POMEROY — The story of two Meigs County African American men who were recruited to serve in the first colored unit representing Ohio in the Civil War, was relayed during the Memorial Day service held Saturday at the Civil War statue on the courthouse lawn.
Doug McCabe, director of manuscripts at the Mahn Center of Archives and Special Collections at Ohio University’s Alden Library, was speaker for the program held by the Brooks-Grant Camp of the Sons of Union Soldiers and the Major Daniel McCook Circle 104 of the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic.
McCabe said both men, William Bentley, a naive of Meigs County, and Edward Courtney, a native of Virginia but a resident of Meigs County, enlisted on June 22, 1863, into that first African American unit being organized by Milton Hollow of Athens County, a former slave. Both of the Meigs County men were injured in the war, but both survived.
These men of the 127th OVI were mustered in at a segregated camp in Delaware where McCabe described them as having to “put up with the deprivations of lower pay than white soldiers, a lack of clothing and a lack of weapons.”
He went on to say that “still they trained and eventually were sent to Norfolk, Va. where in 1863 they were given a new designation — the 5th United States Colored Infantry.
The speaker detailed the battles encountered by the 5th, citing their bravery and success in battle as well as their determination despite the hardship of being ill-equipped. McCabe said that during their raids, “thousands of slaves belonging to rebel masters were liberated.”
In his talk, McCabe described the battles in which those in the colored 5th Unit succeeded in battles where the white Union regiments had failed. As a result of their success, several men of the 5th , including Holland, the unit organizer, were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.The speaker said that the 5th United States Colored Infantry lost a total of 249 men.
He also noted that hundreds of African-American men rallied to join the Union Army right at the beginning of the war, and nearly all were turned down. That changed later when it became apparent the war would last a long time.
By the end of the war, colored troops constituted one-tenth of the total soldiers who served in the Union armies, sending over 178,000 men to the field, McCabe reported.
“They finally did get equal pay for their service, but after the war, it took years before they could actually become eligible for pensions and disability pay,” McCabe said.
In conclusion, the speaker called on those attending the memorial service to “remember and humbly thank our colored soldiers, including Meigs Countians Bentley and Courtney, from long ago who sacrificed so much that all of us could live better lives.”
Jean Hilton of the McCook Circle 104 was emcee for the 11 a.m. program and spoke about the need to remember our ancestors who served in the Civil War as well as those who served before and after that war, along with the orphans and widows who were left behind. She included in her comments a “Widow’s Tribute” and concluded with the placing of wreaths at the base of the Civil War statue where the names of those killed in that war are engraved on the base. Recorded music was used to enhance the program which was followed by a luncheon at the Meigs Museum.