Henry Bruce (blackunionsoldiers)

(b. circa 1830 – d. 1916)

On March 31, 1864 Henry B. Bruce enlisted in Montgomery County, Maryland, with the newly-formed 39th Regiment, U.S.C.T., of the Maryland Volunteer Infantry. Muster rolls listed Bruce as enslaved by Wilson Grummes (b. 1808). This was actually William Groomes who lived near Unity. Although Groomes did not appear on Martenet’s 1865 map of the county, his farm stood next to Bushrod Gartrell’s farm. Groomes enslaved two people in 1853 and 1855: the teenagers Josiah (b. circa 1841) and Harriet (b. circa 1839), but not Henry, who was born around 1830. In the 1860 slave census, the ages of Groomes’ two slaves match the ages of Josiah and Harriet. Perhaps Groomes purchased Henry Bruce after 1860 but before 1864 when Bruce enlisted.

Henry Bruce served in Company D. Bruce suffered a shell wound to his back on July 31, 1864, the day after the Battle of the Crater. Although the battle had occurred the previous day, Meade’s army did not offer a flag of truce until noon on the 31st, so Bruce’s wound earlier that day, perhaps by the continuous sniper fire, is entirely feasible. The possibility also exists that Bruce was wounded in the battle itself but the wrong date was entered.

The Battle of the Crater, fought on July 30, 1864, involved the largest numbers of black troops so far assembled in the Civil War. Brigadier General Edward Ferrero’s 4th Division (under General Burnside’s 9th Corps) was comprised of the 19th, 23rd, 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th, 31st, 39th, and 43th U.S.C.T. regiments. The disastrous battle resulted in the highest casualties for African American soldiers in the entire war. Many of the Union casualties included disarmed, captured, and injured USCT soldiers whom Confederate soldiers massacred during and following the battle. The 39th Regiment, under Colonel Ozora P. Stearns, sustained thirteen killed, ninety-seven wounded, and forty-seven missing or captured – a total of one hundred and fifty-seven casualties. On August 6, 1864 the Baltimore Sun listed “Henry Bruch” among the wounded, although only sixty-nine were counted in the regiment as wounded at the time. Fortunately Bruce survived his wound and was discharged in Washington, D.C. on May 27, 1865 under General’s Order No. 77, which was “the first order issued by the War Department discharging men by reason of close of the war.”

Tilghman Debtor (blackunionsoldiers)

(b. ? – d. ?)

Josiah W. Jones, an Olney farmer, reported that enslaved Tilghman Debtor enlisted with the United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.). Like his brother, Samuel, Tilghman had joined the 39th Regiment, serving in Company G. The state compensated Jones with one hundred dollars for each of the two enlisted slaves.

Tilghman Debtor does not appear in the Maryland census records following the Civil War.

Samuel Debtor (blackunionsoldiers)

(b. circa 1848 – d. ?)

Eighteen-year-old Samuel Debtor (also spelled Dettor) was born into slavery on Josiah W. Jones’s farm in Olney, Maryland, around 1848. In 1853 Montgomery County slave assessment records listed “Sam” as four years old and worth seventy-five dollars. That year Josiah W. Jones’ ten enslaved people included one woman, thirty-one-year-old Eleanor, who may have been Samuel Debtor’s mother. By 1860 Samuel was one of thirteen enslaved people living in the farm’s two slave quarters.

On March 22, 1864 Debtor enlisted as a private with Company B of the newly-formed 39th Regiment, Maryland Volunteer Infantry, under Colonel Samuel M. Bowman. The 39th’s muster rolls erroneously named Debtor’s owner as Joseph Jones. The regiment participated in the battles of Petersburg, Spotsylvania Court House, and the Crater. He received his final pay on June 30, 1865.

When Debtor enlisted in 1864, he left behind seven other slaves with the Debtor surname: Tilghman and Mary, both seventeen; Martha, age twelve; Elias, age eight; and Anne, age two.

Samuel Debtor is absent from the Maryland census records following the Civil War. However the 1870 census showed that Martha and Elias Debtor had remained with Josiah W. Jones as domestic servants.

Debtor’s name appears (as “Samuel Detter”) on plaque C-54 among the 209,145 names listed on the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Mortimer King (blackunionsoldiers)

(b. circa 1830 – d. 1911)

Mortimer King was born around 1830 to William King and an unknown enslaved woman. In December of 1834, Montgomery County slaveholder Samuel Riggs inherited the four-year-old King. Riggs usually appeared in records as “Samuel Riggs of R,” identifying him as the son of Reuben Riggs and differentiating him from other relatives with the same name. In 1864 King was one of thirteen enslaved people on Riggs’ farm, along with Albert King (b. 1823), Hanson King (b. 1841), and Rachel King (b. 1838). The farm, which Samuel Riggs inherited from his father, stood in the Cracklin District of Montgomery County just north of Laytonsville. A number of Kings were also enslaved on the nearby farms of Thomas Griffith and Samuel O. Dorsey.

On March 28, 1864 Mortimer King enlisted as a private with Company K of the 30th Regiment, USCT, Maryland Volunteer Infantry. Mortimer King’s service record describes him as 5′ 7″ tall with a “griff” complexion, a term loosely signifying both African and European ancestry. According to his service record, King was promoted to the rank of corporal on March 31, 1864, just three days after enlisting.

Shortly after enlisting, King paid fifty cents for a pair of shoulder scales commonly worn by privates and corporals in “full dress.” In June of 1865 he paid $5.03 for a “Stop for Transportation,” which referred to a furlough that he took from May 21 to June 20, 1865. In August he paid thirty-one cents for a gun sling. During his entire service, King paid a total of $37.53 for clothing and $6.00 for ammunition.

Mortimer King was mustered out on December 10, 1865 in Roanoke Island. He returned to the Cracklin District of Montgomery County, where he lived near Brighton. King and his wife Amelia (b. circa 1840) had one daughter, Margaret, born around 1856. He passed away on April 2, 1911 in Baltimore and was buried at Loudon Park National Cemetery. His headstone, number 1452 in section C, reads “Corpl. Mortimer King, U.S.C.T.” In 1998 the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington D.C. commemorated Mortimer King along with the 209,145 soldiers listed on its Wall of Honor. King’s name appears on plaque B-46.

Luke Letcher (blackunionsoldiers)

(b. circa 1845 – d. 1865)

Born around 1845, Luke Letcher was one of thirteen people enslaved by the Montgomery County farmer Samuel Riggs. On March 22, 1864 Letcher enlisted in Baltimore as a private with the 39th Regiment, U.S.C.T., of the Maryland Volunteer Infantry. He served in Company B along with other soldiers from Montgomery County. When Luke Letcher joined the 39th, he left behind five other slaves with the Letcher surname: John Letcher, age 23; Alcinda Letcher, age 25; Hannah Letcher, age 17; Emily Letcher, age 15; and Adolphine Letcher, age 13.

The 39th participated in the Wilderness Campaign as well as the Siege of Petersburg in 1864 and the Battle of the Crater. They also fought in the battles for Fort Fisher and Wilmington in 1865. Luke Letcher must have distinguished himself in particular during his service, since he had been promoted to the rank of sergeant by the end of the war. Unfortunately the details surrounding his promotion are unknown.

On August 29, 1865 Sergeant Letcher died from typhoid fever in the Regimental Hospital in New Bern, North Carolina. He was interred at New Bern National Cemetery, one of 3,500 Union soldiers buried there. His grave stands in section 14, grave 2548. In 1998 the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. commemorated Sergeant Letcher among the 209,145 black soldiers listed on the monument. His name appears on plaque C-54 on the Wall of Honor.