Monday, February 1, 2016

From Slave to Soldier to Long Beach

Since February is African American History Month,  I thought I’d share the story of a forgotten former slave, Harry Stubblefield,  who fought in the Civil War and ended up in Long Beach. 

            In researching my next book, Died in Long Beach: Cemetery Tales, I came across a nondescript grave in Long Beach’s Sunnyside Cemetery that contains the remains of a fascinating person.   

                When African American Harry Stubblefield (1843?-1/23/1913) passed away in 1913, the Long Beach Press noted that he was born the property of a wealthy Kentucky tobacco planter, who had one son. When this son, a prominent physician, married, his father gave him Harry as a wedding gift.  In 1890 this physician died and his widow Sina came to Long Beach and, according to the obituary, brought Harry with her. Former slaves often took the surname of their one-time owner, which was the case with Harry.  The obituary also pointed out that Harry was 102 years old, something that could not be substantiated.
            Further research added more to an interesting story.  Clues led me to the physician’s name---Peter--- and that Sina’s given name was Catherine.  Census records from 1850 showed that Peter’s father, G. W. Stubblefield, owned 14 slaves in Rockingham, North Carolina, varying in age from 1-60. There were 11 males (7 listed as black, 4 as mulatto) and 3 females (2 black, 1 mulatto).  The four mulatto males ranged in age from 5-10 years of age. One of these mulattos could have been Harry.  Was Harry related to the Stubblefield family in more ways than name only?
            The 1850 census also showed that Peter was not an only son as Harry’s obituary stated.  Peter had three brothers, and three sisters.   It also seems that Peter’s father was active in Kentucky during the Civil War providing provisions (and perhaps slaves) for the Southern cause.
             When he was barely twenty Peter left North Carolina to serve as a private with the North Carolina volunteers in the Mexican-American War (which lasted from the spring of 1846 to the fall of 1847).  Sina later claimed his pension as a war widow.  Perhaps the carnage he saw inspired Peter to become a physician. The next record I found was in the 1860 census when Doctor Peter Stubblefield was in Weakley, Tennessee, married to Tennessee native Sina Boyd. 
             Early African Americans came to Tennessee from the colonies of Virginia and North Carolina, including Harry when he came to Tennessee from North Carolina with Peter and Sina Stubblefield.  An 1826 law prohibited them bringing Harry into the state for anything besides the direct use of his labor.  Fortunately for Harry, slaves could not be sold in Tennessee.
             Could Peter have taken a different side during the Civil War than his father and brothers? Tennessee was the last state to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy.  Some living in the state were strongly pro-Confederacy, while others were Unionist.  The 26 eastern counties tried to secede from Tennessee, but Confederate troops were sent to prevent it.  However, portions of Tennessee provided many troops for the Union as well as waging guerrilla warfare against Confederate interests in the state.  Which side did Peter really favor? I took this question to the Tennessee Library and Archives.  The Archives' staff said that when captured by Union forces, Confederate soldiers were given the option of being sent to a prisoner of war camp, or they could swear allegiance to the United States and fight on the Union side.  The Tennessee Archives researchers said there were quite a number of soldiers who served on both the Confederate and Union side.  This seems to be the case with Peter.
            According to the United States Census of Union Veterans and Widows of the Civil War, 1890, Peter served as a Lieutenant from 1862-1865.  There is also a listing (in Tennessee, Civil War Service Records of Confederate Soldiers, 1861-1865) for P. B. Stubblefield serving in the Confederacy as a Second Lieutenant, 9th Regiment Tennessee Infantry, Company G. The names of two of his brothers are also listed next to his. 
            What of Harry?  Before July 17, 1862, it was illegal for African Americans to serve in the army.  On this date the Confiscation Act allowed African Americans to be employed by the (Union) military and another law specifically allowed free blacks to be recruited. The first African American unit was the First South Carolina (Union) Volunteers – mustered in on August 25, 1862. 
            Records show Harry enlisted in the Union Army as part of the 4th U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery unit from Tennessee. Harry’s unit was organized from the 2nd Tennessee Heavy Artillery (African Descent). It was designated 3rd Heavy Artillery on March 11, 1864 and 4th Heavy Artillery on April 26, 1864.  United States Colored Troops fought in all theaters of the war, but mainly served as garrison troops in rear areas. Harry’s unit saw garrison duty at Union City, Tennessee, until September 2, 1864, and then moved to Fort Donelson, Tennessee, until October 11, 1864.  Their next post was Fort Halleck, Columbus, Kentucky, until June, 1865.  The unit moved to Arkansas in June, 1865, and saw duty at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, until February, 1866. The unit was mustered out February 25, 1866.
                By the end of the war, there were almost 179,000 African Americans serving in 166 regiments – about 10 percent of the Union army. Unfortunately, not much else is known about Harry and his term of service in the 4th U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery unit.
             Much information can be gained from pension records, but I have yet to find a pension record for Harry.   African Americans faced many obstacles in applying for a pension. It was difficult and expensive, and African American applicants were often poor and illiterate. Furthermore, the Pension Bureau often appointed special investigators to verify claims. According to researchers, African Americans were investigated about twice as often as whites and these investigations were more thorough and took longer. Furthermore, claim agents (who often assisted in the application process) often took advantage of African American soldiers by submitting fraudulent claims. Finally, the difficulty African Americans had in providing essential dates, including dates of birth, marriage, military service, wounds, and illnesses, led to frustration and suspicion on the part of pension bureaucrats.
            After the war, the 1870 U. S. Census has 43-year-old Dr. Peter Stubblefield living with his 34-year-old wife Sina, in Weakley, Tennessee, along with 27-year-old Harry (mistakenly transcribed as Harvey) and 7-year-old Sallie Stubblefield. Both Harry and Sallie are noted as being “black.” Harry’s profession was given as “domestic servant.”  Could Sallie have been Harry’s daughter, or just another of the former Stubblefield slaves?
            In looking at the 1880 U. S. Census Peter and Sina Stubblefield were still living in Weakley, Tennessee. Harry was working for and living with them. Sina’s 37-year-old brother John Boyd, and her 30-year-old brother William Boyd were also residing with them.  Sallie seems to have left the family.
            Unfortunately a fire destroyed most of the 1890 U. S. Census, but I did find Sina in the 1900 Census living with her brother John Boyd, a real estate agent, and his family in Long Beach, California.   Harry, however, wasn’t mentioned as being with her, nor was he listed in any other census records from 1900. 
            From Long Beach City Directories it appears Sina’s brother John convinced her to invest in real estate, and in 1905 she was managing the Roselle Apartments at East Seaside Boulevard at the foot of Linden Avenue.  The apartments had been named for her niece Roselle Boyd, John’s daughter. 
            In the 1910 U. S. Census 75-year-old Sina was still living at the Roselle Apartments.  Harry Stubblefield (age 66) was listed as one of her tenants.  Interestingly, Harry’s race is given as “white.”
            Harry isn’t listed in any of the Long Beach City Directories so I can’t say for sure when he joined Sina in Long Beach.  Sina (1/31/1834-12/13/1911) died in 1911.  Her body was taken to Weakley, Tennessee, to be buried next to her husband, Peter (3/20/1827-2/28/1890) at the Obion Chapel Cemetery.  What of Harry?  Most likely he continued to reside at the Roselle until his death in 1913.  It seems he had those who cared enough about him to give him a decent burial and a simple headstone.
            Wouldn’t it have been interesting to ask Harry about his life as a slave? Was he the child of one of the white plantation owners?  How did he come to fight for the Union during the Civil War and why did he come back to live with the Stubblefields once the war ended?  And was Sallie Stubblefield his daughter, and if so what happened to her?       
            Mysteries remain.  Hopefully I’ll uncover more about Harry before I finish writing Died in Long Beach: Cemetery Tales.