Sesquicentennial in the Shenandoah Valley… what you probably won’t hear about

Posted on July 2, 2011 by

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It’s something that’s been totally overshadowed by “memory” of Stonewall Jackson, Turner Ashby, the Stonewall Brigade, and even Sheridan’s “Burning”… and something that will likely remain overshadowed during the Sesquicentennial here, in the Shenandoah Valley.

It’s the story of the Valley’s free black and slave population… the Unionists civilians (slave and free), and those who served in the United States Colored Troops.

Take for example, my find of a few years ago with both Noah Thornton and John M. “Jack” Dogans/Dougans, of Page County.

Or, consider this fellow, buried in Winchester National Cemetery

His name was Phillip Lewis Brent, and he served as a private in Co. K, 4th United States Colored Infantry. I don’t know a great deal about his life just yet, but Brent, born in Clarke County, was freed on April 19, 1861. There certainly had to be more coincidence to the fact that this was only two days after Virginia Convention’s decision to finally secede. So, then, what was Brent’s position on slavery and secession? We may never know. For now, I’m just guessing based on what I’ve found. Who knows what information the pension record may reveal.

Birney

Brent’s military records are easy to follow. He is present in every muster roll, beginning with his enlistment, on August 31, 1863, in Baltimore, Maryland. At the time, he was described as 25 years old, 5’5″, black complexion and eyes, curly hair, and free. Interestingly, he was enlisted by (then) Col. William Birney. For the period of Nov/Dec 1863, there was a stoppage in pay for a haversack and great coat straps, and then, in Jan/Feb 1864, a stoppage for one letter (?!). He was placed on extra duty at the Canal, on August 9, 1864, but was present again on the Sept/Oct 64 rolls. In Mar/Apr 1865, his record notes “back pay due from date of enlistment to May 1, 1864″. Brent was mustered out with his regiment, at Washington, D.C., on May 4, 1866.

One of the index cards from Brent's service record

As for the years after the war, he appears in census records beginning (I think), in 1870, in Winchester. However, the only listing is by the last name “Brent”; no first name or middle initial. It may or may not be him, but the age seems to match, and at that time, he is shown as being married, with children. Wife Eliza (38), Lewis (19), Anna (12), and John W. Brent (13). In 1880, however, he is listed as living with his parents Ralph and Rebecca Anderson, and somewhat disturbingly, by occupation, is listed as a servant.

Brent applied (application #305.278) for a pension on August 14, 1879, and was awarded one under certificate 1013 468 (C2-556-927).

Brent is listed as having died, April 7, 1919.

What you don’t see in all of this is what the 4th United States Colored Infantry was doing during these years. As he was present the entire time, it seems safe to say that he was likely present for all or most of the engagements…

SERVICE.-Duty at Yorktown till May, 1864. Expedition from Yorktown to Matthews County October 4-9, 1863. Wistar’s Expedition against Richmond February 6-8, 1864. New Kent Court House February 8. Expedition to Bottom’s Bridge in aid of Kilpatrick’s Cavalry March 1-4. Expedition into King and Queen County March 9-12. Expedition into Matthews and Middlesex Counties March 17-21. Butler’s operations south of the James River and against Petersburg and Richmond May 4-June 15. Skirmish at Bermuda Hundred May 4. Duty at Spring Hill on the Appomattox till June. (Built Fort Converse on the Bermuda Hundred line.) Attack on Fort Converse May 20. Before Petersburg June 15-18. Siege operations against Petersburg and Richmond June 16 to December 7. Mine Explosion, Petersburg, July 30. Dutch Gap September 7. Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, New Market Heights, September 28-30. Battle of Fair Oaks October 27-28. 1st Expedition to Fort Fisher, N. C., December 7-27. 2nd Expedition to Fort Fisher, N. C., January 7-15. Assault and capture of Fort Fisher, N. C., January 15. Sugar Loaf Hill January 19. Sugar Loaf Battery February 11. Fort Anderson February 18-20. Capture of Wilmington February 22. Northeast Ferry February 22. Campaign of the Carolinas March 1-April 26. Advance on Goldsboro March 6-21. Occupation of Goldsboro March 21. Cox’s Bridge March 23-24. Advance on Raleigh April 9-18. Occupation of Raleigh April 14. Bennett’s House April 26. Surrender of Johnston and his army. Duty in the Dept. of North Carolina till May, 1866. Mustered out May 4, 1866.

Regiment lost during service 3 Officers and 102 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 1 Officer and 186 Enlisted men by disease. Total 292.

In short, this man…yes… a son of the Shenandoah Valley… saw some service worth noting, and like all those who served in the USCT units, the stories, especially during the Sesquicentennial, do not deserve to remain silenced.

*Medal of Honor recipients in the 4th USC Inf. include Sgt. Major Christian Fleetwood, Sgt. Alfred B. Hilton,  and Pvt. Charles Veale.

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