ROCKY MOUNT —
During a Black History program Saturday, the Phoenix Historical Society (PHS) revealed the names of 36 Edgecombe County African Americans who fought in the Civil War. The revelation is believed to be the first time for those names to have been released publicly, said PHS vice president Jim Wrenn.
JoSeth Bocook, recording secretary for the PHS., read the names of each soldiers and their respective enlisting age that ranged from 18 to 42. The soldiers enlisted in the Union Army “African Brigade” 35th Infantry, 36th Infantry and the 37th Infantry regiments out of Wilmington from 1863. Under the leadership of Abraham Galloway the soldiers served until 1865.
Galloway, who was born into slavery in Smithville, (now Southport), was a fiery young slave rebel, radical abolitionist and Union spy who rose out of bondage to become one of the most significant and stirring black leaders in Civil War America,” said David Cecelski, a prominent author of several African American books.
Cecelski was the keynote speaker for the Black History program. His message did not expound on Edgecombe County’s soldiers, but instead on Galloway’s heroics.
“To me, he was one of the great figures in American history, the rare individual who lived a life so deeply unreconciled to tyranny and oppression that he inspired even the lowest, most downtrodden souls to believe, if sometimes only for a brief moment, that freedom and justice were not just a dream,” Cecelski said. “Yet, it is safe to say, that for more than 125 years no school child ever uttered Abraham Galloway’s name —or the names of any of those multitudes of African American men and women who stood by his side and did so much for the cause of freedom in this state and in this country. It is a joy and an honor and privilege to be here among you as together we begin to change that.”
Wrenn believes that Galloway’s influence on blacks to fight for their own freedom, was the turning point in the Civil War.
“It was not just the northerners or the whites that helped in the war, African Americans themselves played a vital role,” Wrenn said. “You won’t find that in the history book. For a long time, we put a lot of attention on Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation. What we have not focused on that it was the African Americans who were fighting for their freedom that pushed President Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation.”
Wrenn admitted that he doesn’t know too much about the history of the 36 Edgecombe County soldiers. He did say they were slaves who fled the county and gathered in New Bern, where they joined the Army.
The PHS and Cecelski are attempting to rewrite the history book to reveal the significant role that African Americans played in the Civil War.
“Thousands of African Americans, including some from Edgecombe County, fled to a plantation in New Bern,” Wrenn said. “During the war, they developed schools and created a new social environment for their families.
“The PHS desires that these soldiers receive their due recognition in Edgecombe County. Some of these soldiers, such as Charles Lavinghouse, were killed in battle, giving their lives in the fight for their freedom. Lavinghouse was killed in September 1864 in Battle of Deep Bottom, outside of Richmond.”
Last year, the PHS paid homage to another set of African Americans who served in the military – the Montford Point Marines. The Montford Point Marines were African Americans who fought in World War II. While serving, the Marines faced racial injustices from their white comrades but they still helped win some of the most ferocious battles during the war. About two years ago, the Montford Point Marines began to get recognition for their efforts.
“We’re talking about 100 years before World War II,” Wrenn said about the Civil War. “African Americans proved themselves in the Civil War, then had to go back and prove themselves again in World War II.
The revelation of the names of the Edgecombe soldiers by PHS and Cecelski’s book, “The Fire of Freedom: Abrham Galloway and the Slaves’ Civil War,” coincidentally came during the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation (1865). But the work is not over for PHS.
“There is potential that other Edgecombe County soldiers served in other regiments. We don’t know,” Wrenn said. “We’re going to continue researching to learn more about the life history of our Edgecombe County African Brigade soldiers.”
Edgecombe County African American Civil War veterans