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Stories of black Civil War vets buried in Everett

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By Winonna Saari
Herald Writer
  • Cicero Hunter

    Cicero Hunter

  • Robert K. Beecham, captain of the 23rd United States Colored Troops.

    State Historical Society of Wisconsin

    Robert K. Beecham, captain of the 23rd United States Colored Troops.

  • Mark Mulligan / The Herald
Cicero Hunter's headstone
150 Civil War veterans are buried at Everett Memorial Cemetery. Among them are two black men, Alf...

    Mark Mulligan / The Herald Cicero Hunter's headstone 150 Civil War veterans are buried at Everett Memorial Cemetery. Among them are two black men, Alford Samuels and Cicero Hunter.

President Abraham Lincoln issued orders starting the Civil War 150 years ago this month. Land forces were sent to invade Richmond, Va., the southern capital, in March 1862.
The war would last four years. It involved more than 3 million men, and left more than 620,000 dead.
Among the soldiers were 166 black regiments and more than 3,000 colored troops, as they were called at the time.
And in an Everett cemetery, among the 150 Civil War veterans buried there, are two black men who helped win back the nation, their freedom and individual rights.
Another man buried there, Robert Beecham, commanded a black cavalry regiment, and became an author and civic leader in Everett the last 20 years of his life.
"Too many are forgotten and they shouldn't be forgotten," said James Shipman, former manager of the Evergreen Cemetery who now volunteers his time in preserving local history.
The stories of Alford Samuels and Cicero Hunter haven't been told before.
Alford Samuels
Samuels wasn't a young man when he joined the Union cavalry.
It isn't clear how he went from field laborer -- a Kentucky slave -- to soldier at age 46.
For enlisting as a private on Aug. 27, 1864, Samuels was paid a $100 bonus. That likely might have been the most money he'd ever earned up to that point.
He traveled from Nelson County, Ky., to become part of the 107th Colored Troops in Louisville, Ky.
His regiment fought mostly in North Carolina, including the battle for, and occupation of, Raleigh.
Samuels' military service was plagued by illness. He was listed in the sick ward in 1865 and remained there until he mustered out a free man, according to records gathered decades ago by the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal society made up of men who served in the Civil War.
Two years after the war ended, a white woman named Mary Samuels went to the U.S. government seeking compensation for her "lost property," claiming she'd inherited Alford Samuels. It's not known whether her efforts succeeded.
Samuels' illness during the war possibly affected his hearing and eyesight, which earned him a stipend of $10 per month for the rest of his years.
He had five children late in life, and was believed to be married at least twice.
It's not known when he moved to Everett, but three of his grown children lived in the area. He died at 85, on May 15, 1903, just about a week before President Teddy Roosevelt visited the city.
Cicero Hunter
Cicero Hunter was born a slave, likely in Owensboro, Ky.
The town lies south of the Ohio River, just across the state line from Indiana.
Kentucky was a slave-owning state, and Hunter later recounted being a slave until he was about 5 years old, after which he went to live with his grandmother.
Whether he ever revealed more details than that to members of the Grand Army of the Republic, who saw their job as official biographers of the war, is unknown. They were never recorded.
He signed up with the 32nd Regiment right as the Union was calling black men to join the fight.
Hunter, 21, gave a fake name and fake hometown.
"John Clark" told Union Army officials he was a laborer from Detroit. He stood a stout 5 feet, 4 inches tall. It is believed he actually was living in Philadelphia and probably worked as a porter.
Unlike many men from slave backgrounds, Hunter could read and write.
The 32nd Regiment marched to Washington D.C., and from there saw duty in Hilton Head, S.C., Morris Island, S.C., and then the battle for Charleston, where they were posted beyond entrenchments.
Hunter, like many of his fellow soldiers, was sick during his time in the Army. He received medical treatment twice, once for malaria. Of the 150 men in his regiment who died during the war, 113 died of disease.
In later years, Hunter applied for a government pension based on a scar on his left foot, which he said stemmed from a wound during his Civil War service.
After mustering out of the army in 1865, Hunter joined the merchant marines and went to sea.
He returned to Philadelphia in 1869 and worked as a railroad porter until 1873, according to Grand Army of the Republic records.
He moved around the country, living in Indiana and Minnesota before coming to Whatcom County one year before Washington became a state.
In 1890, Hunter married Annie Thompson, who already had a daughter, Ginnie. A notice appeared in the Sunday, Sept. 21, edition of the local newspaper, The Daily Reveille. It perhaps reflects what living in Washington was like for blacks at the time.
"The following parties assert that they have quit shooting craps and taken out a marriage license: Mr. Cicero HUNTER and Mrs. Anna THOMPSON, both colored."
The couple had one child together, Emma, born in 1891 or 1892. The 1900 census found Hunter and his wife in Minneapolis; neither Ginnie nor Emma were living with them and it is unknown what happened during the intervening years.
When the census found Hunter again in 1910, he was living alone on his own farm in the Granite Falls area. It is not known what happened to Annie.
Hunter died May 12, 1916, and his obituary from The Everett Herald reported "Cicero Husster (sic) 75 years old died last night in the Everett hospital. The elderly man had at one time lived at 2916 Cedar Street" and had no relatives in the city.
He was buried in the city's old Greenwood Cemetery, which was in the area of Evergreen Avenue and 52nd Street.
His remains were disinterred on June 24, 1921, and brought to Evergreen Cemetery with the assistance of a friend identified as Hortense Dunbar, and the local G.A.R. post.
Robert Beecham
Robert Beecham was the son of an Irish-born Protestant farmer who first settled in Essex, New Brunswick, Canada. He was 7 when the family moved to Sun Prairie, Wis.
His story of the war, serialized in newspapers in the early 1900s, included his time commanding one of the black regiments, the 23rd U.S. Colored Troops.
Throughout his life he fought for civic advancement and for setting the record straight about the black troops.
And he "rejected the growing mythology developing around (Confederate General) Robert E. Lee," according to Michael Stevens, who edited Beecham's writings in a 1998 autobiography, "As If It Were Glory."
Beecham spent the last 26 years of his life in Everett, where he was an attorney, a newspaperman and a superior court bailiff.
"For nearly two and a half centuries this boasted 'land of the free and home of the brave' had been in fact a land of oppression for a whole race of people and the home of millions of slaves," Beecham wrote.
"And the time came when in the language of Abraham Lincoln, the liberator the God appointed, the immortal, 'every drop of blood drawn by the lash from the enslaved Negro's back demanded in atonement another drop of blood drawn by the engines and weapons of war from the heart of the Anglo-American.'"
Beecham enlisted along with hundreds of other men in May 1861. His company, called the Iron Brigade, was one of the first mustered into service.
He rose to rank of captain and was captured at the Battle of Gettysburg.
He later escaped, and was appointed commander of 23rd U.S.C.T. He lost 86 men in battle, and another 166 to disease at the siege of Petersburg, Va., which featured the war's largest concentration of black troops.
The men also fought at Appomattox, Va., and were present at Lee's surrender which brought the end of the Civil War.
Beecham married Emma Watkinson in Sun Prairie in 1864. After the war, he moved his family to Minnesota and Nebraska before returning to Wisconsin.
The Beechams moved to Everett in 1894, when he was 56 years old. The family home was at 2624 Rucker Ave.
It's unclear what brought him west, but his front-page obituary in The Everett Herald from Sept. 13, 1920, lists him as being survived by three children, Mrs. S.P. Keithly, Elma Beecham of Everett, and Marwin W. Beecham of Yakima.
He wrote his memoirs while he lived here. His recollections of the war ran in newspapers around the country.
In it, he carefully dispelled racist myths about the black troops. He wrote about their character and willingness to fight.
"The African did not come to America of his own free will, as his Anglo-Saxon brother did; nevertheless, in the development of America the African and the Afro-American have borne an important part. For more than 200 years he was but the 'hewer of wood and drawer of water' for the Anglo-Saxon brother, but it is stated by that eminent scholar and humorist, Judge Tourgee, that 'in every American war the sons of Africa were always found defending the flag so far as lay in their power.' "

Every year, a Civil War reenactment is held at the Evergreen Cemetery. The event honors the 150 veterans from the Civil War who are buried there. This year's event is scheduled for noon July 14. Capt. Robert K. Beecham's autobiography, "As If It Were Glory," edited by Michael E. Stevens, 1998 Madison House, is available through booksellers.

Story tags » Snohomish County history

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