Brothers in arms: shedding light on an otherwise forgotten group of Rappahannock Civil War veterans

One ‘colored’ Rappahannock veteran fought in the war-ending Battle of Appomattox Courthouse

The names James Grayson, Horace Carter, James Whipp and Titus Brooks probably don’t come to mind when recalling the Rappahannock County men who fought bravely and in some cases to the death in the American Civil War.

All photos by John McCaslin

All told, there are at least 56 of these unlikely men listed as being from Rappahannock County who took up arms and fought in the War Between the States, plus dozens of additional soldiers — such as Farley Thornton — who was born just across the Rappahannock line in Culpeper County.

In their official enlistment records, part of an enlightening Civil War exhibit on display this past weekend at the historic Scrabble School, all of the soldiers shared the same characteristics: “Complexion Black, Eyes Black, Hair Black.”

James Grayson, his military records reveal, was “born and partly raised at Washington, Rappahannock County, Virginia, the property of Edward T. Jones. I was sold by my said first owner at Richmond, Virginia, prior to the Civil War, when I was only a boy.”

The new slave master took the youngster to farms he owned in Kentucky and Illinois “till freedom, and [I] was taken from that farm by the Federal soldiers to Paducah, Kentucky, where I enlisted as stated” on May 28, 1864.

Grayson was one of the more fortunate soldiers with Rappahannock County roots who donned the blue uniform of the North. He was first assigned to the 8th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery as a snare drummer, and he continued in that position for about a year until he was commissioned as the regiment’s “principal musician.” He was eventually mustered out of service holding that rank.

In April 1863, as the Civil War grew bloodier, Frederick Douglass published “Why Should a Colored Man Enlist?” He provided nine reasons on a single sheet of paper, which was reprinted and passed around by blacks — enslaved and freed — in all 36 states.

Reason No. 6: “Enlist and you make this your country in common with all other men born in the country or out of it.”

Thousands of African Americans answered Douglass’ call, including some five dozen from Rappahannock County, who joined regiments of the U.S. Colored Infantry, U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, U.S. Colored Light Artillery, and U.S. Colored Cavalry.

Ironically, Rappahannock native James Whipp, who listed his parents as Harrison and Mary Lawler Whipp, would find his way back to Virginia via a recruiting station in Camp Meigs, Mass. He was mustered in on April 12, 1864, joining Company K, 5th Regiment of the Massachusetts Colored Cavalry, which earned him somewhere around $13 a month and an additional $100 bounty at the end of his service.

After months of guarding Confederate prisoners, Whipp’s regiment was finally given the opportunity to fight “and they did so gallantly in the Second Battle of Petersburg and later in the final siege of Petersburg,” the exhibit pointed out.

“They were also the first cavalry unit to enter Richmond after its fall.”

After the southern capital was secured, Private Whipp’s regiment was detached to Texas, where he took ill with tuberculosis and was hospitalized. But he would survive the war and return to his family farm, listed in his military records as being in“Jackson Township of Rappahannock County.” On March 18, 1871, he married Virginia “Jennie” Jordan, daughter of James Edward and Eliza J. Jordan, and the couple worked their small farm together until his death in 1896.

To determine whether Jennie could receive her late husband’s pension benefits, a list of his assets had to be produced and evaluated. The list, which was also on display in Scrabble this past weekend, was compiled and recorded in the handwriting of “Clarence J. Miller, Commissioner of the Revenue for Rappahannock County.”

The assets, Miller wrote on Oct. 20, 1896, consisted of three horses valued at $60, two cattle valued at $15, four hogs valued at $8, and one clock valued at $1. Household and kitchen furniture, Miller figured, was worth $10. Grand total: $94.

Jennie would live for another 39 years until her death in Rappahannock County in 1935. The couple had no children.

Not every man, the exhibit revealed, cared to endure the horror of bullets and “the real possibility of imminent death in war.”

Some slipped away, and if caught faced imprisonment or even death. Some deserters were given a second chance — if one calls being positioned on the front lines a second chance — including at least one black soldier from Rappahannock County.

Robert Bundery enlisted with the 23rd U.S. Colored Infantry on Dec. 1, 1863 and soon deserted his unit. The Union Army was forced to pay $30 to the bounty hunter who picked him up. He was placed back into service, apparently at his request, only to be killed in battle on July 30, 1864 during the Siege of Petersburg. He was 25 years old.

Bundery’s final breath on the battlefield wasn’t uncommon among black soldiers, many of them recently rescued slaves who lived in freedom only long enough to die bloody deaths in the war..

One intriguing notation discovered by the Rappahannock News in the records of Company K, 8th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Infantry, surrounds Horace Carter, who similarly listed his birthplace as Rappahannock County. When he was 20 years old Carter traveled to Washington, D.C. to enlist with the Colored unit. The date was Nov. 1, 1864. Little did he know then that the war would be ending in six months’ time and that he would be witness to it.

As his military superior wrote in remarks below Carter’s vital statistics: “Good Soldier, Appomattox C.H.”

The pivotal Battle of Appomattox Court House — the final battle of the retreating Confederate Army Gen. Robert E. Lee — was fought on the morning of April 9, 1865. That same afternoon Lee would sign his surrender documents that ended the war. What exactly was witnessed by Carter that day nobody knows for certain, but his records show that he played an impressive role in what today remains one of the most significant events in American history.

Noted historian Terry Miller, of Suffolk, Va., has been compiling the records and conducting research of Virginia’s African American Civil War soldiers for many years. Among her accomplishments, she’s developed African American history museums for Spotsylvania County (Va.) Public Schools and Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C.

Her exhibit this past weekend — surrounding African American soldiers who had lived in Rappahannock, Madison, Orange and Culpeper counties — was fittingly on display at the Scrabble School. Built during the Jim Crow era of segregation, the school provided an elementary education to Rappahannock’s African American children until 1968, when the public schools were finally integrated.

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