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“The President’s authority to commission the officers of colored volunteer notwithstanding, state executives exerted considerable influence in the selection of officers of Negro regiments. Clamoring for the protection of states’ rights, the governors argued that native white men of their respective states should be appointed officers of the Negro troops they mobilized.”
John T. Blassingame. “The Selection of Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers of Negro Troops in the Union Troops, 1863-1865,” Negro History Bulletin,Vol. 30, No. 1 (January 1967), pp. 8-11.

This photograph of an unidentified cavalry officer is held in the collection of the Missouri Historical Society. The catalog record describes it as a “half-length portrait of a man in uniform with a sword. Subject’s hat has crossed sabers, indicating cavalry.”

See related posts:

1st U.S. Colored Cavalry in the 19th Century News” (December 23, 2019)
Black Troops, White Officers” (July 20, 2020)
Free Military School for Applicants for Commands of Colored Troops” (December 16, 2019)

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White officers typically served as enlisted men or junior officers in Northern regiments before becoming commanding officers in African American regiments. This officer’s earlier service was as Regimental Quartermaster with the Sixth Massachusetts Infantry . After the war ended he married a woman from Norfolk, Virginia and returned to his hometown  Lowell, Massachusetts.

 

Inavlid — 1,313,825 / 1,105,836
Widow — 921,814 / 692,335, Mary Coburn 

 

Certificate of Marriage, Charles H. Coburn and Mary Victoria McClean, 20 June 1866
Coburn was born in Lowell, Massachusetts; McClean was born in Norfolk, Virginia. Officiated by Reverend J.S.B. Hodges on June 20, 1866 in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. Witnesses were: “Mother & sisters of bride, James Parker etc. 
Recorded in the Parish Register of Grace Church, Newark, NJ, Page 464, 465 of Vol. i.”

 

Questionnaire, Charles H. Coburn, 18 March 1905
[wife]  Mary Victoria Coburn; Mary Victoria McClean
[where, when, by whom] June 20, 1866 at Scotch Plains, NJ by John S.B. Hodges, DD, Newark, NJ
[record] at Scotch Plains, NJ
[previous marriage] no
[living children] Three — Victoria McLean Coburn, May 7, 1869; Frederic William Coburn, January 30, 1873; Helen Coburn, June 5, 1877

 

Questionnaire (3-447],  Charles H. Coburn, 24 March 1905
[birthdate] March 12, 1839
[birthplace] Lowell, Massachusetts
[date enlisted] August 20, 1862
[place enlisted] Lowell, Mass.
[residence before enlistment] Lowell, Mass
[post-office box before enlistment] Lowell, Mass
[occupation at enlistement] merchant
[when discharged] June 5, 1863
[where discharged] Lowell
[residence after discharge] Lowell, Massachusetts
[present occupation] merchant
[physicial description] 5 feeet, 6 3/4 inches; weight, 150 pounds; blue eyes; brown hair; light complexion; no scars

 

Declaration for Widow’s Pension, Mary V. Coburn, 10 June 1909
“she is the widow of Charles H. Coburn, who was enrolled, on or about 16 day of September, 1862 as a 1st Lieut. Regt. Com, in 1st RRegt. U.S. Colored  Vol Cavalry , and honorably discharged June 3rd, 1863, having served ninety days or moe duirng the late civil war …
“Also personally appeared Hellen C. Stevens, residing in 187 Nesmith S., Lowell, Massachusetts, and Ethel M. Morse,  residing in 187 Nesmith St., Lowell, Massachusetts [acquainted with her] 32 years and 2 years, respectively …”

 

General Affidavit, Frederic McClean, 19 July 1909
36 years old; residence, Lowell, Middlesex County, Massachusetts; post-office address, Lowell, Massachusetts
“[the couple] was married but once …”

 

Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Record of Death, Charles H. Coburn, 29 October 1909 [date stamped by Pension Office]
[death date] June 3, 1909
[age] 70 years, 2 months, 19 days
[death place] 187 Nesmith Street, Lowell, Massachusetts
[occupations] Vice President & Treasurer, C.B. Coburn, Co.
[birthplace] Lowell, Mass
[parents’ names] Charles B. Coburn; Elizabeth West
[parents’ birthplaces] Chelmsford, Massachusetts; Salem, Massachusetts
[cause of death] arterio sclerosis 

 

Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Certificate of Record of Death, 11 June 1909
[Note] The information recorded here is also  in the “Record of Death.” However, this document states that this individual was buried in Lowell Cemetery, Lowell, Massachusetts and the previous document.

 

General Affidavit, Lizzie McClean, 19 July 1909
60 years old; residence, Lowell, Middlesex County, Massachusetts; post-office address, Lowell, Massachusetts
“depose and say that the claimant was never married but once and then to soldier, also that the soldier was never married but once and then to the claimant Mary V. Courn nee McLean….”

 

General Affidavit, Walter Coburn and Agness C. Bartlett, 20 August 1909
[Coburn] 64 years; residence, Lowell, Middlesex County, Massachusetts; post-office address, Lowell, Massachusetts
[Bartlett] 47 years; residence, Lowell, Middlesex County, Massachusetts; post-office address, 313 Nesmith St., Lowell, Massachusetts
“I Walter Coburn depose and say that I am the brother of the soldier, relative to the claimant and the soldier living together from the date of their marriage to about 1890 will say that they always lived together from the date of their marriage up to the date of his death and very happily. …
“I Agness C. Bartlett depose and say relative to the claimant and soldier living together from the date of their marriage to about 1890 … up to the date of the soldier’s death and very happily …”

 

General Affidavit, Mary H.C. Rogers and Elizabeth Coburn, 20 August 1909
[Rogers] 69 years old; residence, Lowell, Middlesex County, Massachusetts; post-office address, Lowell, Massachusetts
[Coburn] 59 years old; residence, Lowell, Middlesex County, Massachusetts; post-office address, Lowell, Massachusetts
“[the couple] well known to us before their marriage and we know that neither was married befoe and that the widow has not married since.”

 

General Affidavit, George H. Heath, 30 September 1909
35 years old; residence, Lowell, Massachusetts; post-office address, 79 Branch Ave., Lowell, Mass
“That is a clerical error on my part that June third was the correct date of  his death and it was my mistake and I hereby make oath to that effect.”

 

General Affidavit, Mary V. Coburn, 26 October 1909
72 years old; residence, Lowell, Middlesex County, Massachusetts; post-office address, 745 Hillside Ave., Plainfield, NJ 
“[Coburn] He died on the morning of June 3, 1909, at 6 o’clock a.m. which is correct. The undertaker was particularly told the day and time of day that the soldier died”

 

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“Union cavalry and mounted artillery soldiers were issued greatcoats to be worn over their uniforms during the winter months.”

See the complete entry for “Union Mounted Greatcoat” at the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, accessed May 3, 2021.

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It was somewhat easier for white officers and their families to have their pension applications approved. Family Bible entries for births, marriages, and deaths could be corroborated with other sources to prove relationships.

Invalid – 495, 059 / 979,556
Widow – 1,083,100 / 826,058, Clara J. Howard

General Affidavit, Charles M. Howard, 29 December 1898
50 years old; post-office address, 59 Quimby Street, Grand Rapids, Michigan
“Have known O.L. Howard for years having been in business with him …”
[Note: Another individual’s name “Charles [illegible], aged 20 years …” and signature were struck through — Leslie]

General Affidavit, George W. Morris, 30 December 1898
60 years old; post-office address, 43 Close Place [???], Detroit, Michigan
“I have known Orville L. Howard for the past thirty years. I know that he was in the Mt. Clemens [???] Mich in 1892 suffering from rheumatism and taking baths for treatment of the same. I know this for I visited him there two or three times.


General Affidavit, Orville L. Howard, 1 July 1914
69 years old; post-office address, 142 Wallach Ave., Buffalo, NY
” … there is no public or church record of his birth and no way to prove same other than a leaf [of paper] from the family Bible … This leaf was taken from the family Bible by this soldier some years ago and he does not known where the family Bible is now. [He recalls seeing his name in the Bible] giving his date of birth as July 26, 1844. o

General Affidavit, William H. Smith, 6 September 1912
40 years old; residence, Warsaw, Wyoming Co., NY; occupation, Pastor of the First M.E. Church, Warsaw, NY
“Have examined the church records here and find the following record
O.L. Howard — Farmer — Brockport, NY
Clara J. Morris Warsaw, NY
Married Dec 22nd, 1866 by H.H. Lyman, Pastor”

General Affidavit, Orville L. Howard, 1 July 1914
69 years old; post-office address, 142 Wallach Ave., Buffalo, NY
” … there is no public or church record of his birth and no way to prove same other than a leaf [of paper] from the family Bible … This leaf was taken from the family Bible by this soldier some years ago and he does not known where the family Bible is now. [He recalls seeing his name in the Bible] giving his date of birth as July 26, 1844. o

Declaration for Widow’s Pension, Clara J. Howard, 26 October 1916
“77 years of age … born November 23rd, 1839 at Warsaw, Wyoming Co., NY
“That she is the widow of Orville L. Howard who enlisted August 9, 1862, at Brockport, NY… as 1st Sgt & Cptn. in Company M, 3rd NY Cavalry and was honorably discharged November 22, 1864 …
“That she was married to said soldier December 22, 1866 under the name of Clara J. Morris, at Warsaw, NY by Rev. H.H. Lyman, that she had not been previously married, that he had not been previously married …
“That said soldier died October 20, 1916, at Buffalo, NY …”

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Though he was born enslaved in Louisiana, the soldier enlisted in New York and returned to Donaldsonville and Burnside, Louisiana on a bend of the Mississippi River.  His application for pension benefits as an Invalid included a score of names of family members and comrades-in-arms and officers thus providing many clues for further research.

Invalid — 1,288,325 / 1,172, 166

 

Questionnaire (Form 3-389), Joseph A. Virriste, 20 August 1902
[wife’s name] Mary Jane Anderson
[where, when, by whom married] Donaldsonville, Louisiana by Rev. Thos. Kennedy
[record] recorded at Donaldsonville, Louisiana
[previously married] Fillis Washington (dead)
[living children] Frank Varriste born 1866; Mary Jane Varriste born 1877

 

Questionnaire (Form 3-474), Joseph Verrio, 20 August 1902
[birthplace] Assumption Parish, Louisiana
[enlisted at] New York
[residence before enlistment] Assumption Parish, Louisiana
[occupation] laborer
[name of former owner] Baptiste Landry
[discharged at] Cedar Point, Virginia
[residence since discharge] Assumption Parish, Louisiana; nine years
[height / color / permanent marks] 5′ 9 inches / griffe / none
[previous service] [blank]
[other names] “I am now known by Francois Joseph nicknames
[current name] Francois Joseph
[present residence, nearest post-office] Ascension Parish, Louisiana; Burnside P.O.

 

General Affidavit, Victor Richard, 21 November 1909
64 years old; post-office address, Baston, Louisiana
“I have known the petitioner for fifty years. Was a member of the same army…”

 

Letter from Special Examiner to Commissioner of Pensions, 26 November 1913
“[The claimant] is of good native intelligence and memory, he is regarded as a steady and reliable old man; and the impression he made with me is a distinctly good one … The claimant cannot produce his discharge certificate and he has never had a photograph of himself made…. The fact of the different companies of the regiment being separated at various places is a reason why the claimant does not know more of the regimental officers.

“Victor Richard, original affiant is dead and it is not known that any other comrade now alive is resident in this district.
“The claimant’s true name appears to be Joseph Francois, but he does not know where he was baptized and he can produce no record of his age or the date of his birth. On the rolls the soldier’s name appears variously as Verrice, Vreece, Vyreece and as Joseph A. Virriste. All those are without doubt the attempts of one not familiar with it to spells not uncommon French  or Creole name which is properly EVARISTE — pronounced Ev—are—eece, or as the negro often gets it, — Ev-eye-reece, or corrupted or shortened to Varrice or nearly Vy-reece as it is on the rolls.”

 

Questionnaire (Form 3-442), 20 November 1912

Name Rank Present Post-Office Address
Lemuel Babb R.D. #2, Portsmouth, Va.
John Farmer Winchester Ave.
    alias Wm. Brown       Lakewood, Ohio
Fred’k W. Browne 2d Lieut. #33 Wiggins Court, Cincinnati, Ohio
Patrick Cofer Smithfield, Isle of Wight Co., Virginia
Thomas Cross Bowers Hill, Norfolk Co., Va.
David Grissom #28 Cleveland St., Norfolk, Va.
Duncan Jones Eliz. City, Pasquotank Co., NC
Gordon Jones #1418 High St., Portsmouth, Va.
Thomas Land #7 Burk’s Court, Norfolk, Va.

 

Deposition, Joseph Francois or Verrio, 23 May 1913
72 years old; post-office address, Burnside, Ascension Parish, La.
“I gave my discharge paper to a colored man Collisle Landry many years ago to get my back pay or bounty that might be due me & he never gave it back to me & I can’t tell what became of it. I was born on Grand Bayou in Assumption Parish, La. below here, that is in the swamp way back of the Bayou Laforche. My father was Michael Joseph & my mother Clarisse Joseph. My father died when I was small & my mother than had a husband named Jefferson Collins.  My first owner was Baptist John Bourg [sp?] long since dead. When I was 7 years old I was sold to Baptist Landry. When he died I fell to his son Anatole Landry now dead. I lived on the Landry place was a field hand until I joined the army. Mr. Landry’s place was in Assumption Parish, La. on Bayou Laforche 7 miles below Donaldsonville. I suppose I was christened somewhere but I can’t tell where or when. It must have happened when I was an infant because my owner was Roman Catholic. I can’t tell the year or date of my birth except by what my mother told me. My mother died 16 years ago & the year she died she told me I was born on July 13 & was then 56 years old.

“[My mother] had a brother named Varrice much older than she was … My uncle Varrice died 18 or 19 years ago … I went away in the army & left him on the old home place & came back and found him there.  The last part of August 1864, my stepfather Jefferson Collins, Samuel Luzerbey, and I and Victor Richard and John Walkin — all 4 field hands — ran away to New Orleans to enlist in the army. … Jeff Collins & my mother broke up before the war & then she had Samuel Luzerbey & it was Samuel Luzerbey who was my stepfather who ran away with me. When we were first got to New Orleans to enlist, we met up with a colored boatman who was a hand on one of the New York mailboats. I believe it was the “Star” or the “Evening Star.”  …. We landed in New York on Sunday … we arrived in New York Tuesday, remained on the boat that day & on Monday we went to a recruiting office & enlisted. I can’t tell what street it was on. The Captain & colored man went with us…. I was sent to my Co. A that was located at Fort Magruder on York River. The companies were scattered about …. Victor Richard & I were put in that & John Walker & Samuel _______ were put in Company I of the 1st Colored Cavalry. Victor Richard witnessed for me in this claim. He died two years ago. He was the only …. the rest of my co. all came from Virginia & North Carolina. Samuel Luzerbey died about 6 years ago & John Walkin died long ago but his widow Ellen Walkin is a pensioner & lives now somewhere in New Orleans …. [I have no scars except] a shot in my buttock that I got before the war when the overseer shot me for running away in the woods for 6 months. I was 22 years old when I enlisted … Before I joined the army I spoke Creole French altogether & it was very hard for me to understand English when I first enlisted …. The first place we were located was Fort Magruder where we did garrison duty & then we were sent to Cedar Point near West Point, Va. & did garrison duty until we mustered out…. In the army I served under the name of Joseph Verrice. I did that at the advice of my stepfather of my stepbrother because I had run away & I was afraid my owners might get up with me. I had always heard that if we ran away & joined the Yankees & we got caught we would be killed & our bodies would be given to the buzzards so I took the name of Joseph Verrice because Varrice had been my nickname. Samuel Luzerbey’s real name was Samuel Joseph but he took the name Luzerby in the army & John Walkin went as Paul Joseph. I was never sick or off duty while I was a soldier.

“My Regt. had been in lots of fights before I joined & I was one of the recruits taken in to fill the places of men who had been killed in battle.  Lt Brown was a portly light-complexioned man. Orderly Sergent was John Fuller, a light brown man & slew footed & rather small in size. He was from N.C. or Va. Henry White & ____ Banks & ____ Thomas were Desk Sergeants. Corporals were ____ Banks [illegible] & ____ Ricks. Privates I recall are Robert Fall, John Moseley, Stephen Hair or Harold, Debby Nicholson, James Reed, Isaac Reed, Henry Whitehurst, & Thomas Armgage [Avery?]. …. I can’t recall any of those names at all except Robert Fall or Forbes, Victor Richard and John Moseley — just five of us in the tent together. When I came out the army I went to the same place in Bayou Fourchette 4 miles below here & lived 9 years & then I lived in Port Barron [sp?] opposite Donaldsonville 8 years & then I moved to the Burnside place over the River from here and have lived there ever since except 2 years. I lived on the Union place a few years ago & that place is in the James Parish & adjoins the Burnside property. I have worked as a field hand & yard man ever since I came out the army. Have never drank to excess or been in any trouble and I never had any bad disease in my life. I have been married 3 times and three times only. My first was Dicey Anderson.

“She died in Port Baron [sp?]  25 or 30 years ago. My next wife was Phyllis Washington who died about 12 years ago while I was staying here a while in Donaldsonville. My third wife was Sukey Baptiste. She died in New Orleans a year before last — no, Jany a year ago. We were separated when we died. I had no children except two now alive by the first wife & they are both grown. When I was discharged [illegible] at Cedar Point, well, maybe it was City Point. …. [My daughter by Dicey Anderson] is named Mary Jones … I did not sooner put in for pension because I had lost my discharge certificate”

 

Camille Collins, Deposition, 23 May 1913
54 years old; occupation, ferryman; residence, Donaldsonville, La.;

 

Deposition, Anderson Ross, 23 May 1913
76 years old; “not able to work as I am blind”; residence and post-office address, Donaldsonville, La.
“I am a pensioner & I was an Orderly Sergt. Company D, 99 U.S.C.T.  I have lived in Donaldsonville ever since I came out of the army. Before I joined the army I lived on the Maxile Le Blanc place down Bayou Laforche from here in Assumption Parish, 8 or 9 miles & 2 miles below the Landry place. … He lived on the Landry place before the war & I knew him good before the war & we was [sic] raised together but he is 3 or 4 years younger than I am. …. I knew his father Matthew Joseph & his mother Clarissa. His owners and mine were kinfolks.”

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