Found  /  Dispatch

Black Civil War Veterans Remain Segregated Even in Death

Denied burial alongside Union soldiers killed during the Battle of Gettysburg, the 30 or so men were instead buried in the all-Black Lincoln Cemetery.

At the edge of a busy emergency room parking lot in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Lincoln Cemetery holds the remains of more than 450 Black Americans, including about 30 Civil War veterans. Many of these individuals’ stories are untold; 136 of them are buried in unmarked graves.

Lincoln Cemetery—established in 1867, two years after the end of the Civil War—stands in easy walking distance from Soldiers’ National Cemetery, which President Abraham Lincoln designated as the final resting place for more than 3,500 Union troops killed during the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. Local Black civilians dug most of these soldiers’ graves. But Black veterans themselves were denied burial in the whites-only military cemetery.

“It’s ironic that Lincoln spoke about a new birth of freedom, in perhaps the greatest oration ever, … several hundred yards away from what would become this cemetery,” says Andrew Dalton, executive director of the Adams County Historical Society and its Beyond the Battle Museum. “Many [Black locals] enlisted right after the [November 1863] Gettysburg Address. Some were there that day to hear this message of hope and democracy and … then continued to face these obstacles even years later, after the war.”

The society is one of several local organizations working to renovate and restore Lincoln Cemetery, as well as research the stories of the African Americans laid to rest there. In collaboration with Gettysburg College, the Lincoln Cemetery Project Association (LCPA) and the Gettysburg Black History Museum, the society hopes to identify the individuals buried in the cemetery’s unmarked graves and erect headstones for each one. The joint effort includes an online community database with 443 records and counting.

The veterans buried at Lincoln Cemetery were members of the United States Colored Troops (USCT), a division primarily made up of Black soldiers. Members of the USCT faced discrimination from other Union troops and were often assigned to supporting noncombat roles; if captured by the Confederates, they were subjected to harsher treatment than their white counterparts.

None of the men interred at the cemetery fought at Gettysburg, but all were from Adams County and participated in other engagements during the Civil War. Archival sources offer a glimpse into some of these veterans’ lives. Samuel Stanton, who enlisted in the Navy and later joined the Army under an alias, died in 1912 and was “one of the best-known [Black] residents of Gettysburg,” according to his obituary. George Bolen, a man of mixed ancestry who enlisted in 1864 and spent time guarding Confederate prisoners, died in 1899. Isaac Buckmaster, who was wounded at the Battle of Olustee in Florida on February 20, 1864, died in 1882 in his 30s.