Black Virginians in Blue
Black Virginians in Blue (Part 3): After the Civil War
Friday, January 10, 2020

Casey Bowler graduated in 2019 from the University of Virginia where she studied Computer Science and Women, Gender & Sexuality. As a 2018-2019 Research Intern for the John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History, Casey researched the history of Albemarle County and UVA during the war.


Lily Snodgrass studied History and English at the University of Virginia, graduating in 2020. She spent the summer of 2019 as the Nau Center Digital History Intern and served as a student researcher in 2019-2020.

The end of the war brought major changes to Virginia, with emancipation freeing the state’s sizeable slave population and necessitating the restructuring of its social and economic systems. But this change was not immediate—it took years of work by Black Virginians to establish their place in the communities that had fought to uphold their enslavement. This was a time characterized by movement and flux for African Americans, as soldiers returned home, families reunited, and the fight for Black civil rights continued. The Nau Center currently knows of four USCT soldiers who returned to Albemarle County after mustering out: James T. S. Taylor, Nimrod Eaves, William Page, and, briefly before moving to Richmond, William I. Johnson.* Most of the sailors and soldiers born in the county, however, returned to live where they had resided at the time of their enlistment, including other parts of Virginia and across the North and South, with a few also living in the West. These men exemplify the typical struggles and triumphs that most Black Union veterans, regardless of birthplace or post-war residence, experienced in the decades after the Civil War was won.

Black Union service lasted for several years after the surrender at Appomattox. Because Black soldiers were admitted later in the war, their three-year terms of service had usually not expired by April 1865. As historian Donald R. Shaffer notes, this led to Black soldiers being mustered out much more slowly than their White counterparts. Those that remained in the army were assigned to garrison duty throughout the South, supervising reconstruction efforts and maintaining order as tense new social boundaries were established. Nimrod Eaves, for example, carried out garrison duty in Jacksonville, Florida, and its surrounding areas for most of 1865, before mustering out along with the rest of the 34th Infantry Regiment on February 28, 1866.

For Alexander Caine, a landsman in the Union navy, service lasted even beyond his initial enlistment term, though this was by his own choice. Caine served aboard the USS St. Louis during the war until he was discharged on February 14, 1865, after completing his three years. After this, he signed up for another tour of duty, joining the crew of the USS Franklin on October 31, 1865. With his two combined tours, Caine would have seen duty along the African coast, the Canary Islands, the Azores, and all of the major ports of Europe and the Mediterranean. Caine finally mustered out of the navy on November 14, 1868. The only other Albemarle-born Black Civil War veteran to reenlist was Richard M. Cox who rejoined the army for another three-year stint on March 14, 1867.

After mustering out, Black veterans usually returned to their pre-war homes near where they enlisted. For most Black Albemarle-born soldiers this was not Virginia—they had been displaced out of the state before the war either through the slave trade, by choosing to run away, or through Virginia’s restrictive laws regulating free people of color. While most Albemarle County veterans continued to reside in the states where they had enlisted until their deaths, a number did move across state lines. Most of these men moved to bordering states such as George Scott, Jackson Carter, and James Gillum who moved from Missouri to Illinois. Robert Brock, a veteran of the 32nd USCT Regiment Infantry, was unusual in moving from the North to South, specifically from Pittsburgh to Louisiana, after his first wife died in 1869. Remarrying the next year, Brock supported his family of six children by working as a farm servant in Iberville Parish on the Belfort Plantation for a Mr. Edwin Marionneaux. None of the veterans moved as far west as the Pacific Coast, although a few such as John M. Winfrey, Joseph Clark, and Charles Rollins did reside in Kansas.

Nimrod Eaves, was one of only three soldiers who returned permanently to Albemarle County, where he worked as a farmer and shoemaker and married his second wife, Lizzy Yauncey, in 1877. William Page also worked as a farmer after he returned to Blenheim, Albemarle County, following his mustering out in December 1865. Finally, James T. S. Taylor returned after the war to work a shoemaker, following in his father’s footsteps. Taylor and his wife Eliza resided in Charlottesville for most of the rest of their lives until their deaths in 1918 and 1939 respectively.

After the war, William I. Johnson returned to his owner’s Albemarle estate, though just for a brief period of time before moving to Richmond, where he started a family and established a long, successful career as a contractor. Johnson had been enslaved during the war and forced into Confederate labor, but he escaped and served instead in an unattached quartermaster capacity behind Union lines until the end of the war. He became the last of Albemarle’s African American surviving veterans and the only one to give testimony to the WPA Slave Narratives Project. He died of arteriosclerosis on New Year’s Day 1938.

According to historian Donald R. Shaffer, about 50% of Black Union veterans were involved in some sort of unskilled labor. Factoring in the men who worked as artisans, skilled laborers, and personal or domestic servants, that number rises to almost 60%. Although extant records do not offer enough information to track the lives of all of Albemarle’s soldiers after the war, it is clear from those who filed pensions and spoke about their post-war occupations that they fit the general trend described by Shaffer. Nearly all of the veterans were unskilled laborers and listed their occupations as either “farmer” or “laborer” after the war. A typical case was Alexander Andrews, who stated that he worked as a field hand after the war, picking cotton in Missouri.  Similarly, Henry Armstrong lists his occupation as “cutting cord wood farming etc.” Horace Barlow worked as a “day hand on sugar farms and rice farms,” James T. Battles was a “truck gardiner,” and Benjamin Cowen was a sharecropper. These men exemplify Shaffer’s statistic of the majority of Black veterans working in unskilled positions. There were only a few like Jeremiah Walker or James Taylor who held professional positions—usually either as ministers or politicians—or ran a business, such as carpenters and barbers, including John B. Battles and Alexander Caine.

Nonetheless, some of Albemarle’s African American veterans went on to hold leadership positions in their churches and communities after returning home. James T. S. Taylor, for example, returned to Charlottesville after mustering out in 1866 and was then elected to the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1867. While serving as a delegate, he passionately advocated for the right to vote for Black Virginians. Albemarle-born Jesse Summer Cowles became a prominent religious leader in several communities throughout New England and Washington, D.C., serving as minister after graduating from Wesleyan University and was ordained in 1872. Frank Lee settled in Cleveland, Ohio, after the war, working as a Republican Party organizer as well as class leader at St. Johns AME church. Lee created groups such as the “Brotherhood of African Descent” in order to “bring about united political action” for civil rights.

Across the country, these men were also joining veterans’ organizations, notably the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). The GAR was founded in 1866 to advocate for better government assistance for Union veterans and to create a unified space for remembrance and political activism. As historian Barbara Gannon notes, the GAR was the first nationwide veterans’ organization, and it stood apart from many organizations of its time by welcoming African American members. Gannon writes that “white veterans embraced Black veterans because their membership in the GAR demonstrated that their hard-won victory included the creation of a transcendent bond—comradeship—that overcame even the most pernicious social barrier of their era—race-based separation.” Members called for voting rights for Black veterans and numerous posts were fully integrated. Isaiah Reed, Jeremiah Wilson Walker, Frank Lee, Joseph Carr, and John B. Battles were all Albemarle-born USCT veterans and recorded members of their local GAR posts.

In addition to his work with founding the “Brotherhood of African Descent,” Frank Lee was also an active member of the GAR. As such, he was invited to give a Memorial Day speech at St. John’s AME in Cleveland, where he stated that people needed to “learn from the deeds and valor of the men of ’61 and ‘65” and that “righteousness is the only thing that will bring peace. … Through our lives and characters” each of us can be a “monument to truth.” Lee’s speech exemplifies Gannon’s idea of the “Won Cause,” a term she uses to describe the mentality carried by so many Union veterans and veterans’ groups like the GAR to counter the Southern ideology of the Lost Cause. According to Gannon, “interracial comradeship epitomized the many layers and meanings of the Won Cause” because “interracial comradeship in the GAR represented a small victory” even beyond its meaning of defeating slavery and maintaining the Union. It was “nineteenth-century African Americans’ own won cause, for they achieved a level of political and social equality in the GAR that did not exist outside of this group.”

Back in Albemarle County, African Americans worked to sort out the daily realities of their new freedom. In 1865, the Bureau of Freedmen, Refugees, and Abandoned Lands, more commonly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, was established in Virginia. As historian Ervin L. Jordan, Jr., writes, “the administration of justice was its goal—not revenge as hoped for by some former slaves or as suspected by former slaveowners.” The Bureau worked to protect Black civil rights and uplift communities as a whole by allocating housing, education, clothing, and transportation to both freedmen and impoverished Whites. It also sought to resolve disputes between Black and White community members, leading to the establishment of a Freedmen’s Court in Charlottesville on October 10, 1865. According to Jordan, the court ruled on cases where contracts were breached, payments lapsed, or petty crimes were committed, setting fines, jail time, or restitution where deemed appropriate.

After the war, many Black Virginians faced the daunting task of finding family members from whom they had been separated by the slave trade or their military service. As historian Tera W. Hunter notes, “happy endings occurred more often than might seem possible in a war-torn region with rudimentary transportation, but for many couples and families, insurmountable obstacles kept them apart.” Lack of proper documentation and legal illegitimacy of slave marriages in the prewar years made it all the more difficult to find lost or previously sold spouses. This was the case for William Page and his first wife, Rebecca Cary. They had entered into a slave marriage before the war began, but the separation of Page’s service proved too much for the couple and they both remarried, Rebecca to a Peter Johnson and William to Catherine Waters in 1866.

This lack of documentation also created problems for family members trying to collect pensions for their relatives who were disabled or killed while serving in the Union military. The pension system was established in 1862 to provide for injured or killed Union veterans and their families and was expanded in 1890 so that all disabled and deceased Union veterans, regardless of whether their illness or injury originated in the service, and their families could receive benefits. However, for some family members such as Frances Evans, it could be difficult to prove that the applicant was dependent on the soldier for an income. Evans was a free Black washerwoman in Charlottesville whose son, William Evans, died in combat at New Market Heights. Despite her obvious need, as depicted by the affidavits from Evans’s friends, she was unable to receive a pension. While her son had been living in Ohio with family before the war, she had spent the war in Confederate territory, meaning that it was impossible for her son to send her his paycheck and therefore she had no proof that she had been dependent on him for an income. Ultimately, despite much back-and-forth with the Pension Bureau, Evans was unsuccessful in obtaining a pension.

Pensions in general were more difficult to obtain for Black veterans than for their White counterparts, and, as Donald Shaffer notes, “statistical evidence clearly suggests that African Americans received an inequitable portion of the pension money.” Still, Albemarle-born USCT veterans had a higher overall success rate than the average African American veteran. According to Shaffer’s sample, only 75.4% of all Black veterans were successful in obtaining a pension whereas 93.8% of veterans from Albemarle were able to obtain pensions later in life. Incredibly, their success rate was even higher than that of White soldiers in Shaffer’s study, of whom 92.6% received pensions. Albemarle veterans’ widows were also more successful, obtaining pensions at a rate of 72.6% as opposed to Shaffer’s 60.7% figure for Black troops’ widows. Finally, the minor children and parents of Albemarle soldiers were also more successful than typical Black pension applicants, for children received them 79.17% of the time and exactly one-half of their parents’ applications succeeded as well. In Shaffer’s study, most Black veterans’ minor children and parents received pensions in only 50.0% and 35.5% of cases respectively.

Examining the cases of the three veterans who returned permanently to Albemarle County after the war illustrates the typical pension experience for the larger group. James Taylor received $8 per month for “disease of heart” beginning in 1893, which later increased to $30 per month by 1915. His wife, Eliza, successfully applied for funding after his death and received monthly payments which had increased to $50 per month by the time of her death in 1939. Nimrod Eaves’s pension request was initially denied in 1881, but he successfully obtained funding of $6 per month for “malarial poisoning and rheumatism” after applying in 1881. In 1890, William Page began receiving his pension of $12 a month for his many health conditions, which included rheumatism of the legs, throat trouble, shortness of breath, impaired vision, and partial deafness. This amount had increased to $20 a month by the time of his death in 1910, after which his wife, Catherine, also received a pension.

In the case of brothers John and James T. Battles, pensions were not enough to cover the long-term health issues caused by their service. Both brothers lived in the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (NHDVS) in Michigan due to a need for more direct care than money from a pension could provide. John spent eight years there for “general disability,” despite the fact that he had a wife still living, something that, according to Shaffer, was not uncommon among soldiers. While many soldiers would “take their meals at the soldiers’ home by day, … they would spend the evening and sleep with their wives.” Others, however, would “abandon their wives and go to live with other veterans in the old soldiers’ homes” to the point that Congress had to pass legislation in 1899 allowing for “deserted wives to collect half of their estranged husbands’ pensions.” It is unclear whether John Battles falls into either of these categories.

Warner Carter, a man who was charged with deserting his wife, however, states that he did so because “...she has driven me from home and taken in others and furnishing them with provisions. When I objected to this, I was cursed and abused by her and threatened bodily harm... I am really afraid that if I eat my meals at the house I will be poisoned.” Ultimately, Carter’s story resulted in the couple reconciling after he spent some time at the soldiers’ home. James Battles, unlike his brother and Carter, had no family and was admitted for a short amount of time, the home serving as more of a means for intensive medical care than a long-term residence. Both brothers died in the soldiers’ home in Michigan.

The poor health conditions experienced by Taylor, Eaves, Page, Carter, and the Battles brothers illustrate the extensive physical toll that the Union army took on so many of the men who served. The Civil War was a bloody, hard-fought conflict. Those who did not lose their lives in combat often lost limbs, and many men suffered blows to their general health after being exposed to the close quarters, violence, and disease that characterized military camps and battlefields.

The extensive testimony and documentation required in the pension application process was a barrier that prevented many African American veterans from obtaining their earned benefits. Today, though, these existing records are a key source of insight into the lives of USCT soldiers before, during, and after the war. Taylor, Eaves, and Page each lived in Albemarle before and after the conflict, leaving to enlist in the Union army and returning victorious. They faced the challenges of reconstruction alongside their fellow Virginians, with the unique problems and privileges afforded them by their veteran status. As Ervin Jordan writes, “little honor was extended to African Americans, for in the minds of most White Americans they were the cause of the conflict.” But these Albemarle men, and so many other Black men and women with them, had established their own honor on and off the battlefield. Long after the era of Reconstruction drew to a close in the 1870s, Black Virginians continued to fight for their freedom as long as it would be denied.

Image: Alfred R. Waud, "Mustered Out" (courtesy Library of Congress).


*April 2021: A fifth man named Robin (Robert) Jordan was recently discovered. His story is currently being researched.

Compiled Service Records for Alexander Caine, Jessie Sumner Cowles, Richard M. Cox, Nimrod Eaves, William Evans, William I. Johnson, Frank Lee, William Page, James T.S. Taylor, RG 94, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., Accessed through Fold3 (; Pension records for Alexander Andrews, Henry Armstrong, Horace Barlow, James T. Battles, John B. Battles, Robert Brock, Alexander Caine, Jackson Carter, Warner Carter, Joseph Clark, Benjamin Cowen, Jessie Summer Cowles, Nimrod Eaves, William Evans, James Gillum, Frank Lee, William Page, Charles Rollins, George Scott, James T.S. Taylor, and John M. Winfrey, RG 15, National Archives and Records Administration; Chicago Defender, Jun. 5, 1915; Cleveland Gazette, Feb. 9, 1884, Dec. 5, 1885, July 30, 1887, Oct. 24, 1896, Oct. 2, 1897, October 8 and Dec. 10, 1898; Baltimore Afro-American, Dec. 31, 1898, Aug. 3, 1907; Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelth, and Fifteenth Biennial Reports of the Board of Managers of the Michigan Soldiers’ Home (Lansing, MI: Wynkoop Hannebeck Crawford Co., State Printers, 1902, 1904, 1906, 1908, 1914); Barbara Gannon, The Won Cause : Black and White Comradeship in the Grand Army of the Republic (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011); Tera W. Hunter, Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Black Marriage in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2017); Ervin L. Jordan, Jr., Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995); Ervin L. Jordan, Jr., Charlottesville and the University of Virginia in the Civil War (Lynchburg: H. E. Howard, Inc., 1988); Charles L. Perdue, Jr., Thomas E. Barden, and Robert K. Phillips, eds., Weevils in the Wheat: Interviews with Virginia Ex-Slaves (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia); Donald R. Shaffer, After the Glory: The Struggles of Black Civil War Veterans (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004); Jane Diamond, “Brave Boys of the Fifth,”; Jonathan W. White, “A Black Soldier from Charlottesville Writes to Lincoln,”; Elizabeth R. Varon, “The Albemarle Roots of USCT Soldiers,” Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, May 30, 2019.