Courageously Taking the Step

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"Hear the voice of one who loves you and desires to see you grow in to strength and importance, both in this county and in this country." John W.E. Thomas, 1875

In 1860, 7,628 African Americans were living in Illinois, and more than 1,800 Illinois African Americans served in the U.S. military during the Civil War. The 29th Illinois U.S. Colored Infantry, the regiment with the largest number of African American Illinoisans, began enrolling men at Quincy in November 1863. African Americans from the state fought in a variety of other units as well.

At least one served in a white unit and later reached officer rank. Henry Ford Douglas was born a slave in 1831. Douglas escaped, made his way to northern Illinois and became a powerful abolitionist speaker, even denouncing presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln in 1860 for opposing African American equality. On July 26, 1862, when it was still illegal for African Americans to enlist in the United States Army, Douglas enlisted as a private in Company G of the 95th Regiment Illinois Infantry Volunteers. Less than a year later, he was serving as an officer in the 10th Louisiana Regiment of African Descent (Corps d'Afrique).

Samuel Dalton was a Civil War veteran who settled in Illinois after the war. Dalton was born a slave in 1839 and entered the Union Navy in 1863. He was discharged at Cairo in late 1864. Sometime around 1887, he moved to Murphysboro and bought a home. There, Dalton sought membership in the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union veterans' organization, but white members denied him entry. In October 1891, Dalton and others established an African American GAR post. Nine years later, after the whites-only chapter closed, they accepted the white veterans into their post.

"You say you will not fight to free negroes. Some of them seem willing to fight for you." Abraham Lincoln, 1863

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