Henry Graves: black soldiers fighting for freedom in the American Civil War
This past week, we celebrated America’s independence from England. For many African-Americans slaves, independence was not realized until almost a century later during the American Civil War. Many slaves became soldiers during the war and literally fought for their freedom by supporting the Union armies against the rebelling Confederate states. Known as the US Colored Troops, these soldiers made up 10% of the Union army by the war’s end. All Civil War soldiers endured hardships and risks, but these black men were especially subject to cruelty. One of these men was Private Henry Graves, my wife’s great-great-great-great grandfather.
Henry Graves was born in Newton County, Georgia in May 1832 to Isaac and Maria Graves. His parents were originally from North Carolina and produced seven known children. Henry eventually married Melissa Ferguson, and they made their way to De Soto (later Tate) County, Mississippi. They had nine children including my wife’s ancestor, Caledonia C. Graves Hardiman (born 1857). After the Union armies captured Ft. Pickering in Memphis, Henry Graves crossed into Tennessee and joined the Northern armies. He served from November 1864 to October 1865 as a battalion cart operator in the Third Regiment Heavy Artillery US Colored Troops.
After the war, Henry worked as a woodchop (1870 census) before moving to Plumerville, Arkansas to farm (1880 census). His daughter Caledonia Hardiman made her way to Plumerville in the 1880s and has many descendants there today. By the 1890s, Henry and his son youngest son Ulysses Graves operated Graves & Son (a fuel company) on Chester Street in downtown Little Rock. Perhaps this was a taste of the American Dream he had fought for some thirty years prior.