On December 7, 1864, Alcia Bass wrote to Abraham Lincoln. The distraught mother was concerned about her son, Armor, who served in the 27th USCT. She wrote to the president that her son “was underage and ran away from me,” and that she “would give him up freely” but he was also ill with consumption. Furthermore, he was “sunstruck on the 30th of July at the Battle of Petersburg.” Alcia Bass wanted Lincoln to help her son obtain a discharge. She concluded, “please answer this as soon as you rec’ it I shall expect him in the cours of three weeks for I think that you will send him”
Front of letter (located in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 94)
Armor Bass enlisted for three years in the 27th USCT on March 7, 1864. At the time, Bass lived in Xenia, Greene County, Ohio, with his mother, father James, and seven siblings. The free black couple moved their family from Camden, North Carolina, in 1861. On both his volunteer enlistment form and the muster and descriptive rolls, Bass is listed as age eighteen. In May 1864, the private worked as a hospital attendant, and in October he became a patient. He soon recovered, and by August 1865 he served on detached duty as an orderly at district headquarters. When the regiment mustered out on September 21, 1865, Bass owed for “two E.R. muskets complete two gun slings” valued at $36.62 and $40 to the sutler.
Bass returned home to Xenia, and in 1870 at age twenty-five he worked as a brick mason and lived with his parents. On May 28, 1884, he married Lida R. Mason in Logan County, some fifty miles north of Greene County. In 1900, fifty-four-year-old Bass worked in Bellefontaine as a laborer. He and Lida had no children.
The sixty-one-year-old veteran died of pneumonia on May 11, 1907. A week later, the Xenia Daily Gazette published the news of his death, funeral, and burial. The article also gave his birth date, December 27, 1845, information on his family that had settled in Xenia, and his military service with the 27th USCT. It concluded with high praise for his Christian character.
In addition to the census, military, and obituary evidence related to the age of Armor Bass already cited, the 1850 US Census listed his age as five and the 1860 US Census shows sixteen-years old. In the “1890 Special Census of Surviving Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines, and Widows, Etc.” Bass shared that he suffered from chronic diarrhea as a result of his service. Why then did his mother claim that he was underage and too ill to be in the US Army?
Unfortunately, all we can do is speculate. When Armor enlisted, Alcia was thirty-six years old. She had given birth to ten (possibly eleven) children, but only two sons remained at home, four-year-old Thomas and two-year-old Joseph. That put most of the responsibility for the family’s income on her husband. Although Armor may have sent money home to help, it was in November or December – the same time that his mother wrote to Lincoln – that he was charged for the muskets, thus reducing his monthly military pay.
And although Alcia’s claims concerning sunstroke and consumption are not documented, Armor did spend time in the hospital in October 1864. Furthermore, he was removed from the strenuous fatigue duties performed by most of the regiment for at least two periods of time. Officers may have selected him for his skills, but he did not sign his name on his volunteer enlistment form, suggesting that possibly he may have been selected for another reason such as his health.
Of course, Alcia Bass may have just wanted her son home, free from harm. Regardless, what is most intriguing is her belief that she had the “right” to address Abraham Lincoln directly and assume his compliance to her request. Had she spoken to other mothers or wives in Xenia who had written to the president or other officials? The letter from Alcia Bass to Abraham Lincoln, located in the National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, Colored Troops Division, 1863-1889, “Letters Received Related to Recruiting, 1863-1868,” raises many questions. More importantly though, it demonstrates the interaction between African Americans on the home front and the camps and battlefields of the United States Colored Troops.
To read more about “underage” enlistments, families at home, and the post-war lives of men from the 27th USCT, see For Their Own Cause: The 27th United States Colored Troops, The Kent State University Press, 2016.