Mercersburg, Pa. and the 54th Massachusetts

Posted on May 5, 2009 by


I recently made a road trip into south-central PA and one interesting find (actually, it was one of a couple… more on the others later) was that thirteen veterans of the 54th Mass. Infantry are buried in Mt. Zion Cemetery in Mercersburg. Actually, “Little Africa,” which is essentially along Fayette Street in Mercersburg, was settled by several African-Americans in the 1820s (some of them were escaped slaves). According to one website (part of the early version of the Valley of the Shadow),

By the 1840s, they comprised almost 20% of the street’s 33 propertyholders. This neighborhood, known as “Little Africa,” also housed the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and became known as a station on the Underground Railroad. Thirty-three residents of Little Africa joined the famous 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment during the Civil War.

Incidentally, there is a nice collection of letters pertaining to the 54th Mass. from the Demus and Christy families at the Valley of the Shadow site.

Apparently, another 11 residents of “Little Africa” joined the lesser known 55th Massachusetts Infantry. In all, 88 African-Americans from Mercersburg served in the Union army. All of the African American Civil War veterans buried in the Mt. Zion cemetery are listed on this page. From this article, it appears that a Pennsylvania Civil War Trails sign is forthcoming (between 2009-2010).

On a related note, I just realized that one of the African-Americans buried in Mt. Zion was a member of the 2nd USCT Cavalry. Well, in my recent “marker hunter” exploits, while I was documenting the monument at the Middle Spring United Presbyterian Church (where many of my Pa. relatives hailed from) I found that one of the men listed on the monument (Thomas B. Mains) was a 1st lieutenant with the 2nd USCT Cavalry. He was killed in one of the actions near Drewry’s Bluff on May 12, 1864… though no relation to me, I just find it an interesting tie-in.