Thursday, December 8, 2016

Newspaper Article Listing Black Union Soldiers Found in Freedmen's Bureau Papers

In July 1867, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedman and Abandoned Lands also known as the Freedmen's Bureau, served communities in several fields offices in the state of Tennessee. In records from McMinnville Freedmen's Bureau office, it was a surprise to stumble upon a fascinating article from a daily newspaper from Nashville Tennessee, that had been clipped and put among bureau papers.

The Nashville Union and Dispatch was a daily publication, and the names of several dozen soldiers who served in the United States Colored Troops who were owed pay for their service was noted. If the soldier who enlisted did not survive the war, their widow, or heirs were called to step forward and make their claim.

Most documents from the Freedmen's Bureau itself are usually original hand written articles reflecting day to day business of the various offices. They often contain contracts, letters, complaints, marriage records and so much more. The notations are made by the staff that worked in the Bureau itself. What a surprise to find a clipping from the Nashville newspaper included among the papers from the McMinnville Tennessee field office.

The edition came from the July 6th issue of the Nashville Union and Dispatch. I was able to locate the exact edition from which the article was clipped. The notice appeared on page 2 of that edition, and the entire edition of the publication is contained on the Chronicling America site hosted by the Library of Congress.

Zooming in on the article for a much closer view, the names of the soldiers and qualifying widows are more visible and more easily read. I was impressed to see a list of names of black Union Army soldiers in the Nashville publication and found it surprising to have stumbled upon it among Freedmen's Bureau papers.

An Unexpected Surprise
A second surprise came when glancing through the list of names and finding the name of an ancestor, a great great uncle--my great grandfather's brother, Braxton Bass! Braxton Bass was also a brother of my Uncle Sephus Bass, who both served in the 111th US Colored Infantry, and to see Uncle Braxton's name among the soldiers listed was unexpected, and quite pleasing.

I have known for over 20 years about Braxton's service with the 111th US Colored Infantry, and I have had for many years both his Civil War Service Record, and his Civil War Pension File. I know about his life in the 1870s till his early death in 1879, and I also know details of the life of his widow Fannie.

But his years right after the the war are not known, and it was truly a surprise to see something from 1867 mentioning his name. Although not much more than a name appears, it still tells me that he was called to get his bounty payment 2 years after the war had ended, and that tiny piece of information reflects a small sliver of detail about him and his life near Nashville.

One of the many benefits of the Freedmen's Bureau records, is the fact that unique records are contained in the amazing collection. A newspaper article is one of the most unexpected holdings to find among the many gems of the bureau, but thankfully, the Bureau staff in McMinnville Tennessee included the names of the soldiers from the Nashville publication. It was noted by the staff that some of the men were actually from that community, therefore, the article was clipped and placed among bureau holdings.

Close Up of News Clipping Found in Article

Source for entire image:

I checked several additional names from the list, on the Civil War database hosted by the National Park Service. Some of the men were from the same unit that my Bass ancestors were part of, (the 111th US Colored Infantry) and I noticed others were from the 13th US Colored Infantry. I have not checked the entire roster, but those with Tennessee based ancestors may find their own ancestors listed among those in the above clipping.

The post Civil War years were challenging for people of color, and often those who had served in the Union Army were met with hostility by a former confederate sympathizing community. However seeing the article two years after the war, does speak to a small degree of tolerance that may have been for these former freedom fighters to at least come forth and claim the bounty that they had earned with their service and with their courage.

Other Civil War historians are encouraged to utilize as many resources as possible to find data on former soldiers. In this case, a small clipping from a Freedmen's Bureau field office directed me to a newspaper, where a small piece of community history reflected US Colored troops in the Nashville Community.

As researchers we have learned to leave no stones unturned.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

1st Sgt. Octavius McFarland - A Studious Man and Faithful Soldier

Photo Image: Collection of the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum
Civil War Service Record:  Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Volunteer Organizations
During the American Civil War, compiled 1890 - 1912, documenting the period 1861 - 1866
Source of Image: Fold3

The story of Octavius McFarland is a fascinating one that reflects the spirit desire that many men who joined the US Colored Troops had in making their lives better. McFarland was born in Lincoln Missouri, and enlisted with the Missouri 1st Missouri Colored Infantry. 62nd US Colored Infantry in the middle of the Civil War. He was quickly promoted to Sergeant after a month of service. Several months later, he was promoted to 1st Sergeant. The unit was also re-designated as the 62nd US Colored Infantry, so he and his regiment became part of the United States Colored Troops.

Among the unique field orders given to the men in the ranks was one General order No. 31. For those wishing to continue to wear chevrons upon their uniform, it was insisted that they become literate men and learn to read by January 1st of 1865.  If they failed, they would be reduced in rank, and replaced by men who could read and write. Those sergeants who were already literate were also required to teach other men, within their ranks to read.
“All non-Commissioned officers of this command who shall fail to learn to read by or before the 1st day of January 1865 will be reduced to the ranks and their places filled by persons who can read. In the position of Sergeants preference will be given to men who can both read & write and are otherwise good soldiers. All soldiers of this command who have by any means learned to read or write, will aid and assist to the extent of their ability their fellow soldiers to learn these invaluable arts, without which no man is properly fitted to perform the duties of a free citizen.” - Civil War News  August 2013

A majority of the men in this unit were men who had been kept illiterate as slaves from Missouri. Within the regiment, in January of 1865 it was announced that a competition was established to determine the "best writer" among the enlisted men. The decision, was with the intention of encouraging literacy among the enlisted men. Daniel Ullman was a commanding officer and in addition to supporting the effort of establishing literacy among the ranks, he also saw the need to reduce the level of corporal punishment towards the former slaves. Officers had been used to using their firsts and occasionally their swords for enforcement, and it was determined that another strategy was to be used in training men to become soldiers.

So, the competition announced early on in that year ended in July, two months after the war ended, but while the unit was still on active duty. On July 4, 1865 it was determined that Octavius McFarland was selected as the best sergeant in Company K, and was to receive a gold pen for his effort and determination. Their service continued, since they went on, in fact to the western frontier, and is said to have fought in the very last battle of the Civil War. The 62nd US Colored Infantry unit was claimed by General Daniel Ullman to be "the best under my command." And, by the time the unit mustered out in March 1866, almost every man in the regiment had learned to read and write, with Octavius being seen as the most outstanding and studious men.

Was McFarland Part of a Civil War Family?

In an effort to learn more about McFarland, it was decided to study the regiment more closely. Since the Civil War service records of Union soldiers are located on Fold3, it was decided to examine the records of the regiment in which Octavius McFarland served. He was with the 62nd US Colored Infantry. What was interesting to note was that there were six other men also enlisted in the same regiment with the surname McFarland. Of those, five of the six seemed to have come from the same community. In addition, the other four men are close in age, and all have a similar physical description.
Personal Description of Octavius McFarland:

From the service record McFarland is said to have been born in Lincoln, Missouri and was 21 years of age at the time of enlistment.

Four additional men also were described similarly:

Service records of additional Lincoln Missouri McFarland who may have been brothers.ivil War Service Record:  Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Volunteer Organizations 
During the American Civil War, compiled 1890 - 1912, documenting the period 1861 - 1866
Source of Image: Fold3

Albert, George, Henry and James McFarland were all born in Lincoln Missouri, and all enlisted (including Octavius) in the Union Army in December. All were farmers by occupation, all were described as "Mulatto" and they were all close in age. Albert was 24, George was 21, Henry was 23, James was 20, and Octavius was also 21.  Were they brothers? That is unknown. And even less known is what exactly happened to the men after the war. Octavius is found living in St. Louis working on a steamboat in 1880, but beyond that little is known. Did the other men survive the war? That also is unknown. 

It is said that Octavius McFarland died of tuberculosis in 1894, and was buried in Potters Field Cemetery in St. Louis. It is believed that he did not live with family, as the cemetery was for those with no next of kin. It this is case, then it is likely that he may have had no headstone, although as a soldier who served in the Civil War, he should have received a marker. The hope of this author is that those in Missouri who have an interest in preserving the history and legacy of men who have faithfully served the military, will work to see that this man will be given the honor that he deserves.

An interesting blog, called Faces of the Civil War depicted the life of Octavius McFarland and his efforts to become a literate man. Little else is known of him or the other 4 men from Lincoln Missouri. Hopefully an examination of regimental records and the record of one "Mother's" pension will reveal more to the story, and will be shared in a future article.

The regiment is also known for having been around during the establishment of Lincoln Institute in Missouri after the Civil War. Could the McFarland men been part of that community? Possibly, but again that is only speculation. Nevertheless, reading about this son of Missouri, has still been worthwhile, as so little is written about the men of color who served in the western theater of the Civil War.