Reader’s letter: A black woman’s tribute to her grandfather, first slave, then soldier

October 11, 2013

The Legacy of Edward George 

My grandfather was born enslaved on a plantation in Jones County, N.C.  As a young man, he broke out of bondage. It was the summer of 1863 and the Civil War was drawing to its climax. Edward George decided to fight for his freedom and the freedom of his people.

Through the years, my family and I have attempted to resurrect information about our ancestors. This was an especially difficult task because slaves had no records to identify themselves by name. Slaves were considered as property and were listed on a bill of sales according to their value. They could have been listed as Negroes, $4,000; Negro, $600; Negroes, $1,700; Negro, $400.

With the help of Roger E. Kammerer, a noted genealogist and historian in North Carolina, I was able to learn that my grandfather ran away from the plantation to the safety of the federal forces in New Bern, N.C.  He was enlisted in the Union Army on June 2, 1863 by Capt. Croft. He enlisted for three years’ service as a private in Company K, 25th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry.  Company K became part of the 1st Regiment U.S. Colored Infantry.

A book, “History of Colored Troops in the American Civil War,” revealed that approximately 18,000 African Americans comprising 163 units served in the Union Army during the Civil War, and many more served in the Navy.  Both free African Americans and runaway slaves joined the fight.  On July 17, 1862, Congress passed two acts allowing the enlistment of African Americans, but official enrollment occurred only after the September 1862 issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation.  By August 1863, 14 Negro Regiments were in the field and ready for service.

Mr. Kemmerer’s information and my follow-up exploration at the National Archives in Washington revealed that when my grandfather signed up, he was 20, a laborer, dark eyes, dark hair, dark complexion, height 5-foot, 7½-inches.  He was on the muster roll from June 30, 1863, to April 30, 1866.

I began to feel a real connection to my grandfather as I looked through his muster rolls. I now began to envision how he must have looked when he answered “present” to the call of his name to receive his paycheck. He kept losing equipment and had to pay for a haversack, canteen, shelter tent and letters.

Edward George was in several engagements.  He was wounded in a battle at Olustic/Olustee, Fla., on Feb. 20, 1864.  He was in a skirmish at 10 Mile Station, Fla., on June 2, 1864, and he was in another skirmish at Darby’s Station, Fla., on Aug. 12, 1864.  He fought in the battle of Honey Hill, S.C., on Nov. 30, 1864, and was in a skirmish at Deveroux’s Neck, S.C., on Dec. 7, 1864.

He was mustered out of service on June 1, 1866, in Charleston, S.C.   He was last paid on Dec. 31, 1865, with $38.24 still due.

 The Washington Post’s article Civil War 150, dated Sunday, April 28, 2013, cites the pay disparity between black and white troops. It states: 

“Before they joined the army, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton had assured black men that they would receive $13 per month, the same pay as white troops.  However, after seeking legal counsel, the War Department announces that Congress has authorized them to be paid only $10 per month, of which $3 must be for clothing.  Despite the verdict, black men continue to join the Union Army in large numbers.  In the last months of the war Congress resolves the disparity and issues back pay.”

Edward George made application for his pension on Aug. 28, 1884, in Washington as an invalid.  (Application No. 521180).  His wife Rhoda George filed for his pension on Jan. 12, 1899, in Washington, as his widow- (Application No. 682953).  My mother, Susie, the youngest of their 16 children, was about 7 when her father died.

With pride and admiration, I pay tribute to my grandfather, Edward George, for his service to our country.  Even after being wounded in his first skirmish, he fought on, enduring four more engagements before retiring as an invalid.  He served with dignity and valor in this nation’s struggle to ensure freedom and justice for all. 

I love you and salute you, Grandpa.

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