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.


No comments:

Post a Comment