to be on the same latitude as Oakville and an area known as Cliff Cave. I noticed on the satellite image, that after locating Oakville and Cliff Cave which is now a park, to the right, in the river, I saw what appears to be the remnants of a land mass that might have been an island. The land mass comes to a point on the southern most post, and I believe that what little that remains of Quarantine Island has been located. Now, I cannot say with certainty as most likely an archaeologist and cartographer would have to confirm it. However, by the location and the placement of the island this could very well be the southernmost part of an island that was part of Civil War History, USCT history, Mississippi River history and American History.

Image from Google Earth. The red arrows are pointing to a small canal between this island and the Illinois river banks. Could this possibly be the southernmost tip of the old Quarantine Island?

The story of the men who died of cholera at the end of the War, intrigued me. 

Their being buried on a tiny island, then having had their graves disturbed and their being re-interred, in a mass grave saddened me.

And so little knowledge about these men and where their first burial site may have been on today's maps, worried me. 

So, I went in search of Quarantine Island, and I do believe that I have found it.

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(Special thanks to Ms. Sarah Cato for finding the first map that opened the doors to this part of the history of the men of the 56th US Colored Infantry.)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Civil War Soldier Finally Honored

Image from Channel 20, Springfield Illinois

After more than 120 years, the soldier whose face we all know, was finally honored at his resting place, in Springfiled, Illinois, with a headstone.

Image Courtesy of the State Journal Register, Springfield, Illinois.

Pvt. Lewis Martin was a soldier in the 29th US Colored Infantry. Born in Arkansas, this man made it to Illinois before slavery ended, and when time came willingly enlisted in the Union Army. His regiment was dispatched to the eastern theatre of the Civil War and Martin was one of many soldiers wounded at the famous Crater in Petersburg Virginia. 

Document from Service record of Pvt. Lewis Martin.
Image from

I originally wrote an article about Pvt. Martin in 2011.  A Springfield Illinois based historical researcher, Kathy Heyworth, contacted me about the article and pointed out that she knew where he was buried, and that he had no headstone. Ironically this soldier is buried a few hundred feet from the most visited burial at the same cemetery. The burial ground is Oak Ridge Cemetery and not too far from Pvt. Lewis, rests the 16th  president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

Ms. Heyworth and others worked to obtain a stone for Pvt. Lewis and finally on Sunday, Pvt. Martin's resting place was given it's long overdue marker.

Not many details are known about his life. However, he did obtain a Civil War pension, although it was initially denied him, and even after receiving the pension he had to depend on others for help during the remainder of his life. Some of his funds were said to have been taken by his caretakers, and others. Being disabled he clearly could not work but he was able to live for a few years on his small funds nevertheless. Oddly, upon his death, in the newspapers he was merely reported to have been a heavy drinker, and the remains of the soldier were placed in the pauper's section of Oak Ridge, and with no marker pointing out his military service, or anything to indicated that he had ever lived.

Thankfully, his story has at long last received attention, and on Sunday November 3, he was given a marker and a ceremony was held to honor him. More than likely there are no descendants of this man, and it is not known if he had family at the time he died. At long last however, he will be remembered, and his stone will be seen by visitors to the cemetery.

Thank you Private Martin. We are grateful for your service, for your sacrifice and for your life.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Bounty Records of US Colored Troops, in Arkansas Freedman's Bureau Records T - Y

Ledger from Little Rock, Arkansas Field Office
Bounty Register
Roll of Claimants 1868 - 1871

This is the fifth of five articles in which Bounty Records of US Colored Troops are being shared. As stated earlier, these records represent previously unseen bounty payments of US Colored Troops, that were made in Arkansas, including notation of the payments remitted to the soldiers. In some cases one will see the names of women. There women were often the surviving widows of the soldier who was now deceased. In a few cases where there was no spouse, one might be another family member such as a sibling or child. This information was extracted from the Little Rock, Arkansas Field Office.

These represent the surnames beginning with the letters T though Y. (Note there were no surnames beginning with the letter Z.)

The source of all images is from the Internet Archive.

Taylor, Edmund - Thomas, Austin

Thomas, Robert  -  Trottey, Wm.

Upshur, James

Van Buren, Green -  Vaughn, Alex

Willis, Gabriel - Williams, Joe

Waters, Burrell  -  Waters, Moses

Waters, Arthur  -  Williamson, Andrew (Brother of Roger Bernard)

Williamson, Andrew  -  Washington, George

Williams, Mary, Mother of W. Nevils

Yeizer, Sam'l  -  Young, James.

This is the end of the names found on the ledger reflecting Bounty payments made to US Colored Troops in Arkansas. The payments were made to soldiers or their surviving families as late as 1870, and it is hoped that this will shed more light of data pertaining to the history of soldiers who were either from Arkansas, or who relocated to Arkansas after the Civil War.

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pvt. Lewis Martin Finally Gets a Grave Marker

Pvt. Lewis Martin, 29th US Colored Infantry

In January of 2011 I wrote an article about Pvt. Martin. His face is a famous one, and many who study the history of the US Colored Troops are familiar with this image. But few really knew anything about him. I became doubly interested, because he was at one time enslaved in Arkansas.  After that article appeared on the blog, I heard from several researchers who live in Illinois, not far from the cemetery where he is buried. Ironically, Pvt. Martin's body rests not far from that of the 16th President of the United States-Abraham Lincoln! The grave is at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield Illinois.

In May of 2012, a local newspaper in Illinois also covered the story about Pvt. Martin. After that, efforts to secure a marker for Pvt. Martin increased. And now at long last, the Washington Post reports that a marker is now going to mark the final resting place of this man wounded at The Crater in Petersburg, Virginia, during the Civil War.

Martin returned to Illinois after the war ended, and obviously life would not be easy for a man with injuries as grave as those of Pvt Martin. In addition, being a man of color, he would not be treated as a man who fought for his freedom and for his country.

After I wrote the first article, I heard from Kathy Heyworth, and who is an avid historian who lives in Springfield Illinois, in the area not far from the burial site of Pvt. Martin. She was able to share additional details about the life of Lewis Martin the man. She learned a few details about his life in Springfield, and noted that during his lifetime, he had acquired property. Though he was known to drink in his later years, she also pointed out to me, that this man was most likely "self-medicating" after all we must remember, his wound were, indeed grave wounds. But being largely ignored by many of the townspeople he was simply believed to be a drinking man whose few meager earnings were given to the local saloon.

I am so proud of Ms. Heyworth and her work to get the stone for Pvt. Martin! This man gave an arm and a leg for his freedom, and though not recognized for over a century--his struggle was not in vain. This man who could have avoided the war, having reached Illinois, from Arkansas where he was a slave, but yet, he entered the conflict willingly, and paid a large price for his freedom and for that of others. And now more than 100 years after his death, a overdue honor is being paid to him.

As a descendant of enslaved people whose lives were dramatically affected by the actions of men like Pvt. Lewis Martin, I am so moved that at last he is getting the one thing that he deserved--to be honored and to have a military marker. My guess is that he never lived to hear these four simple words uttered to him in his lifetime, so I shall say them here:

"Thank you, Pvt. Martin".

Thousands of people visit Oak Ridge Cemetery each year. I hope that a new tradition will come. A few hundred feet away from Abraham Lincoln, I hope some will take that stroll to his grave site in the pauper's section. Leave a penny on his stone and thank him for his bravery, and for his service. The war was, after all so that he and others would make this a more perfect union for all.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Bounty Records of US Colored Troops, in Arkansas Freedman's Bureau Records P - S

This is the fourth in a series of articles found in the Arkansas Freedman's Bureau offices from the Little Rock Field Office. Previous articles posted in the series have reflected the rare and previously unseen Bounty records of US Colored Troops, and the payments that they received.  I have been amazed to see the variety of regiments from which the soldiers came as many never mustered into Arkansas based regiments. The first article represented surnames beginning with letter A through D. The second article in the series represented surnames beginning with E through I. The third article represented J through O, and this piece represents surnames beginning with P through S.

Note that for those soldiers who were deceased, the next of kin often received the bounty payment.

The source for all images came from Internet Archive.

Polk, Burl - Pearcy, James

Peoples, Green - Parker, Thomas

Qualls, Jackson

Reed, Jackson - Rixley, Alfred

Randall, Chas.,  -  Rodgers, Richard

Rector, Sarah, Widow, - Rogers Johnson

Smiley, Calvin  -  Sweeney, Adam

Stanley, Isaac  -  Smith, Freeman

Squire, Joseph  -   Sandy, Willis

Sewell Ann (Widow) -  Stinson, Adaline (Sister)


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Bounty Records of US Colored Troops, in Arkansas Freedman's Bureau Records J - O

Cover of page preceding names of soldiers receiving bounty payment

This represents the third in a series of articles found in the Freedman's Bureau offices from the Little Rock Field Office. The names on these pages represent the names of Black Union Soldiers who received Bounty payments. The first article contained surnames beginning with letters A through D. The second article in this series, contained surnames beginning with letters E through I. This article represents surnames J through O. All of the records were found in Record Group 105 and were found from a digitized resource on the Internet Archive, website.

Johnson, Martin - Johnson, Neeley
Record Group 105 Arkansas USCT Bounty Records
Source of Images: Internet Archive

Jackson, Andrew F.  -  Jordan, Pleasant

King, William - Kyer, Frances, Mother of Moses Arbuckle

Lawson, Moses - Lewis, Ephraim

Level, Malinda (Widow of Albert Level) -  Jerome Lewis's grandchildren

Long, Albert - LeFleur, Henry

Marks, Isom  -  Marion, Wm.

Monroe, James  -   Moore, Thornton

McLoure, George - Mills, Jack

McNeal, Dennis - Miller, Calvin

Noal, Thomas - Noal, Claiborne

Long, Albert, -  LeFleur, Henry

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Monday, September 30, 2013

Bounty Records of US Colored Troops, in Arkansas Freedman's Bureau Records E - I

This is a continuation of the names of Black Union soldiers who received bounty payments in Arkansas. The previous article contained surnames A through D. This article will contain surnames E though I. The records were found in Record Group 105 which reflect the many pages of records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands. The Field Office from which these records were found were the Little Rock Arkansas Field Office. 

One observation that I made was that the soldiers were from regiments were from multiple states, including Arkansas USCT regiments. I had expected that they might have all been in the same unit, but in this case that was not the situation. It is not clear if Arkansas is where the men happened to have settled, after the war, and thus they applied through the Field office, or what their circumstances might have been.

I also noticed that some of the men received bounty payments as late as 1869. Nevertheless, the list continues and for all interested in documents from post Civil War Arkansas, this ledger is worth researching.

Note that the source of all Images come from the Internet Archive.

Elliott, Abraham - Emerson, Phillip

Ford, Hurd -  Farmer, Sam'l

Frazier, Robt - Foster, Peter

Gaines, George  -   Gordia, George
Garnett, Randolph -  Guy, Bristow

Gordan, James (Brother to Lewis Green) - Goodwin, Calvin

Hollus, George - Hayes, Punch

Harding, Zacahariah  -  Haley, Ned

Harris, George  -   Haney, Mary (sister of Giles Hainey)

Hardwick, Anson  -  Hampton, Rachel (widow of Wade Hampton)

Isom & Fanni (Parties of Squire Waters)  -  Ingraham, Charles

To Be Continued

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