AN EX-SLAVE SOLDIER IN THE UNION ARMY  is buried in an Athens, Georgia, African-American cemetery. A rather elaborate gravesite for Pvt. Charley Hicks exists in the beautiful but sadly rundown Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery in East Athens on Fourth Street. Charley Hicks joined a newly formed black regiment in May, 1865, before the Civil War was over. He received an honorable discharge as a private and got a pension following the war when he returned to Athens.

We estimate there are perhaps 3,500 graves in the cemetery founded in 1882 to give Athens area blacks a dignified and landscaped cemetery. About 600 or so graves have tombstones or markers. Approximately one-fifth of the marked graves are of ex-slaves. Prior to Gospel Pilgrim, burials for African Americans took place in small graveyards in more rural areas of Clarke County or in sub-standard portions of the old Athens City Cemetery and in Oconee Hill Cemetery.

Black citizens in the 19th Century knew that their graves might be violated and African-American graves covered over by new construction. Just this week I ran across a legal case in which a black citizen sued the City of Athens for digging a sewer line through the gravesite of her relative. That's why hundreds of African Americans welcomed the chance to bury family members in Gospel Pilgrim.

The dishonoring of black graves continued into the 20th Century. Some African-American graves in the old city cemetery were opened and bones found were hustled out one dark night and secretly buried en masse on Nowhere Road in Clarke County. The African-American graves were in a part of the old cemetery needed to build the University of Georgia’s Baldwin Hall adjacent to the burial ground. In Oconee Hill Cemetery, black graves were relegated to an unattractive area bordering a ravine.  When a railroad embankment was constructed nearby, many of these graves were covered up.

THE GOSPEL PILGRIM SOCIETY WAS CHARTERED IN 1882, an African-American fraternal burial and insurance society. Members bought their lots at reasonable prices and paid a few cents per week to get a big funeral procession, led by lodge members in full regalia.  The last president of the Gospel Pilgrim Society died in 1977. No one knows where his records went, although a woman who cared for him in his last illness had them in her attic.  She can’t remember to whom she gave the records. This hampers lot identifications greatly.  Since about 10 years ago I have helped with the restoration of the cemetery as chair of research and history for Gospel Pilgrim, a 9-acre cemetery at Fourth and Bray streets. The cemetery is inactive now, but very occasionally a burial is allowed if descendants can produce a lot ownership certificate and know where the lot is.

A few years ago City-county residents voted generously in a special sales tax election to make Gospel Pilgrim a $360,000 item to restore its roadways and improve its infra-structure. A re-dedication of the cemetery was held in 2010. It capped a decades-long effort to clear the jungle of privet, trees, and wisteria and tons of trash from the cemetery. About three-quarters of the cemetery was cleared and a program of grave identification using GPS and ground photography was carried out.

All care of the cemetery has now ground to a halt.  The city-county has not set aside any maintenance funds, and with the current Recession, the cemetery is being allowed to return to the jungle. Athens-Clarke County doesn’t own the cemetery and only oversees it under a state law giving local governments permission to voluntarily take care of abandoned cemeteries.  On Oct. 8, 2011, at 10 a.m. I’ll lead a walking tour of Gospel Pilgrim, calling special attention to Charlie Hick’s grave and to leading black educators buried in the cemetery. The walking tours are sponsored by the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation, and you can register online if you wish to participate.  See http://achfonline.org/heritage-walks/. Price per ticket is $12 per ACHF member or $15 per non-member. The tour lasts about one hour.
 
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ALTHOUGH WE HAD THE BARE BONES OF INFORMATION about Charley Hicks being buried in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery and knew where his grave was, it was not until his great- granddaughter, Patricia Wooten of North Carolina, visited the grave and told us about his time of soldiering for the Union. A look at his military service records in the National Archives in Washington D. C., and other data verified her information about Charley Hicks.

Hicks ran off from a plantation in Newton County, Georgia, and was mustered into the Union Army on May 1, 1865, at Macon as a private in the newly formed 138th Infantry Regiment, Colored Troops. Although Robert E. Lee had surrendered, various Confederate units kept fighting well into June, 1865. The Union Army was segregated. About 180,000 blacks joined the Union forces in units commanded by white officers. Hicks ended his brief service in January, 1866. Hicks's military records reveal he joined the Army when he was 18 or 19. The brief historic mentions of the 138th  indicate its troops saw constabulary duty. Hicks said he remembered helping convey horses to Union troops in Augusta, Georgia, from Atlanta. The 138th was one of three new regiments founded in 1865. Hicks was discharged on Jan. 6, 1866. All three of the black regiments disbanded in January, 1866. Hicks received a pension for his services, and his widow also got a widow’s pension.

He was born a slave on the plantation of Harmon Hicks, about 11 miles southwest of Covington, Georgia.  At some point he moved to Athens, marrying Mary Ann Shaw of Athens.  They raised a family here, and one of the houses belonging to Charley Hicks is still standing, but boarded up, on West Hancock Avenue.

"A HEAP OF PERSONS CALLS ME CHARLES, but I claim my name is Charley,” he testified in his pension application. “Folks write my names Charley H. Hicks, but I don’t know what that first H is for. I have but the two names, Charley and Hicks.”

Charley Hicks was listed as a butler in the 1880 Clarke County, Georgia, federal census. There are indications he might have worked for the wealthy James Camak family in Athens. He died Dec. 8, 1916 and was buried in Gospel Pilgrim.

Patricia Wooten and her husband Chet would like very much to see an appropriate military marker placed on Charley Hicks’ grave. The present marker is toppled and damaged. If any blog readers have helpful ideas about this, they can write me in comments to the blog, and I’ll put them in contact with the Wootens. 



LATE NEWS:  An Athens-Clarke County resident, Gary Doster, has just published a new book of interest to local Civil War and Reconstruction buffs, as well as those interested in Civil War in Florida subjects.  Gary, who is a very good writer, has just finished Dear Sallie. . . Letters of Confederate Private James Jewel." The collection contains more than 100 letters from Pvt. Jewel from his Confederate service in Florida to his sister in Oglethorpe County, GA. Among those selling his book is http://www.amazon.com/Dear-Sallie-Confederate-Oglethorpe/dp/0971195013/ref=sr_1_12?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1316996349&sr=1-12
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The toppled tombstone for Charley Hicks, an ex-slave who ran off to join the Union army in 1865, and is buried in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, Athens, Georgia.

 
  Any blog has to answer the question, "What's in it for the reader?" Of course it also has to answer the author's question, "What's in it for me?" I hope the answers to these questions will be positive for readers  and for me. The subjects of these blogs may range from the ridiculous to the sublime—but they basically will deal with history and from time to time some culture, too. As you can tell, my Web pages are  mostly about Civil War and Reconstruction subjects and incidents. They are, obviously, also about selling two of my books. Writing local histories is a labor of love, and I can say nobody gets rich doing it.
   The Internet has made it possible for us to reach a great many more persons than writing a small-press-run book and hiding it in the cobwebbed stacks of miscellaneous libraries. Blogs on the Internet put a lot of chaff out there for others to see and read. But they do offer an unparalleled opportunity to reach some Web users interested in subjects bonding them together. I hope these blogs, more or less to be aired each week will pique your interest and keep you coming back for more. 
   There's nothing an author likes to do more than get the viewer's or reader's interest.  If he or she can do this, the Web user may be put into a jocular frame of mine to put up with a writer. Each blog will probably contain a lively treatment of some off-beat or little-known incident in Athens or Clarke County during the Civil War or Reconstruction. Here's the first one:

The Confederate Veteran Who Taught Ex-Slaves in a Yankee Freedmen's Bureau School in Athens, Georgia—and a Union drum major who taught ex-slaves in Athens
  The Yankee Drum Major: Less than two months after the Civil War ended, an Yankee Union Army drum major from New York was busily teaching what seems to have been the first Freedmen's Bureau school for African American ex-slaves in Athens. Perhaps even more surprisingly, a Confederate veteran from an old Athens family took a job just days later teaching ex-slaves in another Freedmen's Bureau school. Both men began their teaching careers in August, 1865, when Athens was still under occupation by units of the Union Army.
   Lt. Col. Homer B. Sprague of the 13th Connecticut Infantry Regiment of Volunteers served as the first Freedmen's Bureau agent in Athens, although he was on active duty with occupation forces here in 1865. He encouraged the earliest efforts to educate ex-slaves in Athens and Clarke County.  Blacks ardently wished to become literate. It had been illegal during slavery. Most white citizens didn't want ex-slaves educated and gave almost no support to efforts by the federal government to do so, or to efforts by such groups as the American Missionary Association, which furnished many of the teachers for ex-slaves throughout the South.
   The Yankee drum major was Bernard P. Jacobs, about 22 years old when he saw duty in Athens with the 156th Regiment, New York Volunteers. He was mustered in as drummer, Co. I, Nov. 18, 1862. He was promoted to fife major on that same date, and made regimental Drum Major Feb. 19, 1864. (From files of the Adjutant General of New York, 1904, and records in the Athens Freedmen's Bureau correspondence.)
  "The Colored School of Athens (at the Colored Baptist Church) was opened on the 10th of August, 1865, taken charge of, conducted by Mr. Barnerd [sic] J. [sic] Jackobs [sic], Drum Major of the 156th Regt., New York Volunteers. . ," the Rev. William Finch, a prominent African-American leader in Athens wrote to Freedmen's Bureau Supt. of  Georgia Schools, G. I. Eberhart. There were about 60 to 70 pupils in this first black school.
   "I don' think that children by any means made more rappid [sic] progress than they have done under Mr. Jacob's teaching. He has become a great favorite among the colored people. . . by his gentlemanly conduct and general good behavior and I know the colored people of Athens would do anything to have Mr. Jacobs come again, after him being discharged from the service of the United States. I don't suppose that any colored school has been opened any where under more difficult circumstances than his without any help and hardly any books," the Rev. Mr. Finch said.  Jacobs was mustered out on Oct. 23, 1865. 
   The Confederate Veteran: Leonard S. Schevenell, a member of an early Athens family headed by Richard Schevenell, had enlisted in Company G of the North Carolina Infantry, also called the Highland Guards. He joined at age 18. A number of Athens men had joined the 25th North Carolina Infantry Regiment, as had Schevenell. He mustered in on April 1862. He mustered out on April 9, 1865, the day Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox. Schevenell didn't go into details about why he wanted to teach. He must have taken severe criticism from white townspeople for teaching blacks. Richard Schevenell, Leonard's father, had one 61-year-old female slave, according to the enumeration in the 1860 Federal Census.
   "I am a white man and the only Southern man I know of engaged in teaching Freedmen," he wrote to Eberhart on Nov. 2, 1865. Schevenell said he began teaching in Athens on Aug. 14, 1865 ". . . on which day I organized the school of which I now have charge." He had 26 pupils. His school met in an African-American church. "There is a general disposition among the colored people to educate their children but very few of them are able to pay for their tuition [$1 per month per student].  The children progress very well in their studies as in general they pay more attention to their lesson than white children," he wrote the school superintendent. 
   "Being dependant [sic] on my labor for a support I fear I shall have to discontinue my school activities as the amount that I receive for tiuition is insufficient," Schevenell explained.
   The Confederate veteran was criticized in a letter written to Supt. Eberhard by Daniel Hough: "The other school is taught by Mr. L. Schevenell, a Confederate soldier, and in my opinion does not amount to much. I don't think he will continue."
   Schevenell remained in Athens for many years, but not teaching school.  He worked at various times as a bookkeeper and carpenter, and was employed by the Athens Evening News.  On Dec. 16, 1904, the Athens Weekly Banner reported his death, saying he died Dec. 8, 1904, falling from the Georgia Railroad trestle into the Oconee River. He is buried in Oconee Hill Cemetery in Athens.
   This unlikely pair of Yankee drum major and Confederate Infantry veteran were the forerunners in what would become a major effort to give African Americans an education. During Reconstruction and afterward, many schools gave blacks their first education, long before the whites in Athens had public schools. Whites were also invited to attend Freedmen's Bureau schools, but there is no record any of them wanted to be educated with blacks.

   These are mere vignettes of brief teaching careers, but we wonder what motivated the New Yorker and the Athenian to teach black children in Athens. Union military unit members also taught in other Freedmen's Bureau schools and received encouragement to do so. Schevenell, a returning veteran, seemed to count on the low pay to support himself. Jobs were few and far between in Athens that soon after the Civil War.