Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Mystery of J.R. Kealoha - Soldier of the United States Colored Troops

Recently I saw a video from Hawaii about a Civil War soldier receiving a headstone. The remarkable part was that the soldier was said to have served in the 41st US Colored Infantry.

Video from KITV, Channel 4 News, Honolulu

Because of the soldier’s participation in the Civil War and the location of his burial site effort was made to obtain an official stone for this soldier, but as stated in the video, because there was no next of kin, the Office of Veteran’s Affairs would not issue an official marker for his grave.

I found this story so interesting and was moved to learn more about the soldier and, if possible to tell more of his story.

So many questions came to mind.

When did he enlist?

Was he injured during the war?

How did he find his way to the states to join the 41st US Colored Infantry?

Did his survivors file a pension?

It was said that several others from the Kingdom of Hawaii served in the Union Army, and so, I was compelled to see what I could learn about this soldier.

The Search for the Soldier

Since the service records of the US Colored Troops are all digitized and can be accessed on, I decided to examine the records of the 41st US Colored Infantry to see what I could learn.

Zooming in on soldiers whose last name began with the letter K, but surprisingly no Kealoha was listed.

No soldier called Kealoha, or any version of the name.

I decided to then check the National Park Service database that contains the name of every soldier Union and Confederate, in an easy to search database.

No soldier called Kealoha, or any version of that name.

I had to watch the video again to learn more about the soldier and possibly find additional clues. The historian on the video Nanetter Napopleon is a well repsected researcher in Hawaii and she pointed out in the interview that J.R. Kealoha was mentioned in a newspaper article written in 1895, and she noted that Kealohoa had died in Hawaii in 1877.

But the two most likely places to reflect his history and his service the National Park Service database, and the Union Army service records, had no data reflecting anyone called J. R. Kealoha. The records from Fold3 are the digitized Civil War service records housed at the National Archives.

So a new question now arises:

Could this soldier have served under a different name?  If so, then finding the name an alias would an enormous task. I examined the names of all of the men in the 41st. I started first with the surnames beginning with K, hoping to find something similar, but nothing came up. Then I went back and examined the names of all of the soldiers of the 41st US Colored Infantry, looking for something that might have a resemblance to his name, but there was nothing that stood out.

Additional questions

*If J.R. Kealoha from the Kingdom of Hawaii served in this regiment, how did he arrive and how was he recruited?

*Could the answer be found with the regiment itself? For example, did this regiment enlist men from other countries? Well I found the answer to that question and yes, I found soldiers in the 41st from other countries, including the West Indies, and Canada. 

Source of Image: Click HERE

From Civil War Service record of soldier in the 41st US Colored Infantry who was born outside of the US.

So there is a possibility that someone from the South Pacific could have been among other foreign born soldiers that served in the 41st

But now, without being able to find his name or to document his service I now understood why an official marker could not be issued. True there may not be any known descendants or next of kin, but the soldier's service has yet to be verified, because the actual service of the man so far has not been documented. Even with if there was a descendant of the man, without the official name under which he served, an official marker would never be issued by the office of Veteran’s Affairs.

Known Facts about J. R. Kealoaha:

From the video it was stated that J. R. Kealoha died in 1877 in Hawaii and he is buried at Oahu Cemetery.
Yet, after searching, J. R. Kealoha’s name does not appear with the soldiers of the 41st US Colored Infantry
And after searching, J. R. Kealoha’s name is not on the National Park Service database.

Additional questions arise:

Could the article that was referred to on the video be found to see how Kealoha was identified as a Civil War soldier? There was a reference to a letter written in 1895. Hopefully that letter, if located could be examined to learn more.

If the man served in the Union army, could the man J.R. Kealoha have possibly served in another regiment, and not the 41st US Colored Infantry? This is a possibility, but this would make finding the soldiers almost impossible.

Could Kealoha have possibly been a civilian worker and not a soldier? 

While looking for other resources, an article published earlier this year made a reference to a letter written by Col. Samuel Chapman Armstrong, where he mentioned Kealoha by name. Armstrong made a reference to a man who was working as "his orderly" at the time tending to his horse. He conversed with the man, and it was stated that the letter said: A Jan. 22, 1865, letter from Col. Samuel Chapman Armstrong, who was born on Maui, notes a conversation with Kealoha, his "orderly," holding his horse, before the Richmond fighting. "I asked him where he was from," Armstrong wrote. "He said he was from Hawaii! He proved to be a full-blooded kanaka, by the name of Kealoha, who came from the Islands last year." He also noted meeting another man named Kaiwi from Hawaii. "I enjoyed seeing them very much, and we had a good jabber in kanaka," the colonel said.

But the letter referred to him as an "orderly" and if Kealoha was an orderly for Col. Armstrong, he might not have been a soldier in the 41st. 

It is also not clear that Col. Samuel Chapman Armstrong would have been in contact with men of the 41st US Colored Infantry. Soldiers clearly had to be with their regiment and follow orders of the direct commanding officers and it does not appear that Chapman had contact with soldiers of the 41st US Colored Infantry.

But Col. Armstrong did have contact with men of the 8th and 9th US Colored Infantries. Could Kealoha have possibly been affiliated with one of those two regiments? After examining the names of the soldiers of both of those units there was no soldier called Kealoha in either unit.  And so far, no soldiers from The "Western Islands" have been located among the soldiers of the 41st. 

Perhaps closer examination of the two regiments that Armstrong was a part of, might yield some better data, and possibly another name.

A Possible Lead?

I noticed in the 1865 letter that Armstrong referred to Kealoha as Kanaka. I wondered if there were any soldiers who may have used that name, so I ran that surname through the National Park Service Database. And I found a soldier. His name was "Friday Kanaka" who served with the 31st US Colored Infantry. The thought ran through my mind, "could the 41st really have been the 31st?" I wondered if this might have been Kealoha. The term "Kanaka" has been used to describe native Hawaiian people. And I looked at the record of Friday Kanaka--and noticed that he was born in the "Western Islands".

Unfortunately this is not J.R. Kealoha, because this soldier died before the war ended, in 1864, and it was noted that J.R. Kealoha survived the war and died in 1877.

Source of Image: HERE

So the mystery of this son of Hawaii and possible Civil War soldier grows. Meanwhile, the efforts to honor him continue and this weekend the stone that was donated by a local monument company in Honolulu, will be dedicated.

I shall continue to look for him, and to search for his history and his service. If the name is discovered under which he may have served, then an possibly anofficial marker bearing that name could also be issued.

Hopefully others who also have an interest in the history of the United States Colored Troops will be interested in also working to document the life of this son of Hawaii, who joined forces with other men of color in the fight for the preservation of the Union, and the critical fight for freedom.

More on J. R. Kealoha

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

USCTs Buried in Mass Grave to Be Honored at Jefferson Barracks

After decades spanning over a century, 173 men who escaped slavery, fought for their freedom, and won, only to succumb to disease will have their names restored.
In 1866 men of the 56th US Colored Infantry died of cholera on route to Missouri where they were to be discharged and to live their new lives in freedom. An epidemic of Cholera struck the steamers that took them back to Missouri and within a few short days in August 1866 many would succumb. Many were buried in Quarantine Island and in 1939 their bodies were removed to Jefferson Barracks cemetery. But instead of single burials, they were placed in a large mass grave with their names no longer identifying their remains.
Thanks to the efforts of the St. Louis African American History and Genealogy Society, the names are now going to be placed on the site of the mass grave, and at last the "Unknown" designation of these soldiers at the cemetery will no longer describe who they are.  A plaque will be unveiled this Friday at Jefferson Barracks bearing the names of each these freedom fighters, and a respectful ceremony is also being planned.
Ms. Sarah Cato, a member of the society shared a press release from the Office of Veteran's Affairs inviting the public to attend this ceremony that will restore the honor to these soldiers.

The society is to be congratulated for its hard work in honoring these soldiers, and the names of these men can now be seen and known by all.

May these men rest in peace, and may their honor, service and record be known forever.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Remember Poison Springs

150 years ago today the 1st Kansas Colored which was re-designated as the 79th US Colored Infantry was engaged in battle at Poison Springs, in Ouachita County Arkansas. They are remembered again on this day.

On April 18, 1864 the battle of Poison Springs occurred. This took place in Ouachita and was part of the Camden Expedition.

The actual engagement was short and confederate forces were able to drive Union soldiers away, and chased them in pursuit. But after a pursuit of only about two miles the southern soldiers stopped the pursuit and returned to address the wounded left behind. That was when the second heinous tragedy of April 1864, took place. Many men of the 1st Kansas Colored now were lying wounded on the ground. At this time, fighting had ceased and that was when, as they lay wounded, they were brutally murdered by southern forces.

Tandy Walker who led southern forces at Poison Springs

Three  years ago I also wrote an article about this same battle here on this blog.

These men, were mostly men from Indian Territory who had fled into Kansas in the early part of the war. They were the first men of color to see action in 1862 at Island Mound Missouri. And they were now at the mercy of their captors, But their captors would not take on that role for they saw these now free men, simply as useless commodities to eliminate. Therefore in a matter of days after the same kind of massacre at Ft. Pillow---these courageous men, unable now to defend themselves were shot, bayoneted and tortured, then left on the ground where they died. Only a week before in Tennessee, the enemy had vowed to give men at Ft. Pillow no quarter, and the same occurred in Arkansas on that fatefu day.

Those freedom fighters were given no quarter, and in this case, they also were given no life. This tragic story of the massacre at Poison Springs is another of those stories not simply of war, but of man's inability to see humanity in others who are different. In this case, these soldiers of color were not seen as worthy of humane treatment by their enemies.

This second massacre would not be forgotten. Before the month would end, some of the compatriots of these massacred warriors would make Poison Springs their battle cry, at Jenkins Ferry. In fact many black soldiers from that day forward would remind each other of their mission as they fought for their freedom. Their battle cry would be heard and remembered for generations. "Remember Poison Springs!"

I remember the soldiers killed at Poison Springs on this day the 150th anniversary of that fateful day.

They did not die in vain.

Their sacrifice is not forgotten.

And they are remembered forever.

Remember Poison Springs!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

File:Battle of Fort Pillow.png
Ft. Pillow Massacre

As I recommended in the previous article here are additional readings about the massacres such as Poison Springs, Ft. Pillow 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]

Saturday, April 12, 2014

From Ft. Pillow to Poison Springs - They Were Given No Quarter, but They Died As Men

Massacre of Black Soldiers at Ft. Pillow

The enemy vowed to give no Negro any quarter. In the midst of the Civil War that meant that the rules of war were not going to be extended to men of color. The Confederate Army saw no humanity in the black soldiers that engaged in battle. They simply saw "creatures" whom they were taught to hate, whom they were taught were inferior beings, whom they were taught to judge by their color, and whom they believed were less than they.

The Ft. Pillow massacre is well documented. The records indicate that when the garrison was attacked and soldiers surrendered, the cry came forth, "No quarter, no quarter". Records also show that most of those who died, were murdered after surrender.

The world soon learned of the atrocities at Ft. Pillow were told worldwide, and the reaction to the massacre brought about dismay and outrage throughout the nation, and world.
Richard Fuchs, author of the "The Massacre at Ft. Pillow noted that even the press carried the story. He quoted a piece from the NY Times:
The blacks and their officers were shot down, bayoneted and put to the sword in cold blood... . Out of four hundred negro soldiers only about twenty survive! At least three hundred of them were destroyed after the surrender! This is the statement of the rebel General Chalmers himself to our informant.
 Richard Fuchs, An Unerring Fire: The Massacre At Fort Pillow (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2002), 14.
The national outcry would eventually affect the behavior of Confederate soldiers later that year, for
within the span of a few short months, the same army would later be compelled to no longer massacre black soldiers if they surrendered, but to later take them as prisoners. But the horrors of that day are on record as one of the most vicious of Civil War warfare.

A week later in Arkansas, men of the 1st Kansas Colored were part of a team that were encountered by confederate forces. Several were injured and others left with confederates in pursuit. They gave up the pursuit and returned to the injured soldiers. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas describes the events at Poison Springs:  The Southern troops then turned their attention to the wounded and captured soldiers of the First Kansas; both Union and Confederate accounts agree that many of the black troops were killed after the battle was over.

The attack upon the injured soldiers at Poison Springs, in addition to the brutal massacre at Ft. Pillow immediately became a battle cry for many black soldiers that served in Arkansas after April 1864. "Remember Poison Springs" reminded these men that their fate lay in the outcome of their future encounters with the enemy! They had no choice but to fight harder for their freedom. They took this cry with them later that month, to Jenkins Ferry. "Remember Poison Springs!"

These men are to be remembered for the odds were so strongly against them. They could not shudder and theirs was the choice---to live or die. Theirs was the choice for enslavement or freedom. They may have been enlisted as slaves, but they died free as men.

From Ft. Pillow, to Poison Springs and later to Jenkins Ferry---these freedom fighters shall not be forgotten!

Battle Flag of the 1st Kansas Colored. (Later re-designated as the 83rd US Colored Infantry)

Document from Service Record of Soldier Killed at Poison Springs

Compiled military service records of volunteer Union soldiers belonging to the 56th through 138th infantry units, United States Colored Troops (USCT), 1864-1866. Roll: RG94-USCT-079N-Bx58
Military Unit: 79th US Colored Infantry (New)


Friday, April 4, 2014

On the trail of Yarmouth Cartwright

A recent article by Drusilla Pair, reflected the names of several black soldiers who were captured after the battle at Petersburg.  An article in the Richmond Dispatch listed the names of the soldiers simply as "captured Negroes" and although they were soldiers, the men were listed in the Richmond Dispatch only by first name. Since there was an actual reference to the fact that these men were "enlisted troops" the disrespectful posting of only their first names intentionally treated them as still enslaved men.

Like Ms. Pair, the article that she shared on her blog, Let Freedom Ring made me wonder about these men, and about their fate.

How were they treated? The policy of the confederate army was that they would "give no Negro any quarter" meant that they did not see these men of color as human enough to imprison, but simply as property to return or evil beings to kill. So the question rang again in my head, "how were they treated?"

Did any of these men survive being captured? It is widely known how many of the soldiers at Ft. Pillow were viciously killed and given no quarter, only three months earlier. So were the men on this list given food, and shelter?

The only way to find out was to see if any such men could be researched. So I examined the list that she shared.

There were many who had common names, so I knew that Johns, Henry's George's would not be easily traceable. But perhaps a man with a unique name could be found.  I saw a name of a man called Yarmouth, said to have been enslaved by a man called Alexander Kilga of Montgomery County MD.

The name of Yarmouth appears as the slave of Alexander Kilga

Since the name "Yarmouth" is unique, I decided to see if I could find such a soldier among the thousands of US Colored Troops.

I decided to use the Civil War Soldier and Sailors Database hosted by the National Park Service.

National Park Service Database

Two possibilities emerged: Yarmouth Carr of the 107th US Colored Infantry, and Yarmouth Cartwright of the 23rd US Colored Infantry.

I clicked on the first soldier to see if he was in a regiment that served in Virginia, which would be essential, since the men on the list were captured near Petersburg, Virginia. So I had to explore a brief history of both regiments and then to look at each soldier. I learned that the 107th USColored Infantry, was organized in Kentucky and in 1864 was ordered to Baltimore, and was in Petersburg from October 1864 till early December.

So this regiment would not have had soldiers in Petersburg around the time that "Yarmouth slave of Alexander Kilga", because that article was written in August of 1864, several weeks before the 107th was there.

The other regiment with a soldier called Yarmouth was the 23rd US Colored Infantry. This regiment was also in Petersburg and at the time of the big mine explosion.

So it was possible that the Yarmouth in this regiment was the Yarmouth on the list of "captured Negroes" listed in the Richmond Dispatch.

I decided to look at the Military Service records of the US Colored Troops and opened the images on Fold 3.

I had no idea which surname Yarmouth of the 23rd US Colored Infantry may have had, so I then made a very broad search for a soldier with only the name of Yarmouth.

Only one soldier appeared and his name was Yarmouth Cartwright.

So Yarmouth Cartwright served in Company A of the 23rd US Colored Infantry, By clicking on the image to go the service record I saw the following:

From this image I learned that this soldier Yarmouth was taken prisoner in early July of 1864.

From this image I learned that this was the man!! 

Yarmouth Cartwright was taken prisoner after being captured at Petersburg! So the man called Yarmouth, "slave of Alexander Kilga", was most likely Yarmouth Cartwright, a man who was a soldier, fighting for his own freedom!

I then wondered more about this man, did he survive being imprisoned? This was only a few weeks after the terrible massacre at Ft. Pillow, the battle in which Confederate soldiers vowed to give no Negro quarter. So, did this man survive the treatment as a prisoner, which was most likely not to have been kind for his very humanity was not even recognized by the enemy.

The answer was in the service record itself. The image above indicates that the soldier did return to duty! And the following image shows that he followed the regiment when they were sent to Texas and he was mustered out in Brazos Santiago, Texas in November.

After looking at the record on Fold3 and locating the service record of Yarmouth Cartwright, I was pleased to see that he lived through imprisonment and was not killed by those who were holding him prisoner. I had hoped that he would have lived to have enjoyed his hard earned freedom, and would have been able to marry and have a family.

A search on Ancestry provided the information that I sought. In 1870, he went had returned to Montgomery County Maryland, and was found living with a wife Mary, and three young children, Jesse, Joseph, and Samuel. He was free and was with his family.

Source Citation: Year: 1870; Census Place: District 4, Montgomery, Maryland; Roll: M593_591; Page: 475A; Image: 511; Family History Library Film: 552090.

Finding this man living free with wife and family was relieving. He was working as a farm laborer. I looked at others who lived nearby, and the closest neighbor did catch my attention. A woman of means lived close to the Cartwright family. The surname caught my attention. Margaret Kilgour. 

I then remembered that the article in the Richmond Dispatch referred to the soldier as Yarmouth slave of Alexander Kilga. The neighbor in 1870 was Margaret Kilgour. Could "Kilga", have possibly been "Kilgour", and was Margaret most likely the widow of Alexander, the said slave holder?

I wondered what the relationship might have been for this man, now a free man to have remained in the same area living close to the family that had once enslaved him. However, I have seen this occur in other states and in other families that I have researched. Many families returned to the community they knew as home, for they have lived in the area for decades and regardless of who the neighbors were, it was home.

I looked at 1880, and found the family still in Montgomery County, but without Yarmouth. An older Cartwright man was living with Mary and her children, and some additional children were now in the household. And interestingly, they still lived next door to Margaret Kilgour.

In 1890, Mary was found on the 1890 Surviving Widow's Census, in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Source Citation: Year: 1890; Census Place: Potomac, Montgomery, Maryland
Roll: 10; Page: 1; Enumeration District: 139.

My goal was to find the "captured negro" and to find him as a man.

I found Yarmouth the soldier, Yarmouth the man and Yarmouth the free man who survived the war and who lived to taste freedom. His story is a short one with few details, but we was so much more than a slave. He freed himself, enlisted to fight, served honorably and won his freedom. He returned home to live in the small farming community in Montgomery County Maryland. He married, had a family, and the Cartwright family continued to thrive, into the 20th century. I am happy and humbled that I can say his name. Yarmouth Cartwright, survived! May he not be forgotten.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Life After Civil War Seen Through Civil War Pension Payments

"United States Veterans Administration Pension Payment Cards, 1907-1933," index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 22 Feb 2014), Bass, Adaline C. - Bassuener, Henry > image 178 of 702.

Pension Payment Card for Sephus Bass of 111th US Colored Infantry
"United States Veterans Administration Pension Payment Cards, 1907-1933," index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 22 Feb 2014), Bass, Adaline C. - Bassuener, Henry > image 178 of 702.

For those who research ancestors from the Civil War, it is quite common to note that an ancestor filed for and received a pension. However, it has never been clear even from a pension file how much a soldier received for his service. And how often was the soldier paid? Can this even be determined? Well with an interesting set of records recently digitized, this can now be determined.

Thankfully the folks at Family Search have a collection that I had not noticed before, which is the Collection of US Veterans Administration Payment Cards. This covers the years from 1907 to 1933. If there is interest in a former soldier who may have been paid during those years, then you can learn how much they received and how any times they were actually paid. Note that the collection is not yet complete, as 80% of the cards have been digitized so far.

Thankfully payments made to US Colored Troops are included in this record set. I was quite pleased to find the records of an ancestor whose payment card I found illustrated in the images above. This information is so useful since the details of when the soldier was paid and how much he was paid, is clearly outlined on the card, and in addition, you can see when a raise was made to the ongoing payments.

I looked at a card of another soldier, Adam Westfield of Crawford County Arkansas. 

Payment Card of Sgt Adam Westfield Col B 1 US Col. Heavy Artillery
"United States Veterans Administration Pension Payment Cards, 1907-1933," index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 21 Feb 2014), Westeiude, Hubregt Vant - Westlake, William H. > image 484 of 632.

2nd card reflecting payment schedule for Sgt. Adam Westfield 
"United States Veterans Administration Pension Payment Cards, 1907-1933," index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 21 Feb 2014), Westeiude, Hubregt Vant - Westlake, William H. > image 485 of 632.

When examining the card data such as the date and place of death can also be noted on the card.
Close up of image from Westfield Card.

Although this data is limited, it still provides a glimpse into the life of the soldier and how often some assistance may have come for the soldier. And even when the soldier died the widow's payments are also noted.

Hopefully other researchers will find this set of records valuable and will add to learning a small amount more about the soldier and how he lived after the Civil War.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Sesquicentennial Year: Battles Involving US Colored Troops in Arkansas 1864

Soldiers of the 57th US Colored Infantry at a Reunion after the War.

In 1864 a large number of regiments were organized throughout the country, including Arkansas. Six regiments were organized within Arkansas, but other regiments organized in other states would find themselves fighting for freedom within the state.

This year, marks the 150th anniversary of many of the battles and skirmishes in which Arkansas black soldiers fought, and in honor of their efforts they are listed here.

There were 11 different regiments that fought in battles on Arkansas soil during the year 1864. Two of the regiments were originally organized as the 1st and 2nd Kansas Colored Infantries. They would be among the first Black Union soldiers to engage the enemy in battle as early as 1862. In late 1863 they were re-designated as the 79th and 83rd US Colored Infantries. The Kansas Colored fought in Island Mound Illionois a year before the US Colored Troops were established.  

Several of the Arkansas battles that involved Black soldiers were truly noteworthy such as Poison Springs, in which many wounded black men were massacred by Confederate soldiers after they lay wounded on the ground. As the Confederate Army was committed to giving "no Negro any quarters" and after the vicious massacre of the injured men occurred, Poison Springs would later become the battle cry of Arkansas black soldiers. 

It should be noted that within one week's time---two major massacres of Black soldiers occurred in the Civil War. The infamous Ft. Pillow massacre occurred in Tennessee on April 12th of 1864. In that case after being outnumbered and surrendering---confederate soldiers chose not to see the humanity of the black soldiers and brutally killed hundreds who had surrendered. Historian Richard Fuchs described the outrage at Ft. Pillow, “The affair at Fort Pillow was simply an orgy of death, a mass lynching to satisfy the basest of conduct – intentional murder – for the vilest of reasons – racism and personal enmity." (1)

A mere six days later in Arkansas--the same thing occurred. This time, many of the men were already injured and lying on the ground. And they to were cruelly and maliciously massacred by the confederate army devoted to never recognizing their humanity. It was also reported that many of the Black Union soldiers were murdered even after the major fighting was over. The outrage at Poison Springs, indeed became a logical battle cry from that time onward for those once enslaved, "Remember Poison Springs!"

So, in this sesquicentennial year, the seriousness of purpose of the US Colored Troops is noted and those who fought and who died upon Arkansas soil are honored. May their efforts be always remembered and may the courage and the stories of these men once enslaved, and now daring to face the enemy, be told.

* * * * * *
(1) Richard Fuchs, An Unerring Fire: The Massacre At Fort Pillow (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2002), 14.