With few exceptions, all officers of the United States Colored Troops were white. The 56th United States Colored Infantry was no different. Most of its officers served previously in cavalry and infantry regiments from Iowa, Illinois, Kansas and Missouri. The senior officers of the 3d Arkansas African Descent (56th United States Colored Infantry) were friends or colleagues of the departmental commander, the officers supervising the recruitment of black troops and influential politicians. Many of its junior officers didn’t just previously serve in the same regiment as their superior officers, they were in the same company and from the same hometown. There were three sets of brothers and two sets of fathers and sons. The oldest officer was 47, the youngest 15.
The first colonel was John Guylee, a 47 year old Methodist minister from Abingdon, Iowa (a few miles northeast of Ottumwa). In 1861, Guylee helped raise the “Sears Rangers,” which became Company A, 4th Iowa Cavalry. Three other officers of the 56th USCI were members of the same company – Thomas J. Abel, Daniel B. Baker, and Otho R. Sensibaugh. Guylee’s only experience leading men in the field prior to be appointed colonel in the USCI was as a lieutenant in charge of an escort for the paymaster taking the payroll to General Samuel Curtis’s army as it lay on the battlefield of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. Shortly afterwards, Guylee became an aide-de-camp to General Curtis. The 4th Iowa, along with Curtis’s army marched from Pea Ridge to Helena, Arkansas in the summer of 1862. Guylee’s relationship with Curtis no doubt played a significant part in his appointment as commander of the first regiment of former slaves to be recruited in Missouri. Age and Helena’s weather got the better of Colonel Guylee. He resigned on March 16, 1864.
Guylee’s Lieutenant Colonel and successor as commander of the 56th USCI was William S. Brooks, a 24-year old teacher from Mt. Pleasant, Iowa (about 50 miles east of Abingdon). Brooks fought at Wilson’s Creek as a private in the 1st Iowa Infantry. He was elected Second Lieutenant of Company D, 19th Iowa Infantry. Brooks distinguished himself at the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas on December 7, 1862, when, despite a severe gunshot wound to his left thigh, he grabbed the regimental colors after the color sergeant was shot and saved them from being captured by the enemy.
Brooks and his family were well-connected politically and militarily. He was personal friends with Brigadier General William A. Pile, entrusted with supervising the recruitment of colored troops in Missouri, and Brigadier General Clinton B. Fisk, commander of the District of Southeast Missouri and later the District of North Missouri. Both Pile and Fisk had previously been colonels commanding the 33d Missouri Infantry, in which Brooks’ brother Joseph (discussed below) had served. William offered Generals Eugene A. Carr, William Vandever, and Francis J. Herron as references when seeking an appointment. The Brooks family was also well acquainted with Iowa Senator James Harlan, a fellow resident of Mt. Pleasant.
Brooks no doubt obtained his position as Lieutenant Colonel at partly as a result of the influence of his powerful contacts. And he intended to use their help to further his career, for Brooks was, in addition to being quite brave, quite ambitious. In June 1864, Brooks persuaded all the field officers and detachment commanders at Helena, as well as the Treasury Department representative in charge of leasing plantations, to write a letter to Brigadier General Lorenzo Thomas – the officer in charge of recruiting former slaves from the Mississippi Valley – proposing to raise up to four regiments of colored troops to be recruited (and impliedly, commanded) by Brooks. Brooks had, they wrote, the capacity, education and military experience that was “well adapted” to the organization of such troops.
Brooks submitted this letter, along with his own moderately boasting letter addressed to General Thomas, to the local commander, Brigadier General Napoleon B. Buford, to be forwarded through normal military channels. But Buford turned Brooks down and refused to send the application to Thomas, even with an endorsement of disapproval. That did not deter the Brooks family. William sent the letters to Thomas anyway, complaining of Buford’s action, “taking the liberty (which I believe admissible in the circumstances) of forwarding to you direct.” In the meantime, brother Joseph wrote Senator Harlan apprising him of the situation, who in turn inquired of the War Department as to its position, noting that Brooks told him that Buford “bitterly opposed” the proposed measure. The War Department forwarded Senator Harlan’s letter to Thomas for comment. Thomas blasted Brooks’ scheme and the accusation (apparently made by Joseph Brooks) that Buford was a “copperhead.” Thomas said recruiting was going forward in Arkansas quite well “under a regularly organized system.” He characterized Brooks’ plan as “a mere effort to obtain the appointment of a Brig[adier] Gen’l.”
The effort came to naught when William Brooks was killed at the Battle of Wallace’s Ferry on July 26, 1864. But the bitterness between the Brooks family and General Buford (despite the praise in the latter’s report of the battle) did not subside with William’s death.
Joseph Brooks, Sr. was born in Ohio in 1821. He was educated at what is now DePauw University and became ordained as a Methodist Episcopal minister at the age of 18. He rode the circuit for a few years in Iowa. After a stint at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, Joseph moved to St. Louis. There he was editor of an antislavery newspaper. He became wealthy speculating in cotton but lost most of his money when the Civil War began. Joseph was Chaplain of the 1st Missouri Light Artillery, the 11th Missouri Infantry, and the 33d Missouri Infantry before being appointed Chaplain of the 56th USCI. As mentioned in another installment of this series, Joseph performed admirably at the Battle of Wallace’s Ferry.
Joseph continued his dispute with General Buford at Helena after the battle. An anonymous letter from a “Loyalist” appeared in the Missouri Gazetteheadlined “Alleged Imbecile Administration.” The writer criticized Buford for failing to attack Dobbins and Shelby’s men when their force was small and sending out only 350 men to attack when the Confederates had amassed 2,500 men. And these Union troops (his brother’s regiment) were ones Buford had called “ungovernable, would not stand” and ones “he did not dare advance on the enemy.” The author continued: “Had they not stood with the bravery of desperation, the folly that thrust them forward would have sacrificed the last man.” He concluded: “Timidity, rascality and inefficiency generally have characterized the administration of this District for ten dreadful months.”
Buford suspected that the author was Chaplain Brooks. When Brooks submitted his resignation, instead of simply accepting it and getting rid of a nuisance he had quarreled with for a year, Buford wrote a three-page endorsement in which he vented his built-up frustration.
In his letter of resignation, Brooks complained that his pay had been reduced while his expenses increased. Buford pointed out that Brooks’ pay as Chaplain of the 56th USCI was the same as his pay while Chaplain of the 33d Missouri Infantry. He accused Brooks, his late brother, Major Henry Wells and regimental quartermaster Abraham Fulkerson of a conspiracy to do him injury by writing letters to members of Congress with false information. In addition to the Missouri Democrat letter, there was one with similar charges printed in the paper Brooks used to edit. Having laid out these allegations, Buford tried to claim the high road by asserting that he did not seek to court martial Brooks or his co-conspirators because the injury they sought to do was only personal. “I have no feeling in the matter,” Buford said, “and only intend to see that he does his duty while in the service.” Brooks was allowed to resign in January 1865.
But Joseph Brooks was hardly finished with the State of Arkansas. He leased an abandoned plantation near Helena and was able to save enough money to buy another one after the war. He became a strong advocate for seizing the land of former Confederates to parcel it out among former slaves. He campaigned for a constitution that would give blacks full civil rights, including the right to vote. Brooks was one of the leading spokesmen for the candidacy of Ulysses Grant for president in 1868. While on the campaign trail, he and Congressman James Hinds were ambushed. Hinds was killed but Brook survived.
When the Arkansas Republican Party split into factions, Brooks became the leader of the so-called “Brindletails,” so named because his booming voice supposedly sounded like a brindletail bull. Brooks ran for governor in 1872 and lost. He disputed the results in a lawsuit that ended in a judgment in his favor in 1874. He demanded that his opponent, Elisha Baxter, leave the post in which he had been serving since his inauguration in 1873. When Baxter refused, Brooks’ supporters threw Baxter out of office by force. The ensuing “Brooks-Baxter War” continued for a month until President Grant stepped in and reluctantly restored Baxter to office. As a consolation prize, the President appointed Brooks Postmaster at Little Rock. Brooks died in 1877 and is buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis.
Like thousands of others, Brooks suffered greatly from the war. His brother was killed at the Battle of Wallace’s Ferry, his son Joseph Jr. – a lieutenant in the 56th USCI – died at the age of 23 from cholera contracted on the voyage home from Helena in 1866, and his nephew (also named Joseph Brooks), a lieutenant in the 33d Missouri Infantry, was killed at the Battle of Helena on July 4, 1863.
There were other combat veterans among the first officers of the 56th USCI. Thomas Childs and Elliot Rogers were in the 14th Iowa Infantry. They fought at the Battle of Shiloh and were captured on April 6, 1862 at the “Hornet’s Nest” along with more than 230 of their fellow soldiers of the regiment. Childs and Rogers were sent to a prison in Richmond and were exchanged in late 1862. John Robinson was a sergeant in the 2d Iowa – the regiment first commanded by Samuel Curtis (the victor at Pea Ridge in 1862 and Westport in 1864). He was severely wounded at Fort Donelson in February 1862. Aaron McMurray was a private in the 3d Missouri Cavalry. He was wounded in a battle at Mt. Zion Church in Boone County Missouri in December 1861 and fought at the Battle of Hartsville in January 1863. First Lieutenant Abraham Fulkerson, a lawyer from Jefferson City, Missouri, saw his combat during the Mexican War. He suffered a gunshot wound to his knee that still bothered him twenty years later.
The saddest story is that of Second Lieutenant Drummond H. White. He first tried to enlist in the 37th Iowa Infantry – known as the Graybeards because its members were 45 or older (the oldest was 80). His father (age 48) was the regiment’s Chaplain. Drummond was rejected, perhaps because he tried to sign up when he was only 15. Somehow, he was appointed as a Second Lieutenant in Company C, 56th USCI the following year a month short of his 16th birthday. He was described by one of his fellow officers as a promising young man “whose worst fault was reckless daring.” On the night of April 17, 1864 Drummond set out to check on the pickets posted at Fort Pinney on Friars Point, a few miles south of Helena. Under instructions not to halt but to shoot anyone who tried to enter camp, Drummond’s own men mistook him for the enemy and shot him in the stomach. He lingered for a week in great pain and died April 24. Drummond was not yet 17 years old.
Two friends who immigrated to the United States from Germany were officers in the regiment. John (Johann) Christian Mohrstadt came to the America from Erfurt in 1854 at age 20. He met Francis (Franz) Paul Becker in St. Louis. Both entered the 1st Battalion, United States Reserve Corps Cavalry in 1861 as lieutenants. When that organization disbanded, they joined the 5th Missouri Cavalry. Mohrstadt was a captain and Becker a lieutenant in another company. Mohrstadt must have been a prickly commander, for he was dismissed from the 5th Cavalry for “mutinous conduct and disaffection of a majority of the members of the company.” Mohrstadt was appointed Captain of Company I and Becker Captain of Company G of the 56th USCI. Becker was well-acquainted with the Adjutant General at St. Louis. Perhaps this helped him gain the position with the regiment and get his friend appointed despite his troubles in his prior command.
Mohrstadt’s ability to irritate others did not dissipate with his joining the 56th. He made two trips to Hannibal in September 1863, returning with 110 men for the regiment and leaving behind several angry loyal slaveholders. One wrote General Schofield in St. Louis, pointing out that on the first trip the local commander at Hannibal, General Odon Guitar, had stopped Mohrstadt’s recruiting. Mohrstadt then returned with “unauthorized & suspicious papers” when he was again stopped. (Guitar arrested other officers of the 56th who were attempting to recruit in his district.) The owner complained that Mohrstadt told his slaves that if they did not come willingly, he would send soldiers to force them to go because “I fight for freedom.” The slaveholder went on to say: “If they must have . . . negro soldiers to disgrace our uniform & desecrate our flag, and I think they do, let them recruit them down in Dixie & not in MO, a legal state.”
Mohrstadt’s aggressiveness must have paid off, however, as a leader of African American soldiers. An inspection of the 56th USCI in August 1864 concluded that, while the men were good material, many of the officers were lax. The exception was Captain Mohrstadt, whose company was the only one in good order.
Becker was discharged in August 1864 due to poor health. Mohrstadt served until 1865. He returned to St. Louis and later moved to Danville, Missouri. He was a census taker for the 1890 Union Veteran’s Census in Montgomery County Missouri. He moved back to St. Louis in 1901. He and his wife Justine celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in May 1907. One week later, Mohrstadt, suffering from locomotor ataxia, retrieved his revolver, put the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger. He was 72. 
By far the most important German officer who served with the 56thUSCI was Charles (Karl) Bentzoni (Shown above). Bentzoni was born in Danzig, West Prussia (now Gdansk, Poland). He claimed his father was a “gentleman,” and he might have been a Prussian nobleman or of the Polish upper class. Bentzoni’s father participated in the 1848 uprisings. Charles served in the Prussian army and the British army in the Crimean War. He came to the United States in 1857. He enlisted in the 1st Infantry, where he saw duty against Indians operating from Fort Leavenworth. By 1861, Bentzoni rose to the rank of sergeant and fought under Captain Joseph B. Plummer at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. He joined the newly organized 11th Infantry and rose to the rank of First Sergeant. He was a harsh taskmaster who “whipped the new recruits into shape.” Steven E. Clay described Bentzoni and his fellow sergeants as “merciless in their labors to impose ‘Old Army’ ideals of discipline, drill, and dress on the 11th Infantry. They set the standard for recruits to live up to and their efforts helped ensure that the regiment would weather all the bloody battles it would endure over the next four years.”
With the recommendation of several officers of the 11th Infantry, Bentzoni was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in November 1861. He served briefly in the field and spent the next two years training troops at Fort Independence, Boston. In the spring of 1864, Bentzoni was appointed acting quartermaster and adjutant for the 11th Infantry during the Overland Campaign. He saw action at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor and Petersburg. He fought with distinction, receiving a brevet captaincy for gallantry at the Battle of Peebles Farm (or Poplar Springs Church) as part of the Siege of Petersburg.
Bentzoni was commissioned as Colonel of the 56th USCI and took command in January 1865. The drillmaster no doubt imposed a new standard of discipline on a regiment that had been criticized for its laxity. Colonel Bentzoni’s role in building an orphanage outside Helena to accommodate black children whose parents were sold away, killed or otherwise disappeared was told in another part of this series.
With the end of active combat in the war, several officers resigned. Most went with the thanks of the service, but there were a few that Colonel Bentzoni sought to bring to justice for stealing money from the men in their companies. Brothers William and David Kretsinger served in the 10th Kansas Infantry before being appointed Lieutenants in Companies I and G, respectively. In the 10th Kansas they fought in several skirmishes and the Battles of First Newtonia, Cane Hill and Prairie Grove. David was slightly wounded in the face at the latter action. William was commended by Major Reed for his bravery at the Battle of Wallace’s Ferry.
Despite their sterling combat records, the Kretsinger brothers got into trouble as they left the 56th USCI. After their departure, Bentzoni discovered both had taken money from the men in their command. David owed $75.00 he supposedly “borrowed” from Sergeant Alex Armstrong. William’s defalcations were even more serious. Bentzoni discovered he had taken $275.00 of his men’s money. The final pay for both officers was suspended until they made good on what they stole. William wrote a letter to Bentzoni pleading for him to provide the necessary certificate to the War Department authorizing his pay. He claimed had “endeavored to act in good faith towards these soldiers,” without explaining why he had taken their money. He said it was “utterly beyond my power to pay the men until I get my pay” – this at time when he was safely home in Kansas and his men still in Helena. “Please do not consider me a villain, Colonel,” he wrote, “and act as the cause of humanity would dictate.” Bentzoni was unsympathetic. He suggested that Kretsinger send the money by express to Helena. Then, and only then, would he provide the documents required to release his pay. Whether either or both Kretsingers resolved their debts is not reflected in the military records.
A third officer who took advantage of his men was Captain Alden Patten, Company A. He had been a wagonmaster for General Samuel Curtis before joining the regiment. Bentzoni arrested Patten on April 28, 1865 – the same day Patten wrote his first letter of resignation. Apparently, he was released from arrest, for he submitted a second letter of resignation May 15 and was allowed to leave. By June 2, Bentzoni learned that Patten had absconded not only with $100.00 of his company’s accounts, but also $355.00 of his men’s personal funds. He asked St. Louis authorities to detain Patten. Unfortunately, he had already left town, supposedly heading the Wheeling, West Virginia before traveling on to California. Bentzoni asked the army military police in Wheeling to arrest Patten. Again, the military records do not disclose whether he was ever apprehended.
After he was mustered out of the 56th USCI, Bentzoni requested that he be reassigned to a Regular Army unit. He was sent to the 29th Infantry, which had been created from the 3d Battalion of his old regiment, the 11th Infantry. Subsequently, Bentzoni (now in the Regular Army rank of Captain) was assigned to the 40th Infantry, one of the new black regiments authorized by Congress in 1866. Bentzoni transferred to the 25th Infantry Regiment, another black unit, when the army reorganized in 1869. He completed the next 25 years in the 25th Infantry, stationed in Texas, South Dakota, Minnesota and California. Bentzoni was the only German-speaking officer of the United States Colored Troops to spend the rest of his career serving with black units.
After his retirement in 1894, Bentzoni moved to Los Angeles. He married Countess Gertrude von Slutterbach. They embarked on a much-publicized trip around the world in 1897. Upon their return in 1900, the couple lived in Los Angeles, where they frequently appeared in the city’s society columns until his death in 1907.
 Only about 100 of the 7,122 officers of the United States Colored Troops were black. All receive their commissions under unusual circumstances. Most of the line officers were free blacks in New Orleans serving in an already established Louisiana militia unit which General Benjamin Butler incorporated into the Corps D’Afrique. They were removed by Butler’s successor. Senator (and General) James H. Lane appointed black officers for the regiments he raised in Kansas. Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew sought permission to appoint a few Black officers, but the War Department refused. The government, motivated as much by racial prejudice as anything else, took the position that Blacks were not competent to lead men into battle. Moreover, it did not want a situation where white men might have to follow the orders of black officers. The War Department did allow a few Blacks men to serve as chaplains or surgeons, who were not in the chain of command. Joseph T. Glatthar, Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers(New York: Free Press, 1990), 176-182. Glatthar has a list of Black officers in ibid., Appendix 3, 279-280. Sergeant Major Benjamin Ownsby from Mexico, Missouri was the highest ranking Black soldier in the 56th USCI. Compiled Military Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Belonging to the 56th through 138th infantry units, United States Colored Troops (USCT), 1864-1866. [hereafter cited as CMSR 56th USCI], National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 94, M1818, roll 25, available at Fold3.com.
 William Forse Scott, The Story of a Cavalry Regiment: The Career of the Fourth Iowa Veteran Volunteers, From Kansas to Georgia, 1861-1865 (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1893), 32; William Forse Scott, Roster of the Fourth Iowa Veteran Volunteers, 1861-1865 (New York: J. J. Little & Co., 1902), 25, 27; Guylee, CMSR 56thUSCI.
 Report of the Adjutant General [Iowa], vol. 1 (Des Moines: F. W. Palmer, State Printer, 1863), 19; J. Irvine Dungan, History of the Nineteenth Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry (Davenport: Lush & Griggs, 1865), 19, 57; William L. Shea, Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 171.
 The letters are in the file of William S. Brooks, CMSR 56th USCI.
 Joseph Brooks, Sr., CMSR 56th USCI.
 Joseph Brooks, CMSR 33d Missouri Infantry, roll 628.
 Thomas Childs, Elliot Rogers, John Robinson, and Aaron McMurray, CMSR 56th USCI. For the prior service of Childs and Rogers, see Report of the Adjutant General [Iowa], vol. 2, 790, 834; for the prior service of John Robinson, see ibid., vol. 1, 60. McMurray described his prior service in detail in a letter appearing in his Compiled Military Service Record defending his conduct against charges that he failed to attack Confederate guerrillas when the opportunity offered – a charge he strongly denied. He nevertheless resigned from the service when it became apparent that Colonel Brooks would not support him. After the war McMurray was a respected attorney in Quincy, Illinois.
 Drummond H. White, CMSR 56th USCI; Report of the Adjutant General [Iowa], vol. 5, 830; Letter, Thomas H. Childs to Annie [Anna Billingsley Childs], April 23, 1864 at http://iagenweb.org/civilwar/regiment/infantry/14th/childsth.html.
 Martin W. Őfele, German-Speaking Officers in the U. S. Colored Troops, 1863-1867 (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005), 81, 98; John Mohrstadt and Francis Becker, CMSR 1st Battalion, U S. Reserve Cavalry, 5th Missouri Cavalry and 56th USCI. Like many Germans, Becker and Mohrstadt Anglicized their names upon joining the army.
 Mohrstadt, CMSR 56th USCI.
 Őfele, 149-150; Glatthar, 106.
 Becker and Mohrstadt, CMSR 56th USCI. Persons with locomotor ataxia walk with the feet wide apart, slapping them clumsily to the floor with each step, and dependon visual cues to maintain balance. https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/locomotor+ataxia/. The details of Mohrstadt’s death are given in a St. Louis Globe article that may be found in http://www.appel-pointerfamily.com/uploads/1/2/7/6/12767086/john_mohrstadt_death_article.pdf.
 Őfele, 43, 191; http://www.americancivilwar101.com/units/usa-troops/usct-inf-reg-01.html#top; Notes on Charles Bentzoni, courtesy of Steven Clay.
 Letters Received by the Adjutant General’s Office, 1861, RG 94, M619, roll 7, at Fold3.com/; 1st Lt. Charles Bentzoni, 16th Infantry Regiment Association, Officers of 11th Infantry Regiment, at http://16thinfassn.org/?page_id=3419;James B. Fry, The History and Legal Effect of Brevets (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1877), 316. Brevet or honorary ranks were awarded to officers for gallantry and for meritorious service because there was no system of medals to recognize outstanding conduct. Bentzoni also received the brevet ranks of major and lieutenant colonel for his wartime service effective March 30, 1865.
 Kansas Memory, Descriptive Roll, Tenth Regiment, Infantry, Kansas Civil War Volunteers http://www.kansasmemory.org/item/227679/page/5(William) and http://www.kansasmemory.org/item/227679/page/8(David); David and William Kretsinger, CMSR 56th USCI. Perhaps William Kretsinger did finally make good on his embezzlement of company funds, for he was among the officers invited by Bentzoni to a reunion at the Palmer House in Chicago on June 30, 1893. Those who attended were all from Iowa – Surgeon Daniel LaForce, Captain Thomas Abel, Captain Otho Sensibaugh, and Captain William Jacques. Kretsinger (then living in Texas) and several others sent their regrets. National Tribune, August 10, 1893.
 Alden Patten, CMSR 56th USCI.
 Őfele, 208.
 Los Angeles Times, October 9, 1907.
The 56th United States Colored Infantry mustered out in St. Louis on September 15, 1866. For the survivors of the cholera epidemic, this was no doubt an exhilarating event. The former slaves were freed by operation of law when the enlisted, but they were still subject to someone else’s orders for three years. Now, for the first time in their lives they were truly free to direct their own lives.
But their new freedom brought new problems. Where do they go to live? What do they do for work? Should they return to the farms where they were slaves and work there as employees?
Newly returned veterans had to compete for jobs with the men left behind. Although nearly 40% of the eligible African American men in Missouri joined the army, as early as the spring of 1864, enlistments in the United States Colored Troops in Missouri lagged. Farm owners dangled alluring economic incentives to hire out at wages better than a private’s $16.00 per month because they needed hands to plant and harvest the crops.
Many men did not return home. Up to 30% of all slaves in Missouri left the state during the war. After the war, the black population in the counties of Little Dixie along the Missouri River plunged. The 1870 Census showed that Clay County lost 47% of its black population; Boone County lost 21%, Callaway County lost 25%. St. Louis, on the other hand, saw an increase of 325% in its black population.
One of the results of the success of the United States Colored Troops in the war was the creation of regular United States Army colored regiments in 1866. The military needed manpower for its Reconstruction duty and for protection of civilians on the western frontier. Congress authorized four infantry and two cavalry regiments. Recruiters urged USCT veterans to re-enlist, but only about 3,000 chose to do so – about half of the men needed to fill the new units. And after the first wave of enlistments began to expire in 1869, the four regiments of infantry were consolidated into two.
A national census of Union veterans taken in 1890 showed that about half of the African Americans were employed as laborers or in agriculture as owners, sharecroppers or hired hands. A little less than 10% worked as skilled artisans such as carpenters, masons or blacksmiths. About one-third of black veterans were business owners. But many veterans, black and white, had a pension from the federal government to help them out.
The first soldier’s pension law, passed in 1862, covered men who suffered a disability while in the service, the amount varied according to rank. Later, Congress established a schedule of increased payments for certain catastrophic injuries. In 1890, the law was amended to cover veterans who suffered from any disability, whether service-connected or not. The percentage of veterans receiving a pension jumped from 17% in 1885 to 63% in 1895. Ultimately, all Union veterans were entitled to a pension simply by virtue of their age, and by 1915 93% of surviving veterans were enrolled. The leading cause of disability pensions was, as might be expected, gunshot and shell wounds. The second leading cause was chronic diarrhea.
The pension laws did not legally discriminate between black and white soldiers. Any soldier who qualified for a pension, whether black or white, was entitled to the same amount. However, black applicants were significantly less successful in obtaining pensions. Donald R. Shaffer analyzed pension application success and concluded that while white soldiers were awarded as pension 92% of the time, black veterans were successful only 75% of the time. Applications for pension payments for blacks were subject to greater scrutiny than those filed by whites, most likely a reflection not only of their greater complexity due to several factors but also to general societal attitudes of the times.
Shaffer identified several reasons contributing to this disparity: Although pension agents and attorneys were paid on a contingent basis, there were still upfront costs of notary fees and often travel (applicants for disability payments had to be examined by government-approved doctors). Because slaves were not legally permitted to be educated in antebellum America, almost all black applicants were illiterate and needed assistance in filling out the required forms. In addition to the notorious misspellings of names in 19th century records, many soldiers changed their names when they gained their freedom. When the government checked the name of the applicant against the muster rolls of the regiment to make sure he had actually been a soldier as claimed, a discrepancy in the name required further explanation and sometimes a field investigation to preclude fraud.
Children and wives encountered added hurdles. A child’s benefits due for a father who died in the war extended only to his or her 16th birthday. Therefore, it was important to know the child’s exact date of birth. Such records were simply not kept for slaves and applicants had to rely upon the affidavits and testimony of other family members, neighbors, and sometimes former owners. Likewise, slave marriages were not legally sanctioned in antebellum slave states. Special provisions of the pension laws provided that for “widows and children of colored and Indian soldiers and sailors there need be no other evidence of marriage than satisfactory proof that the parties were joined in marriage by some ceremony deemed by them obligatory, or habitually recognized each other as man and wife, and were so recognized by their neighbors, and lived together as such up to the date of enlistment.” Such proof was also sufficient to show their children were legitimate.
A widow was entitled to one-half of her husband’s monthly pay – for a private’s widow, $8.00 per month. She was also entitled to an additional $2.00 per month for each child under the age of sixteen. If a child was an orphan, he or she was entitled to the same amount as a widow.
The available records for pensions awarded to widows of men of the 56th USCI who died during the war illustrate all these issues. Some records also show that the help of a powerful white person or the persistence of a strong-willed African American could make a difference.
The case of Lucinda Williams Yaw falls in the first category. Lucinda Yaw was the widow of First Sergeant John Yaw of Company F, who was killed at the Battle of Wallace’s Ferry. She married Yaw in Jefferson City, Missouri on April 24, 1862. Lucinda accompanied her husband to Helena and was a cook for the regimental officers. N. C. Burch, the Clerk of the Missouri Supreme Court wrote to his friend and earlier employer Joseph Barrett, the United States Pension Commissioner, on her behalf urging prompt action on her claim. Lucinda is a “poor colored woman,” Burch said, “in very distressed circumstances.” He asked Barrett to make her pension “official” and to “oblige your former clerk.” Her pension approval was issued May 24, 1866. She received $8.00 per month commencing on the date of John’s death.
Sally Gunn Allen married Richard Allen in 1851 in Jefferson City “according to the Custom then governing the marriage of slaves in Slave states.” Richard was the slave of United States District Judge Robert W. Wells.Sally asked and received the permission of her owners to marry Richard. She was manumitted in 1859 (probably on the death of her owner), but Richard remained a slave until he entered Company E, 56th USCI, at age 38. He served as a baker and teamster for the regiment. Richard died of cholera on August 13, 1866, while on the steamboat Continental. The son of Sally’s former owners, Benjamin Gunn, provided an affidavit with the details of her marriage, and she received pension approval in May 1868. Sally died on November 20, 1879. In her last illness, she was cared for by Harrison Ramsey. (Ramsey’s relation to Sally Gunn is not found in the pension records.) Ramsey filed a detailed claim for payment of the expenses of her last illness and funeral. It was returned with a blank form that the pension authorities required to be used. Ramsey – apparently assisted by a sympathetic white (for he was illiterate) – sent a note back with another completed form. Ramsey said he had sent the first request on the proper form.
"This childish way of doing [business], looks very strange to me, who am a plain, unlettered man of the Neg[r]o Race, but I can see through a Gate Post, about as well as the next man.
It looks as though you were trying to bluff me off, and in that way, keep from paying me the money lawfully due me.
If you can’t pay me, without any more fooling, I will carry my claim to a higher officer."
Although the records are ambiguous, it appears the Mr. Ramsey’s claim was ultimately paid.
The case of Mary Marshall Ellis shows how difficult it could be to document a pension application. Her husband, Henry Ellis, was born in Alabama and a slave living in Coahoma County, Mississippi, when he enlisted in the 56th USCI in December 1864. He died on the Continental on August 12, 1866 on the way to be mustered out and to be paid his $100.00 enlistment bounty. Mary and Henry were married on July 4, 1861, while still slaves in Mississippi on Sam Dixon’s plantation. There was, of course, no record because the legal “marriage of slaves [was] not allowed in Mississippi at that time.” They had three or four children (the documents vary), but all of them died shortly after Henry’s death. Mary received a pension of $8.00 per month (one-half of a private’s monthly pay) beginning in 1869. She married Charles Fremont in 1870 and lost her pension because widows who remarried were no longer eligible for payments. One witness swore to the date of her remarriage because Fremont was saving up money for their marriage and that was the first year of ginning cotton in the county. When Fremont died in 1890, she successfully sought a restoration of her pension. Her attorney was Samuel J. Clark, formerly the adjutant of the 56th USCI who returned to Helena.
Some pension applications were tainted by fraud, sometimes by the applicant, sometimes by the attorney or agent, and sometimes by a third party.
The case of America Williams falls into the latter category. She was the second wife of Reuben Williams, a private in Company G, 56th USCI. Reuben Williams had been a slave owned by Joseph McIntosh of Lincoln County. He married before the war “according to slave custom,” but his first wife was sold and sent south, never to be heard from again. He married America Magruder, a slave woman owned by Lloyd Magruder, who lived about a mile and a half south of the McIntosh place. McIntosh was apparently a fairly lenient master, for he allowed Reuben to go home to America every night.
But lenient or not, the lure of freedom was too much. Reuben escaped to St. Charles and signed up with Company G. Reuben suffered from chronic diarrhea and died on Island No. 63 on September 2, 1864. America married Sergeant James Holliday, of Company C, 56th USCI, in September 1866. Despite her remarriage, America applied for a widow’s pension – to which she was not entitled by law – claiming that she lived in Helena. It was approved retroactive to the date of Reuben’s death. She drew monthly payments until 1867. Holliday received his own disability pension because he suffered from piles caused by chronic diarrhea. Thus, the Holliday family received three years’ worth of pensions paid to America for the death of Reuben Williams, and a pension paid to Holliday himself for disability.
The fraud came to light many years later after Holliday died. America applied for a widow’s pension for his death. Someone in the Pension Bureau smelled a rat. Richard Barrington was appointed as a special investigator to look into the matter. He wrote an extensive report detailing what he believed happened.
Holliday apparently was married before he joined the army to an unnamed woman who was characterized by one of his neighbors as his “slave wife.” He and America lived in Hannibal until his death in 1896. Holliday could read and write and was characterized by Barrington many years later as “unusually intelligent for his race.” The investigator speculated that Holliday worked a fraud on the government in his wife’s name. But by the time any potential funny business was uncovered – 1905 – Holliday had been dead for nine years and America was destitute and deemed incapable of pulling off any scam. The Pension Bureau apparently let the matter go without further action.
Nancy Howard, the alleged wife of William Howard, Company H, 56th USCI, tried to pull off the scam by herself. William enlisted at Cape Girardeau in June 1863 and died of chronic diarrhea in March 1864. He was 21 years old. Nancy claimed she married William in Poinsett County, Arkansas (north of Helena) in 1857 and had three children by him: daughter Ellen born in 1858, and twins Laura and Richard born in 1861. The Pension Bureau was alerted in 1869 that Nancy had remarried and suspended her payments pending the outcome of an investigation. The inquiry disclosed that William’s sister, Phillis Johnson, was disputing Nancy’s right to any pension at all because, she claimed, Nancy never married him. It turned out that, indeed, Nancy’s claim was “wholly fraudulent.” William Howard was never in Arkansas until stationed there in the army, let alone in 1857 when he would have been 14 years-old. When asked to describe her husband, Nancy said he was a very tall, heavy-set man with a full beard. Military records showed that he was 5-11, and several witnesses testified that he never had a beard. And her current husband, John Cash, said she to tried get a pension for the death of another soldier named Dobson but failed. Nancy didn’t give up. She applied for reinstatement of her pension, but it was denied.
By so-called “arrears” legislation, Congress provided that persons who had been entitled to a pension or a bounty but failed to apply for it in time or had never received it, could nevertheless now seek it. Two children of Nathaniel Buford, Company K, 56th USCI – or, as will be seen, were they? – sought recovery of a lump sum due them between the date of Nathaniel’s death and their sixteenth birthdays as children of a veteran who died during the Civil War.
Nathaniel Buford volunteered at Fulton, Missouri in December 1863 as Nathaniel Craig at age 47. Although he was known among African Americans as Buford, he was required to take the name Craig because he was owned by William T. Craig, a prominent slaveholder in Callaway County. Buford married Mary Smith, a slave of neighboring slaveholder Tartan Smith, also a prominent citizen of Callaway County in the 1850’s. They had two children, Bettie born in 1853 and Ellen born in 1857. Mary died of consumption sometime in 1862 or 1863. After his enlistment, Nathaniel was sick in the hospital at St. Louis for nine months. In March 1864 he married Cynthia Buford. In October 1864, he was finally assigned to Company K in Helena. He died there of typho malaria in September 1865.
Cynthia applied for and received a pension in 1867. She did not apply for the $2.00 per month allotted for children of a deceased soldier, possibly because she did not have custody of the children. The children of a slave mother belonged to the mother’s owner. Thus, Bettie and Ellen would likely have remained on the Smith farm, rather than accompany their father to St. Louis after his enlistment. Nevertheless, Nathaniel acknowledged them as his children even if they did not live with him.
In 1901, Bettie and Ellen hired a lawyer to help them recover the pension payments they would otherwise have received. The lawyer argued that Nathaniel provided such care for his children “as was customary among the enslaved negroes at that time.” The Bureau, however, rejected Bettie and Ellen’s claim. It said that to be eligible under the pension laws, their mother must have been married or deemed to have been married under the special provisions applied to black soldiers at the time of his enlistment. Further, that Nathaniel may have acknowledged them as his children before his death was of no avail. He could not have been legally married or deemed married to Mary Smith because they were slaves at the time they lived together. Marriage between slaves, the Bureau held, was “absolutely null and void, the legal right to marriage being incompatible with the incident of ownership under the institution of slavery.” In these circumstances, “[i]t is not proper . . . to call a child legitimate or illegitimate. The offspring of slaves are neither the one or the other. A child born of slave parents was nullius filius,” literally “the son of no one.” Thus, at least for purposes of pensions due children of Union soldiers who died in the war, Bettie and Ellen were “children of no one.”
The soldiers and their families who received pensions, Donald Shaffer points out, were grateful for the assistance. More than 83,000 former USCT soldiers received an average of $3,789 over twenty years, or an estimated total for all former USCT soldiers of $313,000,000 (this figure does not include payments to widows or children). Their pensions – the equal of those awarded to white soldiers and their families – were not only one of the few instances where they were treated as equals but were also substantially higher than those awarded to Confederate veterans and their families by the former states of the Confederacy.
The pension was often a matter of pride for many black veterans in a society that otherwise discriminated against them and seemed to have forgotten their important role in the Civil War. The granddaughter of one former black soldier told how she sometimes went with him to cash his check. “He seemed to walk straighter on those days. His check was the government’s recognition of honored service and of the disability he had suffered in his country’s cause.”
 Donald R. Shaffer, After the Glory: The Struggles of Black Civil War Veterans (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004), 29.
 Diane Mutti Burke, On Slavery’s Border: Missouri’s Small Slaveholding Households, 1815-1865 (Athens and London: University of Georgia Press, 2010), 292-297.
 Richard B. Sheridan, “From Slavery in Missouri to Freedom in Kansas,” Kansas History 12 (Spring 1989), No. 1, 28-47; Burke, Table 7, 312.
 William A. Dobak and Thomas D. Phillips, The Black Regulars, 1866-1898 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001), 3, 15; Shaffer, 39.
 Shaffer, Table 2, 205; William A. Dobak, Freedom by the Sword: The U. S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. 2013), 502.
 Claire Prechtel-Kluskens, “‘A Reasonable Degree of Promptitude’: Civil War Pension Application Processing, 1861–1885,” Prologue 42 (Spring 2010), No. 1 at https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2010/spring/civilwarpension.html/ (accessed February 24, 2018); Theda Skocpol, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States (Cambridge and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1993). Table 2, 109; William H. Glasson, Federal Military Pensions in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1918), 129, 138 (categorization of injuries as of 1888). Skocpol estimated that by 1910, about 23% of the population over 65 in Missouri was receiving a Civil War pension from the federal government. Skocpol, 135-138, 139-143, and Appendix 1.
 Shaffer, 120-131.
 Ibid.; James L. Davenport, Laws of the United States Governing the Granting of Army and Navy Pensions (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1913), 66.
 John Yaw, Widow’s Pension Applications, WC73849-73867 (all references are to Record Group 15, National Archives and Records Administration; the microfilm reel numbers are listed as WC [frame number]), available at Fold3.com. The widow’s application is listed by her husband’s name in the National Archives.
 Robert Wells was a longtime Missouri Attorney General and federal district judge. He is best known as the trial judge in the federal lawsuit that ended in the landmark decision of Dred Scott v. John Sanford in 1857. He died in 1864. For details see James W. Erwin, St. Charles: A Brief History(Charleston: History Press, 2017), 93-98.
 Richard Allen, Widow’s Pension Applications, 113968-113999.
 Henry Ellis, Widow’s Pension Applications, WC124718-124750.
 It was common for slave husbands and wives to live on different farms and be owned by different persons. Usually the men would be allowed to visit their wives on Sundays and perhaps one night during the week. This arrangement, called an “abroad marriage” by scholars, was especially prevalent in Missouri because most slaveholders owned few slaves. Burke, 200-202.
 Reuben Williams, Widow’s Pension Applications, WC74208-74210. The file as reproduced on Fold3 is 287 pages long – far longer than any other for a 56th USCI veteran’s widow.
 William Howard, Widow’s Pension Applications, WC 123209-123240.
 Nathaniel Buford (Craig), Widow’s Pension Applications, WC091577-91953. The common law doctrine of nullius filius was not limited to slave children but applied to any child born out wedlock. Such “children of no one” had no legal rights to inherit property, nor were their fathers obligated to support them.
 Shaffer, 133. States also provided pensions to Union veterans. Former Confederate states paid pensions to veterans of the Confederate army. Missouri enacted a pension for Confederate veterans (but not their families) in 1910.
 Pauli Murray, Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family (New York: Harper and Row, 1978), 268, quoted in Shaffer, 133-134.