This Place in History: Contribution of Black Vermonters to the Civil War

Vermont Historical Society

BURLINGTON, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’ we’re at Lakeview Cemetery in Burlington with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We’re going to talk about the contribution of Black Vermonters to the American Civil War. This section of Lakeview Cemetery is where the bulk of Black Civil War vets are buried. As you walk throughout Lakeview Cemetery, there are veterans all throughout, some buried in family plots. But, there is a specific section of the cemetery for Civil War veterans that you can find up near the front. All the headstones look the same [there]. But, the Black vets are not there. They’re buried over here. In fact, there’s a headstone for Leander Freeman that is done in the exact style, the U.S. military style that you see up in that section honoring Civil War vets, but it is down here under the tree,” explained Perkins.

“[Leander Freeman] is really indicative of the experience of many Black Vermonters in the Civil War. Vermont was a small state with a very small Black population. When the federal law allowed for Black regiments, we all know at the time the army was segregated, Vermont didn’t have enough Black men of the correct age to make a whole regiment. So, they went out-of-state to join other Black regiments.”

“Leander went south to Massachusetts to join the 54th. The 54th had famously attacked Fort Wagner and lost many, many men and so they were rebuilding that regiment. A lot of young men from Vermont joined that regiment after that battle at Fort Wagner and ended up getting sent South, stationed in South Carolina and Florida.”

“He experienced what many other members of the 54th saw, in that they were paid $7 a month for their service when white soldiers got $13 a month and a clothing allowance. Ultimately, through a letter campaign of Black soldiers and especially Vermonters – one Louden Langley, who was a colleague of Freeman, wrote very eloquently to the various papers in the North and congressmen -they got that changed so that their pay was equalized,” said Perkins.

“Freeman came home and joined the Grand Army of the Republic. There’s another vet behind me William Davis who was also a member of the 54th and part of the Grand Army of the Republic,” added Perkins.

“If you remember we went to the Black community that grew up along the Hinesburg-Huntington line with Elise Guyette a number of years ago. [Langley] was part of that extended community there. He went south with the 54th, but he ended up joining with one of the federal army groups , the U.S. Colored Infantry, where he was promoted to Sergeant Major, which was the highest rank a Black man could achieve in the Union Army.”

“He stayed in South Carolina and became part of Reconstruction Government. He was on the school board and he was one of the representatives that was sent to the state’s Constitutional Convention. And so he was part of the delegation largely of Black men that helped rewrite the constitution for South Carolina. Ultimately, Reconstruction ended and Jim Crow South quickly removed most Black men from government. He is buried in the federal cemetery in Beaufort, South Carolina,” concluded Perkins.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic site markers, click here.

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