United States Colored Troops
Of Crawford County, Ark.
The United States Colored Troops were organized in 1863. Crawford county Arkansas seems an unlikely place that a good number of men would live who would have served in these Union regiments. However, there were many black men who had been enslaved, who lived in the county before the War, and there were others who would later settle in the county after the Civil War ended, after they had won their freedom. There were 6 regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops that were organized in the state of Arkansas, and when the black men of the area in this small NW Arkansas community had an opportunity to fight for their freedom, many of them seized the opportunity immediately. Some left and fled to Kansas, joining the 83rd US Colored infantry, others merely slipped across the river to Ft. Smith, enlisting in the 11th U.S. Colored Infantry when it was organized, while others joined the illustrious 57th U.S. Colored Infantry. Nevertheless, several dozen men have been documented to have come from the community and who returned home after the war as veterans of the Union Army.
The Van Buren Civil War Project
Several years ago, I began researching my family history and its relation to the Walton, Drennen, and Talkington line of Van Buren, Arkansas. Lydia Talkington, whose name graced the pages of an old family bible was a mystery, until it was discovered that she was also a Civil War widow.
Her husband, John Talkington served with the 83rd U.S. Colored Infantry, and he was wounded in the Jenkins Ferry battle, near Camden Arkansas. He soon died from his wounds, and his widow Lydia, was entitled to a widow's pension. As a result, a thick Civil War pension file was left behind. Over the years, in the town of Van Buren, many citizens, from the white and black communities spoke on Lydia's behalf, in support of her receiving her pension as she requested increases to her small pension.
What emerged from her file were also the names of more soldiers who had returned to the city of Van Buren after the war. As these retired soldiers spoke on her behalf, a natural question arose---who were these other black soldiers who lived in the same community? I decided to personally explore their history and I was to learn a remarkable lesson in local history of the community of Van Buren, Arkansas. Taking advantage of living close to Washington, DC I began to obtain the pension files of some of the soldiers found in Lydia's file. Each file, revealed the name of more soldiers. My research colleague Tonia Holleman, joined this effort utilizing her sharp research skills, combing through census records, marriage records, and early Van Buren newspapers to learn even more about the lives of these men, whose names had long been forgotten.
The Headstone Project
As the names of these Union soldiers emerged, we both became very interested in finding out where they were buried. Surprisingly, the black Unions soldiers of Van Buren were not among the U.S. Colored troops buried in Ft. Smith National Cemetery. Upon closer examination of the pension files, it was noticed that many of these soldiers were actually buried in the city of Van Buren, in the town cemetery--Fairview cemetery.
Some died in the 1920s and death certificates also confirmed that they were buried in the cemetery, and others who died much earlier, had documents in their files confirming their place of burial. Interestingly, though buried in the historic cemetery, these men had no markers on their gravesites. Yet, as United States soldiers, these men were eligible for official headstones, and therefore, with the assistance of Tonia Holleman of Van Buren, the effort was made to obtain headstones for these men buried at Fairview cemetery.
Ms. Holleman spoke with members of the Fairview cemetery board, and the board graciously donated some space for some of our soldiers. We hoped for 5-6 spaces and the cemetery board gave us 16 spaces!
As a result of this generosity and spirit of congeniality and support of these soldiers, from the cemetery board, we decided to begin our efforts to secure memorial markers for 8 of these men whose records we had already obtained. Our project was also supported by the Honorable John Boozeman, of the 3rd District of Arkansas.
On Monday January 17th, 2005 the stones were laid in Fairview Cemetery. At long last, 140 years after these men earned their freedom, their names were finally standing, honoring these men in the cemetery where they rest. Their names inscribed upon beautiful marble upright military markers reflect their service to their nation. They had won their freedom and their names now grace the town cemetery, in the vicinity of their loved ones, and their community.
These soldiers of silence, dignity and patriotism are honored at last.
Angela Y. Walton-Raji