Military service to this country has been a tradition on both sides of my family. My dad was a Tuskegee Airman in WWII. His white forebears fought in the Civil War on the side of the Union, in the Mexican War and the War of Independence. But I am named for my mom's great uncle, who childless at the time of his death left his land in the hills of Loudoun county VA to the women of my family, and it is passed down to the oldest daughter to maintain.
His name was Dennis Weaver, he was a slave who ran off to fight for the Union as "a colored soldier" and in his honor I was named Denise. My grandfather was named Dennis for him as well.
Dennis Weaver served in Company D, 1st Regiment, USCT (United States Colored Troops). He joined at age 19.
According to the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors website run by the National Parks Service:
1st Regiment, United States Colored Infantry
Organized in the District of Columbia May 19 to June 30, 1863. Ordered to Dept. of Virginia and attached to United States Forces, Norfolk and Portsmouth, Dept. of Virginia and North Carolina, July to October, 1863. United States Forces, Yorktown, Va., Dept. of Virginia and North Carolina, to April, 1864. 1st Brigade, Hincks' Colored Division, 18th Corps, Army of the James, Dept. of Virginia and North Carolina, to June, 1864. 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 18th Corps, to December, 1864. 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 25th Corps, to December, 1864. 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 25th Corps, to March, 1865. 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 10th Corps, Dept. of North Carolina, to August, 1865. Dept. of North Carolina to muster out.
SERVICE.-Duty at Norfolk, Portsmouth and Yorktown, Va., till April, 1864. Expedition from Norfolk to South Mills, Camden Court House, etc., N. C., December 5-24, 1863. Butler's operations south of James River and against Petersburg and Richmond, Va., May 4-June 15. Action at Wilson's Wharf May 24. Assaults on Petersburg June 15-18. Siege of Petersburg and Richmond June 16 to December 7, 1864. Explosion of Mine, Petersburg, July 30. Demonstration on north side of the James River September 28-30. Battle of Chaffin's Farm, New Market Heights, September 28-30. Fort Harrison September 29. Battle of Fair Oaks October 27-28. Expedition to Fort Fisher, N. C., December 7-27. 2nd Expedition to Fort Fisher, N. C., January 7-15, 1865. Assault on and capture of Fort Fisher 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 9-13. Occupation of Raleigh April 13. Bennett's House April 26. Surrender of Johnston and his army. Duty in thc Dept. of North Carolina till September. Mustered out September 29, 1865.
Regiment lost during service 4 Officers and 67 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 1 Officer and 113 Enlisted men by disease. Total 185.
I honor all those who died for freedom. But my story about Dennis deals with his struggle to get a pension, after he retuned home, to the county where he was once a slave.
I was able to obtain his pension files from NARA. A stack of documents of over 200 pages.
His battle to get a pension involved him in legal wrangling for years. The amount of paperwork, bureaucracy, and persistent denials he had to face was enough to discourage anyone, but he persevered and finally wound up with initially six dollars a month, later increased to twelve dollars. Dennis was luckier than many, for he could read and write.
I have documented his history in his own words, and handwriting, on my website, including the surprise information that he played a cornet in the military band. He wrote, "my music teacher said to me 'Weaver I'm going to give you a piece of music to play that will either kill you or cure you".
The pension struggle with the government continued after Dennis died on the 27th of June in 1911. Delia Fields Weaver, his wife had to then prove she was married to Dennis - in order to get a widows pension. The case was closed in 1935 when a check sent to Delia was returned, for she had died.
I am luckier than most, because Dennis was mentioned in a History of Snickersville (now Bluemont). It tells the story of how Dennis obtained the land that is my legacy from him.
"On This mountain side, James Fields, a free negro, already had
bought land . Now It was to become a haven for those negroes who
were just becoming aware of the privilege of home ownership. One of
the first to buy was Benjamin Franklin Young, who bought 17 acres
from Dr. Plaster in 1871. Later that year, Dr. Plaster sold Dennis
Weaver 6 acres. Dennis Weaver built a house on this mountainside,
on the narrow road that bounds the Carrington house, winds past the
old school, and twists up behind the breastworks of the war that
brought freedom. Dennis and his wife Delia cleared the woods for
lawn and garden and from This house went back and forth to the
village - Dennis to help the farmers bring the scorched earth back to productivity and Delia to care for countless of the households and
children. One of these children remembers today her spankings.
Aunt Delia cared for others until about 1923, when she herself
needed care. It was hard to persuade someone to live up in the woods,
so Delia, in return for her services which she had agreed to render me in waiting upon me and nursing me during my last illness I willed
Winifred Scott all her household and kitchen furniture and all her
money, except $100 which she bequeathed to Christopher Scipio.
Aunt Delia was healthier than she anticipated and by 1931 Winifred
Scott felt she could no longer render those final services (probably
got married) and the will was changed to name Glovia Scott as the
nurse. Delia Weaver lived until 1935 and now lies buried beside
Dennis, not on the mountain, but only a few miles away, looking back
to the village in which they lived in slavery and the home which they
built in freedom. "
Dennis is buried in Rock Hill Cemetery in Loudoun County. A writer for the Times-Mirror, Shannon Sollinger tells the story of the cemetery and the elderly caretaker of his grave, Vernon Peterson.
Yesterday President Obama sent a wreath to African American Civil War Memorial, to be laid at the foot of the stirring sculpture by Ed Hamilton.
One of the most comprehensive sites on the web, documenting Civil War Colored Soldiers is hosted by Bennie McCrae. I thank him for his help in discovering Dennis' files.
My Dennis was not "African-American" at the time of his birth. He was simply property. A negro slave. The family took the surname Weaver, from the occupation of his grandmother, a weaver for the family who owned her.
A polite term to use for blacks was "colored".
And so as I write today of this young colored soldier, I am reminded of the classic poem by Paul Lawrence Dunbar:
If the muse were mine to tempt it
And my feeble voice were strong,
If my tongue were trained to measures,
I would sing a stirring song.
I would sing a song heroic
Of those noble sons of Ham,
Of the gallant colored soldiers
Who fought for Uncle Sam!
In the early days you scorned them,
And with many a flip and flout
Said "These battles are the white man's,
And the whites will fight them out."
Up the hills you fought and faltered,
In the vales you strove and bled,
While your ears still heard the thunder
Of the foes' advancing tread.
Then distress fell on the nation,
And the flag was drooping low;
Should the dust pollute your banner?
No! the nation shouted, No!
So when War, in savage triumph,
Spread abroad his funeral pall --
Then you called the colored soldiers,
And they answered to your call.
And like hounds unleashed and eager
For the life blood of the prey,
Spring they forth and bore them bravely
In the thickest of the fray.
And where'er the fight was hottest,
Where the bullets fastest fell,
There they pressed unblanched and fearless
At the very mouth of hell.
Ah, they rallied to the standard
To uphold it by their might;
None were stronger in the labors,
None were braver in the fight.
From the blazing breach of Wagner
To the plains of Olustee,
They were foremost in the fight
Of the battles of the free.
And at Pillow! God have mercy
On the deeds committed there,
And the souls of those poor victims
Sent to Thee without a prayer.
Let the fulness of Thy pity
O'er the hot wrought spirits sway
Of the gallant colored soldiers
Who fell fighting on that day!
Yes, the Blacks enjoy their freedom,
And they won it dearly, too;
For the life blood of their thousands
Did the southern fields bedew.
In the darkness of their bondage,
In the depths of slavery's night,
Their muskets flashed the dawning,
And they fought their way to light.
They were comrades then and brothers.
Are they more or less to-day?
They were good to stop a bullet
And to front the fearful fray.
They were citizens and soldiers,
When rebellion raised its head;
And the traits that made them worthy,--
Ah! those virtues are not dead.
They have shared your nightly vigils,
They have shared your daily toil;
And their blood with yours commingling
Has enriched the Southern soil.
They have slept and marched and suffered
'Neath the same dark skies as you,
They have met as fierce a foeman,
And have been as brave and true.
And their deeds shall find a record
In the registry of Fame;
For their blood has cleansed completely
Every blot of Slavery's shame.
So all honor and all glory
To those noble sons of Ham --
The gallant colored soldiers
Who fought for Uncle Sam!
I cannot compete with Dunbar.
Let his ode stand for all those who fought and died for freedom.
I can only simply say "thank you".