In the News: “Death of a Brave Colored Soldier”, Pvt. Charles W. Taylor, 6th USCI

The Anglo-African, August 6, 1864


MR. JOHN GRIMAGE, of Allegheny City, Pa., sends us the following letter, which was sent by Capt. Shedon, of the 6th Regiment U. S. Colored Troops, to Mrs. Joanna Taylor, of said city, describing the circumstances under which her son was killed in an action near Petersburg:

SPRING HILL, Va., June 19, 1864.

     MRS. JOANNA TAYLOR – My Dear Madam: Day before yesterday, Gen. Gilmore made a reconnaissance towards Petersburg, with a force of which our regiment was a part. We left camp the night before; went as far as our picket lines; laid down until the morning, and at daybreak started for Petersburg. Our regiment and the 1st U. S. Colored Troops took a road leading to a rebel fortification just East of Petersburg. We drove in their pickets on the double-quick, and as we came out of the woods, found ourselves very near the rebel batteries. They commenced at once to shell us furiously, but we laid down behind a little ridge, so that their shells did us no harm.

    By some bad management, the skirmish line in front of us, consisting of the 1st U. S. Colored Troops, fell behind our regiment, leaving us exposed to the rebel sharpshooters, who were close upon us. It was necessary to throw out some good skirmishers in front of us, upon a knoll, a very dangerous position. We asked who would volunteer to take the knoll. Chas. Wm. Taylor, your son, was the first, as he always has been when dangerous work, requiring the best skill and bravery, was to be done. He and four or five others advanced along the road until they came to the sharpshooters, where a very severe skirmish fight began. More men were sent forward. I had charge of the line, and was near Charles. He was the foremost man on the line. The Colonel received orders to bring the regiment back, out of the range of the rebel batteries, while we held the skirmish line.

     Now, my dear madam, I must tell you what I know will make your heart ache many a weary day. A rebel sharpshooter, about four rods in advance of Charles, got a view at his head, and shot him through the forehead, killing him almost instantly. I told Huton Davis and Robert Webster, of my company, to bring him back to the ambulance. He gasped only a few times after I saw him. I have seen many men killed in battle, but when I saw Charles dead I was never more shocked. He was endeared to me more than any other man of the company. No man could have been a greater loss to the company. They all mourn for him as a brother. He was the pride of the company, and no man in it was more respected. It was my intention to promote him in a short time.

     Nearly all the officers have told me how much they felt shocked at his being the first one of the regiment to fall in defense of the Stars and Stripes. Gen. Hinks and Col. Ames spoke of the great regret they felt at his loss.

     I supposed his body would be brought back to camp. It was put in an ambulance, and Gen. Hinks said it should be carried back; but the man in charge of the ambulance ordered him buried, which none of us knew of until it was done, and we were on our way back to camp. I have since found where he was buried. He was buried under a cedar tree by the side of the road, about three miles East of Petersburg. His initials are cut on the tree, so if we have an opportunity of getting back there, the body might be taken up.

     Charles’s name has no stain upon it. No man has shown a greater devotion to the great cause. He is another of the costly sacrifices for the preservation of our government. His death is glorious; his name is a rich heritage of fame. May God support you in this sore bereavement with the consolation of his Holy Word. He is our comfort, our guide, and our support. Trust in Him.

     I am, madam, with deep sympathy for you in your trial, respectfully, your friend,

George W. Shedon,
Capt. Co. H, 6th U.S.C.T

Capt. Sheldon’s sympathy and praise were genuine. The officer had shared his opinions about and support for Charles W. Taylor in a letter to the commander of the 6th USCI only a few weeks before.

The young private, only seventeen years old when he enlisted in Pittsburgh in September 1863, was born in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, to Finley and Joanna Taylor. His father died when he was a young child. By the time the Civil War broke out, Charles worked on a steamboat and used his wages to help his widowed mother.

When he and another soldier, Sgt. John Clark, learned that their regiment would soon leave Camp Wm. Penn, they decided to return home before going to Virginia. The men, who had enlisted together, were arrested in October 1863, and charged with desertion.

After spending several weeks in the regimental guard house in Yorktown, the soldiers faced a General Court Martial. White officers found Clark not guilty of desertion, but guilty of being absent without leave. He was reduced to the rank of private and lost two months of his pay. A barber by trade, Clark continued to serve in the regiment until discharged in September 1865 and even earned a promotion to Corporal in May 1864.

Taylor did not share the same fate at his trial. He was found guilty of desertion and sentenced to death. On November 24 Benjamin Butler reduced the sentence to the loss of all pay and continued imprisonment with hard labor until the end of Taylor’s three-year term. Capt. Sheldon found the punishment too harsh, and on May 27, 1864, wrote to Col. Ames, commanding officer of the 6th USCI, defending Taylor:

“His story, which to the best of my knowledge and belief is true, is as follows:

The regiment was about to leave for the south. He is an only son and his mother is a widow mainly dependent on him for support. She had written him several times telling him he must come home and see her before the regiment went South. He asked several times for a pass, but none could then be given to go so far. Finally, he in company with Sergt. Clark of the same Company left camp in the evening and went home by railroad. He meant to stay at home a few days and then go back to camp. He wore his uniform having on his cap the letter of his company and number of his regiment, and when he arrived at home went about freely, making no attempt to conceal the fact of his being a soldier. He expected to be arrested and taken back. His mother, who was greatly troubled when she discovered that he had left without leave, urged him to give himself up to the Provost Guard. He had been at home but three days when he was arrested and sent back.

He is but eighteen years of age. He was enlisted by T. H. Bengles at Pittsburg who never even told him that there were Rules and Articles of War. He did not know what was the penalty for desertion.

Taylor was considered by his company officers and by Col. Wagner com’d’g Camp Wm Penn one of the most faithful and deserving men in his company. They were greatly surprised at his desertion. During his confinement his conduct has been uniformly good. Although the duties at present required of him are always humiliating, his prompt and uncomplaining obedience has been often remarked. He seems truly sorry for deserting and declares himself willing to do anything to be returned to duty. I urgently and most respectfully request that measures may be taken to procure his release.

I have the honor to be very respectfully
your obedient Servant
Geo. W. Sheldon
Capt 6th U.S.C.T. Com’d’g Co “H”

Col. J. W. Ames
Comdy 6th U.S.C.T.

We, the undersigned, believe the foregoing statement to be true, that military discipline will not suffer in the least by returning Private Taylor to duty and that at such a time as this he ought to have a chance to recover his good name and therefore we respectfully request that he be returned to duty.”

Sheldon’s request was signed by seventeen other officers of the regiment. Col. John W. Ames included his support for the Black private in a separate letter, and on May 11 Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler cancelled Taylor’s remaining punishment and approved the soldier’s return to Company H. Less than a month later, Private Charles W. Taylor died in the line of duty. He was laid to rest near the Baylor farm northeast of Petersburg on June 9, 1864.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.