Frank Lee (5th MA Colored CAV)

Frank Lee was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, in March 1842. Little is known about his early life, but he later recalled that, in 1862, he "made my escape and became separated from my people. I haven't seen my mother since." By 1864, he had reached Boston, Massachusetts. 

Lee enlisted as a private in the Union army in Boston on March 16, 1864. On April 12, he mustered in to Company K of the 5th Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. His service record describes him as 5 feet, 6 inches tall, with black hair, black eyes, and a black skin complexion. The army transferred his regiment to central Virginia, and Lee took part in the Siege of Petersburg. The regiment was assigned to guard prisoners in Point Lookout, Maryland, until March 1865. The 5th Massachusetts Cavalry was the first federal cavalry regiment to enter Richmond after the city fell in April 1865. The army then moved the regiment to Texas, where it worked on the United States Military Railroad near Brazos. Lee mustered out on October 31, 1865, near Clarksville, Texas.

After the war, Lee moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he worked as a janitor. As southern states passed repressive Jim Crow laws in the late 1800s, Lee championed civil rights. In 1898, for example, a mob of 2,000 White men in Wilmington, North Carolina, overthrew the city's local government, expelling Black political leaders from the city and destroying Black homes and businesses. In response, Frank Lee founded the "Brotherhood of African Descent" in Cleveland to "bring about united political action" for civil rights. He worked to preserve the memory of African-American wartime service, becoming an active member of the Grand Army of the Republic and a respected authority on Black history. In 1900, Lee gave a Memorial Day speech at the St. John’s AME Sunday School that was so powerful that church leaders still quoted it fifteen years later. Lee’s message was straightforward: “Learn from the deeds and valor of the men of ’61 and ’65." He declared that "Righteousness in the only thing that will bring peace," and that each individual could serve as a "monument to truth."

Although Lee married, his wife's name is unknown, and the couple had no children. Later in life, Lee suffered from defective eyesight, weakness of the back, disease of heart and kidneys, and senile debility. The government rejected his first pension application in 1900, but four years later he began receiving an $8 monthly pension. The amount increased to $12 per month by 1905. Lee died of valvular insufficiency at his Webster Avenue home in Cleveland on July 25, 1907, and is buried in Woodland Cemetery.


Tribute to Frank Lee, Chicago Defender

Testimony of Frank Lee

Last Will and Testament of Frank Lee

Name:Lee, Frank
Alternative names:
  • Soldier
5th Regiment Massachusetts Cavalry (Colored)K
Branch of service:Army
Enlistment1864-03-16Boston, MAaccepted21Slave
Muster In1864-04-12Readville, MA
Muster Out1865-10-31Clarksville, TXMustered Out
Residence at enlistment:Buchanan, VA
Rank In:Private
Rank Out:Private
Highest rank achieved:Private
Person 1Person 2NumberRelation Type
Lee, Frank1251703.0application-invalid
Lee, Franknoneapplication-minor
Lee, Franknoneapplication-parent
Lee, Franknoneapplication-widow
Lee, Frank1107821.0certificate-invalid
Birth date:1842-03
Birth date certainty:About
Birth place:Albemarle County, VA
Death date:1907-07-25
Death place:Cleveland, OH
Causes of death:disease: valvular insufficiency
Occupations:Farmer, Janitor

Compiled Service Records for Frank Lee, RG94 National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Washington, D.C.; Pension Records for Frank Lee, RG15, NARA, Washington, D.C.; United States Federal Census, 1880, 1900, accessed through; Chicago Defender, June 5, 1915; Cleveland Gazette, February 9, 1884, December 5, 1885, October 24, 1896, October 2, 1897, October 8, 1898, December 10, 1898, August 3, 1907; Baltimore Afro-American, December 31, 1898; August 3, 1907; Jane Diamond, “Brave Boys of the Fifth,” (; “Frank Lee,”, (; "Frank Lee," Woodland Cemetery Foundation, (