African American Civil War Soldiers Who Settled in Southern Illinois

O.S. Samuel H. Dalton, 1839-1920

USS Juliet, United States Navy

Born a slave, Samuel H. Dalton worked as a field hand in Bolivar County, Mississippi. Although technically freed by the Emancipation Proclamation January 1, 1863, he actually gained his freedom by running away from his master and enlisting in the United States Navy July 5, 1863, at White River Station.

USS Rattler, a tinclad gunboat
USS Rattler, a gunboat that was tinclad like the USS Juliet, circa 1863

Dalton served seven months on the tinclad gunboat USS Juliet, patrolling the Yazoo River and escorting other ships and troops. While serving on the Juliet, he was promoted from 1st Class Boy to Ordinary Seaman. In April 1864, a Confederate battery attacked the Juliet and several other Union vessels. Heavily damaged, the Juliet was temporarily taken out of service. Her crew was transferred to the USS Hastings, where Dalton served until being discharged at Cairo.

Samuel Dalton House in Murphysboro
Samuel Dalton House at the General John A. Logan Museum in Murphysboro, Illinois, photographed by Anne Marie Hamilton-Brehm

In 1870 Dalton married his first wife, Mary S. Stanton, in Murphysboro, Illinois. After their daughter Georgianna was born in Louisiana, they lived in Carbondale, Illinois. In 1887, Dalton bought a home in Murphysboro for $150 from Mary Logan, wife of John A. Logan and executor of his estate. The Dalton house is preserved as part of the General John A. Logan Museum.

In 1891, Dalton joined Grand Army of the Republic Post 728. He married Lumisa Hall on September 21, 1892 at his home in a ceremony performed by his friend and fellow veteran and post member Rev. Henry Guy. Although the couple did not have any of their own children, they raised a foster son named Samuel Brown. Dalton was honored with an obituary in the Murphysboro Independent and is buried in an unmarked grave in Tower Grove Cemetery.

Cpl. Rev. Henry Guy, 1827-1902

Co. A, 55th Regt. United States Colored Infantry

Born a slave in Tuscumbia, Alabama, Henry Guy lost his first wife Nancy when her owner sold her to a man in Mississippi. After he gained his freedom with the Emancipation Proclamation, Guy joined Company A of the 1st Alabama Volunteer Infantry Regiment (African Descent) on May 1, 1863. A month later, he married Hannah Ricks, who traveled to Cairo, Illinois, with other freed slaves while her husband returned to military duty.

Dutch Gap, Virginia. Picket station of Colored troops near Dutch Gap canal
Picket station of United States Colored Infantry troops near Dutch Gap, Virginia, November, 1864, from the Library of Congress

Redesignated the 55th United States Colored Infantry in March, 1864, Guy’s regiment heroically defended retreating Union soldiers at the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads, driving Confederate troops back at bayonet point. Taken prisoner with 2,200 Union soldiers at Ripley, Mississippi, Guy was treated for injuries to his ear and eye by a doctor at a Confederate hospital. After attempting to escape, he was recaptured and taken to Brook’s Station near Meridian, Mississippi. Escaping once more, he traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, where he rejoined his unit. He remained on garrison duty for the remainder of the war. On October 9, 1864, Guy was promoted to Corporal. He was hospitalized twelve times in 1865 as his health weakened and was discharged December 31, 1865 at Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Guy rejoined his wife in Cairo in 1866, and they began raising their family in Elkville, Illinois, an active African American community. Although he began as a farmer, by 1880 he was the community’s minister. In 1885, he and Hannah moved to Murphysboro.

Guy was granted a pension of $4 per month in 1890 for the injuries he suffered at the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads. In October, 1891, he was among the charter members of Grand Army of the Republic Post 728 in Murphysboro. He passed away on Christmas Day in 1902 and is buried in an unmarked grave in Holliday Cemetery north of Murphysboro.

Pvt. Nathan Fitch, 1841-1930

Co. D, 8th Regt. United States Colored Infantry

Photograph of an African American Civil War soldier with his family
Unidentified African American Union Army soldier with his family, from the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs at the Library of Congress

Nathan Fitch was born a slave in Salem, Kentucky, and married Emma Pringle in 1862. Their first child Eleanor was born into slavery on November 3, 1863. President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had not freed them because the family did not live in one of the seceding states.

In December, 1864, Nathan ran away from his owner, traveled seventy miles to Evansville, Indiana, and enlisted in Company D, 8th United States Colored Infantry. His regiment, a part of the all black XXV Corps, took part in the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia, and Fitch was among the first troops to enter the city after its surrender on April 3, 1865. He later took part in the pursuit of Gen. Robert E. Lee and witnessed his surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9. In May, Fitch’s regiment was sent to Texas. They were discharged at Philadelphia on December 12, 1865, and Fitch returned to Salem.

Following the death of his wife, Fitch moved in 1896 with five of his nine living children to Grand Tower, Illinois, to work as a coal miner. He later moved to Murphysboro, Illinois, where he operated a grocery store. Fitch died in Murphysboro and is buried in Tower Grove Cemetery.

Pvt. Richard Bass, 1848-1929

Co. B, 3rd Regt. United States Colored Heavy Artillery

Sergeant Tom Strawn of Company B, 3rd U.S. Colored Troops Heavy Artillery Regiment
Portrait of a soldier in the same company as Richard Bass:
Sgt. Tom Strawn of Company B, 3rd U.S. Colored Troops Heavy Artillery Regiment, from the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs at the Library of Congress

Richard Bass was a farmer born free in Tennessee, to Thomas and Elizabeth Gibson Bass. Over the course of eighteen years, his mother gave birth to three girls and nine boys, and the family moved to Illinois before 1851. In 1853, black laws were passed in Illinois to keep African Americans out, but since the family was already living in Illinois, the law did not affect them. In 1860, the family lived in Union County, Illinois.

On October 8, 1864, Bass enrolled in the Union Army at Springfield, Illinois. He served as a private in Company B, 3rd Regiment, United States Colored Heavy Artillery. After suffering exposure, he was treated for rheumatism and heart disease at the General Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, around May 1, 1865. He was mustered out May 28, 1865 for health reasons, while the rest of his regiment mustered out in April, 1866.

Bass returned to Union County before moving to Jackson County. Continuing to suffer from rheumatism and heart disease, he applied in 1891 for a pension and joined Grand Army of the Republic Post 728 in Murphysboro. He was thrice widowed before marrying Nettie Walter Johnston, with whom he had four children in Decatur, Illinois. By 1912, he had moved to East Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He died in 1929.

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to P. Michael Jones, director of the General John A. Logan Museum, for providing information about African American Civil War soldiers. The narratives were originally developed in 2017 for the Logan Museum exhibit Forgotten Soldiers: Jackson County's African American Civil War Veterans.