[CIVIL WAR, AFRICAN AMERICAN TROOPS]. JACKSON, Francis, H. Private, 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry. Autograph letter signed to his father, Black Island, S.C., October 1864. 3 pages, 8vo, on lined paper, minor spotting, otherwise in good condition.
PRIVATE FRANCIS F. JACKSON, COMPANY "I" 54TH MASSACHUSETTS COLORED INFANTRY
A poignant letter written by a young black, a native of Vermont, who enlisted in this celebrated African-American regiment in December 1863. The 23-year old, whose spelling and punctuation are slightly erratic, writes here from Black Island, S.C., where the regiment is guarding the approaches to the harbor. "Dear Father It is with the most sincere pleasure that I take pen in hand to ride [sic] you a few lines to let you know that i am well at present...i have receved [sic] all the letters that you have sent Elmer got the letters that you have sent him and the money also Elmer is well...he had got over his sickness...they [there] is no fighting going on down in this department once and a While they is a rebbel [sic] Boat tries to get out of the Harbour and run the Blocked [Blockade] and gets sunk for her trubel [trouble] the Sharpshooters fire at our men..." Jackson asks if his father has received $20 sent him, and writes "you must keep the Boys going to School tell the girls that i am much oblidge fore them Books that they mailed...We have warm days and cold night but it is helthy give my love to all the family and all enquiring friends..."
A rarity. Letters from African-American enlisted men serving in the celebrated 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry are seldom available. Little is known of Private Francis Jackson, of Company "I," who enlisted in Vermont in December 1864. While there were isolated units of African-American troops raised as early as 1862, it was only after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1 January 1863 that black enlistment soared, and by the end of the war there were some 166 regiments of colored troops--mostly infantry, but also including artillery and cavalry units--serving in the Army of the United States. Jackson, therefore, was one of some 300,000 African-Americans who served in the Union army during the Civil War.
Photostatic copies of some of Private Francis Jackson's military records accompany his letter. A "Muster and Descriptive Roll" records that he was born in Farrisburg, Vermont and was 23 years old at the time of his enlistment at Rockingham, Vermont on 16 December 1863, for 3 years, and his occupation is recorded as "waiter." On a muster roll for January 22 to February 29, stationed at Jacksonville, Florida, Jackson is shown as "absent," "sick in general hospital;" one slip for September to October 1864 notes that Jackson was still due an additional $25 bounty on his $100 enlistment bounty. One of the late muster slips, dated at Charleston, S.C., May-June 1865, notes that Jackson was assessed $1.60 for "Company G. Equipage lost through carelessness." Later records relate to his pension claim (which appears to have been denied), and a subsequent claim by his widow, Helen Jackson of Fort Edward, New York, following Jackson's death on 18 April 1886. Jackson is listed in a complete roster of the 54th Massachusetts appended to Luis F. Emilio. History of the Fifty-Fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Boston, 1894), p.380.