Remembering, honoring Civil War’s black soldiers

By Bill Bean - Urbana Mayor

Editor’s note: Urbana Mayor Bill Bean gave the following address at Oak Dale Cemetery during the city’s May 28 Memorial Day service.

Even though I have never served in the military, I have a great respect for those who served past and present. But it is the past that I would like to talk about this Memorial Day morning. Every Memorial Day and Veterans Day we stand in front and around this gazebo to hear a speaker talk about honor, service and sacrifice. Little do we know about the soldiers that we stand in front of on this Memorial Day 2018. Almost every one of the front grave markers are of Soldiers from the first Black Civil War regiments. They endured tremendous hardship in serving a country that paid them three dollars less than a white soldier, charged them $3 for their uniforms and if killed in action they were still indebted to the Government that they served. But yet, they held the conviction of our Founding Fathers that all men are created equal. Over 180,000 Freemen and runaway slaves took up Abraham Lincoln’s call to fight for the abolishment of slavery for a country that did not recognize them as equal citizens. It is fitting that here in the very front row of this Military section of Oakdale Cemetery lies the courageous soldiers of the 54 & 55 Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and Regiments of the United States Colored Troops. We honor them here for their Courage, Sacrifice and Bravery.

Just to mention a few notables.

Jeremiah Thompson Co. C 54 Mass

He was a lamplighter for the city of Urbana. Jeremiah enlisted on May 12, 1862. Thompson was among the first of the colored men to enlist in the service from Urbana/Champaign County. He was engaged at the Battle of Ft. Wagner where he was wounded after losing the Regimental commander Colonel Robert Shaw. Jeremiah was mustered out of service on Aug. 20, 1865. He returned home and lived a useful life and died from disease that was contracted in the service.

William Spain Co. E 54 Mass

William was a farmer from Urbana Township.

Stephen Depp Co. K 54 Mass.

Stephen was also Farmer in Champaign Co.

Isaiah Buckney Co E 55 Mass.

Isaiah Winfield Buckney was born in Belmont County, Ohio on Feb. 18. 1837. Moved to Urbana prior to the outbreak of the war. Enlisted on May 29, 1863 and served with the rank of Sergeant. Black soldiers could only serve as noncommissioned officers while white soldiers could serve as commissioned officers. Isaiah said “Ohio not receiving any colored troops at this time and that patriotism was burning in my breast with a desire for the welfare of my fellow countryman that they might be free, led me to offer my service to the State of Mass. That I might clear an honorable part in the cause of my Country. “

His first engagement was at James Island, South Carolina on July 2, 1864. He was wounded below the knee by rifle shot. In that battle 9 men were killed and 18 were wounded from his unit.

Isaiah was discharged on August 29, 1865 and returned to Urbana and lived the rest of his life with his wife Nancy Jane. Died on Feb. 22, 1900.

David Barrett Co C 55 Mass.

Lived in Urbana Township and was a farmer. Enlisted on May 26, 1863 in Urbana Ohio. David was wounded at the Battle of Honey Hill, SC. On Nov. 30, 1864.

Samuel Hill Co C 55 Mass.

He was born April 15, 1845 in Wytheville Va. Sam entered the service on May 8, 1863. The first battle in which he participated in was James Island on May 21, 1864 followed by Battles of Honey Hill, Brigger Creek, and Demons Neck. He was 3 times wounded, losing the middle finger of his left hand at Honey Hill, wounded in his right thigh and collar bone at the Battle of James Island.

Before I close, I would like to mention Joseph Coleman a white soldier from Salem Township. In front of us is his memorial marker stating that he served with Co. C of the 95th OVI. Killed at Brices Cross Road, Mississippi. June 10, 1864.

His Army record lists him as a Prisoner of War on June 10, 1864. Murdered by rebel guard because Joseph would not give up his pocket watch.

As we stand here today and look over a sea of flags each one of these flags represents its own story. We must remember and never forget.

The poet Laurence Binyon said in his World War I Poem,

“They went with songs to the battle, they were young.

Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.

They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,

They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.”

By Bill Bean

Urbana Mayor