From Carter’s Mountain to Morganza Bend: A U.S.C.T. Odyssey (Part III)
by Elizabeth R. Varon | | Wednesday, January 25, 2017 - 00:00
Note: This is the last installment of a three-part blog post on the Virginia roots of U.S.C.T. soldiers in Missouri regiments.
Part III: The War’s Aftermath
In the aftermath of the Civil War, as John Coles Carter and the U.S.C.T. veterans from Albemarle County, Virginia returned to Missouri, slavery and secession were dead letters but the “chattel principle”—the idea that slaves were property whose bodies carried a price—was not. In keeping with two acts of Congress (in 1864 and 1866) that allowed loyal slave owners to file a claim against the U.S. government for the loss of a slave’s value, John Coles Carter, his son John Carter Jr., and their relative John W. Bankhead all filed claims in January of 1867, asking for $300 compensation for each slave who enlisted, including those who had perished in the war, to whom they had once held title. John Coles Carter demanded compensation for Robert Jackson, Abner Watson, Winston Jackson, Spencer Scott, William Tucker, and Lewis, Warner, Daniel, Jacob, Mathew, and William J. Carter; Bankhead filed claims for Charles and George Bankhead; and John Carter Jr. requested compensation for Jackson and Liberty Carter. (No such claims have come to light for Thomas Brown, William J. Carter, or George Scott.)
As the historian Diane Mutti Burke has noted about these Missouri compensation bids, “in the end, none of the claims were allowed because in 1867, the Republican controlled Congress passed legislation putting an end to the program” of compensation. The claims nonetheless are a revealing window into the mindset of the claimants; for example, John Coles Carter explained that he could not produce records of enlistment for his former slaves as they had fled to Union lines, enlisting “away from home and without the knowledge of this applicant.” John Coles Carter and John Warner Bankhead took oaths of allegiance to the Union swearing that they had “never given any aid, countenance, counsel, or encouragement, to any person or persons engaged… in insurrection, rebellion, or armed hostility against the United States.” Given that their respective sons Charles Edward Carter and Archibald Bankhead were Confederate soldiers who returned to the fold of their Missouri families after the war, this was a dubious claim. The Missouri Carters again ran afoul of the authorities after the war: in 1868, a John C. Carter (likely John Coles Carter’s son, who was a tobacco manufacturer) was “arrested on charges of conspiring to affix false and fraudulent brands on packages of manufactured tobacco,” according to the Lincoln County Herald.
Meanwhile, the U.S.C.T. veterans and their families began their lives in freedom. Their pension files provide a window into their patriotic sacrifices and their close camaraderie. Beginning in 1862, the U.S. federal government offered pensions to veterans with war-related disabilities, and the widows, minor children and dependent parents of deceased soldiers. The application process was daunting, and while the pension system was in principle race-neutral, in practice it was discriminatory, with African Americans receiving smaller and fewer awards than whites. The pension claim of Lucy Jackson, the mother of Robert Jackson alias Carter (who died of pneumonia in Louisiana in 1864) reveals the obstacles facing claimants. In order to secure a pension payment she had to establish that Robert, who went by the surname Jackson before he enlisted, was the same person as the Robert Carter in the enlistment records. Lucy then had to prove that she was dependent upon her son at the time of his death. She argued that their master John Coles Carter, in a fit of anger after his male slaves had run off to enlist, drove the rest of the slaves off his plantation, cursing that they “belonged to Abe Lincoln” and if they did not leave he would throw them in the river--and that from that time on she was dependent on Robert’s army wages. Witnesses, including Robert’s comrades from the 65th U.S.C.T., testified that he had sent his wages home during the war, and that even as he was dying at the Port Hudson hospital he had five dollars under his pillow that he wanted sent to his mother. But pension officials concluded that since John Coles Carter had not driven his slaves off the plantation until January of 1865, after Missouri emancipation, Lucy Jackson had been “dependent not on her son, but on her master” when Robert died back in 1864—and her pension claim was thus invalid.
The pension files of the U.S.C.T. troops also reveal how these veterans supported each other after the war: Spencer Scott, Thomas Brown, and George Scott provided depositions in support of Lucy Jackson, while Warner Carter served as a deponent in the pension case of Spencer Scott’s widow. Those soldiers who survived the war dealt with the long term effects of ailments and wounds incurred and exacerbated by their military service. Jackson Carter testified in Winston Jackson’s pension file that Winston showed signs of heart disease during the war, a condition which left him weak and unable to work full time after the war, while Warner Carter revealed that Spencer had long battled with a series of disabilities, including rheumatism, a tumor, piles, diarrhea, and an enlarged prostate; Warner himself was plagued by many such ailments. Some of the men teamed up after the war to rebuild their lives; Jackson Carter and Winston Jackson for example, both moved to Quincy, Illinois and worked there until 1874.
In conclusion, the stories of these Virginia-born Missouri soldiers not only enable us to perceive the diasporic nature of the U.S.C.T., but also challenge us to rethink our concepts of “local history.” Without knowledge of the Albemarle origins of Missouri enlistees, one might conclude that Albemarle County, Virginia had no U.S.C.T. history: there was no U.S.C.T. wartime presence there, no recruiting stations and battles involving blacks troops. But if we take into account birthplaces, we see that Albemarle has scores of U.S.C.T. stories. These stories permit us to see the local landscape in new ways—to remember that men who grew up in the shadow of Jefferson’s Monticello and Carter’s Mountain fought and died, in distant army camps, hospitals and battlefields, to free themselves and redeem the Union from slavery.
Image: Slave compensation form from Winston Carter's compiled military service record (National Archives).
Sources: Compiled Service Records, RG 94 National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., accessed for each soldier through Fold3 (https://www.fold3.com/browse/273/); Pension records for Robert Carter, Winston Carter, Warner Carter and Spencer (Scott) Carter, RG 15, National Archives and Records Administration; Charles Tromblee, “John Coles Carter and Family—The Missouri Years” (2012), accessed at Virginia Historical Society; B. Noland Carter II, A Goodly Heritage: A History of the Carter Family in Virginia, Vol. I (2003); Ira Berlin et al., Free at Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War (1992); Christian Recorder (Philadelphia), Jan. 30, 1864; William A. Dobak, Freedom By the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 (2013); Margaret Humphreys, Intensely Human: The Health of the Black Soldier in the American Civil War (2010); John David Smith, ed., Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era (2002); Diane Mutti Burke, On Slavery’s Border: Missouri’s Slaveholding Households (2010); Lincoln County (Mo.) Herald, March 12, 1868; Larry M. Logue and Peter Blanck, “’Benefit of the Doubt’: African-American Civil War Veterans and Pensions,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History (Winter 2008).