Author Rev. David Briddell never imagined he would spend the first years of his retirement searching through mountains of dusty government records to profile some 1300 of Maryland’s forgotten black Civil War heroes, but evidently that’s what he did.
Last month the former executive of the Council of Churches, together with academic Dr. Clara L. Small (pictured above), released a book titled, ‘Men of Color, To Arms: Manumitted Slaves and Freed Blacks from the Lower Eastern Shores of Maryland.’
It traces the lives and demographic information of 1300 freemen who volunteered or former slaves who were sold by their owners to participate in the Civil War.
Rev. Briddell said the data he discovered had not been fully pursued in any other research project.
“The book brings to the surface what only few scholars knew,” he said. “But nothing has come out that we know profiles these soldiers.”
Now a New Jersey retiree, Rev. Briddell said it was crucial to the legacy of those who fought that he discover more about black Civil War heroes.
“The role of African Americans in the War has almost perished,” he said. “And even now, if you go to a Memorial Day Service, our attention would be on World War I or World War II.”
He suggested there was also a need to inform the black community about these men so that their roles in the triumphs of the Civil War were not underestimated.
“I’m beginning to say that had it not been for these soldiers the Union would not have achieved what it did,” he said.
A few years ago, a series of events led Rev. Briddell to discover that his great, great uncle, Isaiah Fassett, had been enlisted to fight in the Civil War.
A local Maryland newspaper profiled Fassett and expressed how encouraged they were that a black man had happily fought in the War.
But Rev. Briddell corrected them, indicating that Fassett had no choice.
“He lived to be 102 so there was some consciousness of him being in the Civil War,” Rev. Briddell said. “But it was not his decision to go. He was sold by his owner for a bounty.”
This was the case for many of Maryland’s Black Civil War soldiers and so along with Isaiah Fassett, Rev. Briddell and Dr. Small profiled 1300 of the state’s most forgotten black Civil War heroes.
They used as many as 5 sources to unveil their names, places of origin, ranks, regiments, entry and exit dates, transfer dates, and bounty information.
These sources included the Formal Roster of the Civil War, muster rolls, bounty rolls, land records and the deeds that set the men free after the war.
The book also relied on data from the 1890 Census to discover information about pensions, injuries and the future prospects of Civil War veterans.
Rev. Briddell noted that upon discharge the lives of some black Civil War heroes were marred with struggle.
“It would be a difficult task given that you had just been given a life,” he said. “You didn’t have a profession, a job and there was no equity for you.”
In order to fully pay homage to their contribution to freedom in America, Rev. Briddell hopes the book will give a name to the nameless.
Along with others scholars, he estimates that around 150,000 unknowns soldiers were killed in the Civil War, never to be recognized by name or any other background information.
Rev. David Briddell and Dr. Clara L. Small’s book is available for $25 online at publisher Arcadia’s website or at the Salisbury State University Book Store in Maryland.
Click here to find the book at BuyArcadia.com.