This blog post was written by library volunteer Diane Leone
Within Schenectady’s Vale Cemetery
lies the African-American Ancestral Burial Ground. Among the interred is Jared Jackson, a Civil
War soldier whose story was uncovered only in recent years, through the efforts
of social studies teacher and local historian Neil Yetwin. (See this article in The Gazette from May 3, 2003 for more information). Jackson’s story is not only that of an
individual, but is also representative of the many African-American soldiers who
served honorably in the Civil War, and whose lives were shaped by the pernicious
forces of slavery and racism.
|African-American Ancestral Burial Ground|
at Vale Cemetery in Schenectady. Courtesy
of Diane Leone.
was born in
York on May 20, 1840, the son of George and Jane Ann Jackson, who
migrated from New York City after abolished slavery in 1827. They worked as tenant farmers. Jared too was a farmer, and only twenty-three
years old when he enlisted to fight for the New York State Union.
|Veterans Plaque in Vale cemetery. Courtesy|
of Diane Leone
Efforts to include African-Americans in the Union military bore fruit after Abraham Lincoln passed the Emancipation Proclamation in January of 1863. On May 22 of that year, the War Department issued Order 143, which established the United States Colored Troops (USCT). After enlisting in
on December 14, 1863 Jackson became a soldier in
Company N of the
20th Regiment of the USCT. New York
African-American men were now serving in the military, not everyone agreed on
what their role should be. Even some whites
who supported freedom for blacks viewed them as intellectually inferior and
lacking in the discipline needed for soldiering. Racism was a factor within the
well. Black soldiers were disproportionately
given garrison duty, and forced to serve as cooks and laborers, as was US . Furthermore, in contrast to their white
counterparts, who received $13 per month plus a clothing allowance, African-American recruits were paid $10 per month--whether they served as laborers or
soldiers--minus a $3 clothing allowance.
As noted by William Seraile, author New
York’s Black Regiments During the Civil War, members of the 20th
Regiment would have paid $24.50 for clothing and supplies prior to their first
posting in Jackson . In June of 1864 Congress granted equal pay to
black troops, with certain restrictions.
Finally, on March 3, 1865, Congress passed a sweeping law approving
equal pay for blacks. Seraile points out
however, that pay was quite irregular, many men going for months without
compensation. New Orleans
|Presentation of colors to the 20th United States Colored Infantry in New York City. |
Courtesy of the National Park Service
While information on
is limited, we can flesh out the 20th Regiment in which he first served. According to Seraile’s study of government
records, of the 1,325 recruits, over
half (712) were born in Jackson New York State, as was . Farmers like Jackson made up the second largest contingent
(340), surpassed only by laborers (616).
The twenty-three year-old was part of the majority age cohort; 52% of the
men were in their twenties. Jackson
We know that USCT regiments were led by white officers. Very few black men were appointed to the rank of commissioned officer, the most notable exceptions being the regimental chaplains. In
there were no black commissioned line officers.
On the other hand, blacks did serve as non-commissioned officers, often
replacing whites in these positions as time went on. New
York State ,
in fact, was made a corporal. In his African-American Soldiers in the Civil War:
USCT 1862-1866, Mark Lardas notes that training brought out qualities
needed in NCOs, such as literacy, leadership potential, and intelligence. We can assume that Jared Jackson must have
distinguished himself to merit this promotion. Jackson
|Prison Camp in Elmira, New York. Courtesy of the |
New York State Archives
|Member of the U.S. |
Guarding a Confederate
prisoner at Elmira. Courtesy
of the Chemung County
William Seraile refers to a homecoming celebration reported in the Albany News at the time. On September 19, 1865, two hundred black residents of the city met with soldiers discharged from the 54th Massachusetts Colored Volunteers and the 26th Regiment of the USCT. One wonders whether the young corporal attended the reception held in the soldiers’ honor.
In his new civilian life,
Jackson returned temporarily to his family in Bethlehem, then moved to and married Hannah E. Wendell in
1866. After trying his hand at running a stable near Fonda, he
settled down as a laborer in Schenectady . He and Hannah purchased a house and had
a daughter, Lucrecia. She and her
husband, Theodore Springstead, gave Jared and Hannah four grandchildren. Schenectady
In spite of having served the Union honorably,
along with many veterans—particularly African-Americans—were deprived of their disability
pensions for many years. In Sven E.
Wilson’s insightful article, “Prejudice & Policy: Racial
Discrimination in the Union Army Disability Pension System, 1865-1906,”he states that the application
process was burdensome and expensive, which automatically put many poor,
uneducated blacks at a disadvantage.
Even when they applied, many African-Americans had difficulties. Despite a higher mortality rate due to
disease, during the war they were not hospitalized for illness as frequently as
their white counterparts; consequently, they often could not provide the
certification needed to verify their claims. Complicating the situation was the
tendency of pension bureau employees to more frequently give white applicants
the benefit of the doubt in cases of uncertainty. Jackson
At last, in September of 1888, after many years of waiting,
received the $12 monthly payment to
which he was entitled. It is possible that he applied based on his back injury
mentioned earlier. In an unkind twist of
expired soon after, on November 21, 1888, of “consumption and liver disease,”
as listed on his death certificate. He
was laid to rest on November 25. Jackson
|African-American Civil War Memorial |
in Washington, DC. Courtesy of Peter Fitzgerald.
All of these veterans’ names are listed on the African-American Civil War Memorial in
. We owe a debt of gratitude to them, and to all
of the approximately 200,000 black soldiers and sailors who heeded the call of
Frederick Douglass: Washington, DC
Who would be free themselves must strike the blow....I urge you to fly to arms and smite to death the power that would bury the Government and your liberty in the same hopeless grave. This is your golden opportunity.