James H. Qualls, the soldier
In late October 1864, the men in the 27th United States Colored Infantry (USCI) participated in their second battle while serving in the Army of the Potomac’s IX Corps. Both Col. Albert M. Blackman and Lt. Col. John W. Donnellan were injured on the first day of fighting along Boydton Plank Road in the battle of Hatcher’s Run, Virginia (October 27-28, 1864). Fifteen soldiers from the regiment were killed or wounded, including seventeen-year-old James H. Qualls from Jackson County, Ohio.
Qualls enlisted at Berlin Crossroads, where he lived with his Virginia-born parents, Arthur and Lucy (Shepperd) . His father owned land in the black farming community established in the early nineteenth century. Although it would be nine months before his next birthday, James claimed that he was already eighteen when signed his name on his enlistment papers. Within a month received a promotion to sergeant of Company H.
The young soldier survived his first military engagement at the Battle of the Crater (Petersburg, July 30, 1864), but in late August he went to City Point Hospital for an unknown illness. The next month Qualls spent time in the division hospital in Alexandria, and then for two weeks in October he convalesced at the Grant U.S. General Army Hospital. Because of his long absence, officers reduced his rank and he returned to his regiment in mid-October as a private.
Less than two weeks later, Qualls and 27th USCI faced the enemy at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run. Considering their lack of experience, they and the other black troops in the First Brigade, Third Division of John G. Parke’s Ninth Corps performed well under Confederate fire. But Qualls took a minié ball to the left forearm.
The regimental surgeon, Francis M. Weld, amputated the wounded limb at a City Point facility, and a few days later the private transferred to L’Ouverture General Hospital in Alexandria. While there, he signed the December 27, 1864, petition that demanded Black military men who died at the hospital be buried in the Soldiers’ Cemetery, and not the Contraband Burial Ground.
In January 1865 Qualls sought a furlough to go home to Jackson County to recuperate, but it was delayed because his wound had not healed properly. A month later medical officials approved his application for medical discharge, and on May 11, 1865, he left Virginia.
James H. Qualls, the veteran
Qualls returned to his parent’s farm, where the youngest of his seven siblings continued to attend school. Two years later he married Luvania Dowell, and they had three children. By 1872, the U.S. Pension Bureau approved his application for an invalid pension of $15 a month, which increased in 1880 to $24 and in 1886 to $30. But he suffered great loss during that time as well. By 1878 his wife and all of his children had died. The widower sought solace in Athens, Ohio, where he his father, mother, and siblings had resettled several years before.
Qualls soon remarried, and became a much-respected member of the community. He devoted time to both religious and political concerns, as well as supporting neighbors and friends in need. James and his wife, Eliza Ann (Pevy), lived in Athens County until the 1890s.
Despite the loss of his left arm, Qualls was able to work, and with the additional help of his veteran’s pension, sometime before 1900 he purchased a home in Short Creek Township, in Harrison County. While there he continued his missionary work and his political activism.
Over the years Quall’s health had declined, in part due to his service in the United States Colored Troops. He sold his home in Short Creek, Harrison County, in 1902 and for unknown reasons, the couple moved to Ypsilanti, Michigan. In 1909 the African American veteran of the Civil War died of ascites at the age of sixty-two.
You can learn about other Black Civil War soldiers and veterans from Ohio by viewing the county pages I have created. To read more about the 27 USCI in battle, the soldier’s experiences in military hospitals, and the post-war lives of men from the regiment, see For Their Own Cause: The 27th United States Colored Troops, The Kent State University Press, 2016.