History of the 29th U.S. Colored Infantry

By Jared Olar

Local History Specialist

With the approach of the Juneteenth holiday, it is a fitting time to recall the story of the 29th U.S. Colored Infantry, which was Illinois’ only African-American regiment during the Civil War.

The history of the 29th U.S.C.I. was researched in depth and published in 1998 by military historian Edward A. Miller Jr., whose book, “The Black Civil War Soldiers of Illinois,” is included in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection.

During the Civil War, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on 1 Jan. 1863. Afterwards, he requested that four regiments of African-American men should be raised. Eventually, 300,000 soldiers in 166 “colored” regiments were raised for the Union Army.

At first, enlistment was slow because of low pay — and because it was expected that captured black soldiers would be badly treated by the Confederacy (as happened at Fort Pillow in Tennessee on 12 April 1864 – about 300 Colored Troops were murdered by the Confederate forces after they had surrendered.)

The War Department set up the Bureau for Colored Troops to determine which white soldiers to commission as officers for the new colored regiments. Non-commissioned officers and privates were African-American. At first there was a stigma attached to being a white officer in a colored regiment, but the prospect of rapid promotion overcame the stigma. Famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass made a visit to Peoria to encourage enlistment in the Colored Troops.

The 29th United States Colored Infantry Regiment was organized at Quincy and mustered into federal service on 24 April 1864. Lieut. Col. John A. Bross of Chicago organized the regiment and became its commanding officer. Bross formerly commanded Co. A of the 88th Illinois Infantry and was a veteran of the Battle of Stones River. His brother was a Chicago Tribune newspaper editor who later became lieutenant governor of Illinois. Because of his political connections, Bross endured mockery as not being a real soldier.

Ten companies were organized: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, and K. The original captain of Co. B was Hector H. Aiken and the original captain of Co. G. was William A. Southwell.

In brief, the history of the 29th U.S.C.I. was: 1) Ordered to Annapolis, Maryland, 27 May 1864, and from there to Alexandria, Virginia; 2) Attached to the defenses of Washington, D.C., 22nd Corps, until June 1864; 3) 2nd Brigade, 4th Division, 9th Corps, Army of the Potomac, until Sept. 1864; 4) 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, 9th Corps until Dec. 1864; and 5) 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 25th Corps, and Dept. of Texas, until Nov. 1865.

Here is a more detailed service record and list of the 29th U.S.C.I.’s battles and engagements:

  • Duty at Alexandria, Virginia, till 15 June 1864.  Moved to White House, Virginia, thence to Petersburg, Virginia.
  • Siege operations against Petersburg and Richmond 19 June 1864 to 3 April 1865.
  • Explosion, Petersburg, 30 July 1864 – Battle of the Crater, a debacle with Union losses of 504 killed, 1,881 wounded, 1,413 missing or captured; Lieut. Col. Bross and Capt. Hector Aiken were both killed. The 29th U.S.C.I. alone suffered two officers and 38 enlisted men killed, four officers and 53 enlisted men wounded, and 33 enlisted men captured.
  • Weldon Railroad, Aug. 18-21.  
  • Poplar Grove Church, Sept. 29-30, and Oct. 1.
  • Hatcher’s Run, Oct. 27-28.
  • On the Bermuda Hundred front and before Richmond till April 1865. 
  • Appomattox Campaign March 28-April 9. Present at the Surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee.
  • Duty in the Dept. of Virginia till May.
  • Moved to Dept. of Texas May and June, and duty on the Rio Grande till November.
  • Mustered out 6 Nov. 1865.

The regiment lost during its service three officers and 43 enlisted men who were killed and mortally wounded and 188 enlisted men by disease – for a total of 234.

The Butler Medal, shown here, was a silver medal commissioned by Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler and paid for out of his own pocket, given to more than 200 members of the Colored Troops in recognition of their valor at the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm and New Market Heights (29-30 Sept. 1864) during the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia. The Latin motto ‘Ferro iis libertas perveniet’ means “Freedom Will be Theirs by the Sword.”

One of the most remarkable episodes in this regiment’s history is that it was present at the first Juneteenth. How that came about is that after Lee’s surrender, the South in general, and Texas in particular, needed occupational forces. Union soldiers were eager to go home, but many in the Colored Troops were willing to stay on the payroll.

Gen. Meigs, quartermaster, still had over 3,000 supply ships, so he put to sea the largest amphibious operation of the war, sending 30,000 troops of the 13th and 25th Corps to the Rio Grande. The port of Galveston surrendered June 5. The 28th Indiana, 29th Illinois, and the 31st New York units of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division USCT arrived at Galveston Bay on June 18.

The white units of 34th Iowa, 83rd and 114th Ohio and 94th Illinois all arrived within a few days. Over 6,000 men landed within a week, and the racial makeup of the soldiers in Galveston on Juneteenth 1865 was about half black and half white.

Pekin and Tazewell County provided 11 men to the 29th U.S.C.I., five of whom were present at Juneteenth. Those men are listed below, with the names of the Juneteenth eyewitnesses in boldface:

  • William Henry Costley, son of Benjamin and Nance Costley, of Pekin, Co. B
  • Edward W. Lewis, of Peoria, formerly of Pekin (married Bill Costley’s sister Amanda in Pekin in 1858), unassigned (served as an Army cook).
  • William Henry Ashby, of Pekin, Co. G
  • Marshall Ashby, of Pekin, Co. G
  • Nathan Ashby, of Pekin, Co. G
  • William J. Ashby, of Pekin, Co. G, fell sick 27 March 1865, in hospital most of the rest of his term of service, mustered out 6 Nov. 1865.
  • Thomas Shipman, of Pekin, Co. D, a sharpshooter, killed in the line of duty 31 March 1865 during the Appomattox Campaign. (Miller, p.148, says Shipman was killed 30 March 1865, but his service file says 31 March.)
  • George H. Hall, of Pekin, Co. B, fell sick 18 May 1865, in hospital most of the rest of his term of service, mustered out 6 Nov. 1865.
  • Wilson Price, of Elm Grove Township, military records do not list his company, or mention when or how his service ended.
  • Thomas M. Tumbleson, of Elm Grove Township, Co. B, discharged 30 Sept. 1865 at Ringgold Barracks, Rio Grande, Texas.
  • Morgan Day, of Elm Grove Township, Co. G, fell sick 27 March 1865, died of dysentery 6 Sept. 1865 in New Orleans, buried in Chalmette National Cemetery, Louisiana.

The four Ashby men from Pekin are mentioned by Miller on p.118 of his book. Morgan Day was an uncle of most of the Ashby men of Pekin through his mother Rachel. Thomas Shipman also was related to the Ashbys through his brother David Shipman’s marriage to Elizabeth Ashby, who was very probably a sister of Nathan Ashby. Miller again mentions Nathan Ashby on p.201, where he describes Nathan’s life after the war:

“Pvt. Nathan Ashby, one of several solders of that family from Peoria County, Illinois, was living largely on the pension he received in 1892 for rheumatism and lung disease. In a normal review by doctors employed by the pension bureau, his pension was discontinued in 1895 because Ashby was found to be able to perform manual labor. Although restored on appeal, Ashby suffered much without the income, and, when he died in 1899, he left his wife ‘two old mules’ and no other property.”

As related in previous posts here, the Ashby family was from Fulton County but later moved to Tazewell and Peoria counties. Nathan himself moved from Pekin to Bartonville, and was buried in the defunct Moffatt Cemetery in Peoria. As Miller tells in his book, Nathan Ashby’s hard life of poverty after the war was shared by almost all of his fellow soldiers of the 29th U.S. Colored Infantry.

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Pekin Public Library Juneteenth program links

Shown here is an old printed copy of the first four of Major Gen. Gordon Granger’s five “General Orders” implementing martial law in Texas following Texas’ surrender after the end of the Civil War. General Order No. 3, issued 19 June 1865, in Galveston, Texas, proclaimed “all slaves are free” and that they had “absolute equality” with their former owners. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

For those who were unable to attend Pekin’s first-ever Juneteenth celebration at the Pekin Public Library that was co-sponsored earlier this month by the Pekin YWCA Coalition for Equality along with the library, below is a link to the program presented by Jared Olar, the library’s local history specialist, telling the stories of four Pekin men — Pvt. William Henry Costley, Cpl. William Henry Ashby, Sgt. Marshall Ashby, and Cpl. Nathan Ashby — who served in the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War and were eyewitnesses of the first Juneteenth in 1865. (Besides Pekin’s four Juneteenth eyewitnesses, a fifth Tazewell County volunteer for the Colored Troops, Thomas Marcellus Tumbleson of Elm Grove Township, was also present at the first Juneteenth.)

Before the Juneteenth program, Jared Olar was interviewed by WCBU Peoria Public Radio News Director Tim Shelley about the same subject. Quotes from that interview are included in the following WCBU news report at their website. Twenty-minutes of the interview aired on WCBU during the local news half-hour on Friday at 6 p.m. (the eve of Juneteenth) in the middle of the “All Things Considered” broadcast. Audio of the entire 45-minute interview is linked on the WCBU website immediately below this article:


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Bill Costley — Pekin’s link to ‘Juneteenth’

This is a reprint (with corrections and updates) of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in June 2015 before the launch of this weblog.

Bill Costley — Pekin’s link to ‘Juneteenth’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On May 2, 2015, this column featured a review of a new book by local historian Carl M. Adams about a notable early Pekin resident’s stalwart struggle for freedom — “Black Nance” Legins-Costley, who secured her freedom from slavery with the help of her attorney Abraham Lincoln in the 1841 Illinois Supreme Court case Bailey v. Cromwell. Adams’ book, “Nance: Trials of the First Slave Freed by Abraham Lincoln,” was recognized April 25 at the annual awards luncheon of the Illinois State Historical Society in Springfield.

This week, we will take another look at the family of Nance Legins-Costley in order to learn about Pekin’s historical connection to the origin of the celebration of “Juneteenth,” which is the oldest known public commemoration of the legal end of slavery in the U.S. “Juneteenth” refers to June 19, 1865, the day when Union soldiers under the command of Major General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston in Texas with news that the Civil War was over and all slaves were now free. Because Texas had been a part of the Confederate States of America, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation could not be enforced in Texas until then.

Juneteenth 2015 was celebrated on Friday, marking exactly 150 years since Union troops brought the news of freedom to Galveston. One of Granger’s soldiers in Galveston that day was none other than Private William Henry “Bill” Costley of Pekin (1840-1888), eldest son of Benjamin Costley and Nance Legins-Costley (though Union military records misspell Bill’s surname “Corsley”).

On his enlistment and muster papers, Bill Costley of Pekin is called “William H. Corsley.”

Bill Costley was mustered out of his regiment on Sept. 30, 1865.

We will now lend this column space to Carl Adams so he can share the results of his historical and genealogical research which tell the story of Bill Costley’s adventures during and immediately after the Civil War. (It was only this month that Adams located Bill’s final resting place, with the help of Rich Apri of St. Paul, Minn.)

  • * *

Bill Costley was the first male slave to be legally freed by attorney Abraham Lincoln as a result of the Bailey v. Cromwell Illinois Supreme Court case in 1841. He was an infant at the time. At age 23, Bill Costley decided to join the Union cause of the Civil War.

During the summer of 1864, the Civil War was going poorly for the Union Army on the Richmond-Petersburg front. Commander-in-Chief Lincoln was afraid he would not be re-elected president. To make matters worse, the Illinois 29th Regiment of Volunteers (Colored) had suffered more than 70 percent casualties at the Battle of the Crater — virtually wiped out, with all the officers either dead or wounded.

In spite of the fact they knew black men would have to fight with muskets at their front and bayonets held by white soldiers at their backs, 11 blacks from Tazewell County decided it was time to volunteer to reinforce the Colored Troops. Those brave 11 were William Costley of Pekin, his brother-in-law Edward Lewis, Thomas Shipman, George M. Hall, Wilson Price, Thomas Tumbleson, Morgan Day, and the tightly knit family of William J. Ashby, William H., Marshall and Nathan (who were likely acquaintances of Bill Costley).

At least two of them would not come home — Thomas Shipman of Pekin and Morgan Day of Elm Grove fell in battle, and their names are inscribed on the monument to Tazewell County’s fallen heroes outside the courthouse in downtown Pekin. And at least one of them was wounded — William Henry Costley. However, Bill Costley would participate in a historic event before he returned home: “Juneteenth.”

Shown is the name of Bill Costley’s fellow soldier Thomas Shipman inscribed on the Tazewell County Veterans Memorial outside the Tazewell County Courthouse. Shipman, along with Morgan Day and William H. Costley, were among the 11 African-Americans from Tazewell County who fought to end slavery and restore the Union during the Civil War. Shipman and Day fell in combat, while Costley suffered a shrapnel wound to his shoulder.

Shown is the name of Bill Costley’s fellow soldier Morgan Day inscribed on the Tazewell County Veterans Memorial outside the Tazewell County Courthouse. Costley and Day were among the 11 African-Americans from Tazewell County who fought to end slavery and restore the Union during the Civil War.

General Ulysses S. Grant and the Union Army, sensing a quick victory, were eager to get the spring offensive started in March 1865, but heavy spring rains made movements difficult for horses and men alike, and wet ammunition was also a problem.

Finally, in the last week of March, the Union Army awoke from winter sleep and started to move. A fair-skinned black private from Tazewell County, Private Thomas Shipman, was one of the first to go. Assigned to the sharpshooters under Captain Porter, Shipman was killed trading musket balls with the rebel skirmishers on March 31.

Around noon on April 1, General Sheridan beat General Pickett at Five Forks. Private Bill Costley’s unit, the 29th Regiment of Volunteers (Colored), held part of the right flank of the Union line at Hatcher’s Run. The breakthrough prompted Grant to order a full frontal assault all along the line, spanning miles.

As Bill’s infantry line moved forward on the Confederate breastworks nearing Petersburg, an artillery shell blew an air burst to the front and to the left of Bill, close enough to knock him to the ground with sharp pain to the front left shoulder.

Bill was evacuated to the Regimental Aid Station. Dr. Clarence Ewen later wrote in Bill’s pension file (No. 524296) that he remembered Bill’s wound as badly bruised, but no blood, so Bill was ordered back to the front and, bravely, Bill went back into the fight — only to return the next day with intolerable pain.

So Bill was evacuated again, this time to Division for Triage, then on to the “Negro Only” facility at Point-of-Rocks near the pontoon bridge across the James River, and from there to City Point for transfer to a hospital at Alexandria, Va. Bill spent about five weeks in the military medical system. During this time Bill learned his family’s old friend, lawyer Lincoln, was killed as one of the last casualties of the War of the Rebellion.

Juneteenth — Freedom Day, June 19, 1865, for all of Texas slaves, about a quarter of a million souls.

The scene is the Gulf of Mexico in June 1865. The Civil War was over and Private Bill Costley was recovering from a shrapnel wound to his left shoulder, according to his pension file. After a month in the hospitals at Point-of-Rocks and Alexandria, Va., Bill Costley was returned to duty with his unit.

Most of the white Union soldiers were discharged for home, but most of the black soldiers still had a year of service, and the French had invaded Mexico during the war. Lincoln was dead, so Secretary of War Stanton ordered General U.S. Grant to dispatch the black units to the Mexican border as a show of force along the Rio Grande.

At least two Navy ships, the USS Wilmington and the USS William Kennedy, were ordered to load 2,000 Union soldiers, including General Gordon Granger and the 900 men of 29th Regiment of Illinois Colored Volunteers, which was augmented with former slaves and dispatched to the Mexican border.

It was a rough ride. From Mobile, Ala., the ships were sent out into very rough stormy seas to disembark at South Padre Island near Brownsville, Texas. The weather was too rough to unload anyone and the Rio Grande was flooding. After two days, the Navy needed safe harbor, so they tried Aransas Pass near Corpus Christi for another three days, but it was still too rough to unload.

The senior Navy captain warned Granger they were running out of supplies and the nearest resupply was at Galveston. This would be a turning point of history for the state of Texas.

“June 18 — Arrived off Galveston, at Pier 21.” The sight was surprising, if not shocking, to see black uniformed sailors and soldiers working side-by-side with still enslaved longshoremen, who had never heard of an “Emancipation … what?” This discovery would travel up the chain of command very quickly.

So without further orders and under threat of martial law enforced by black armed soldiers, the entire populace assembled at Ashton Villa the next morning. General Granger stood on the second floor balcony to read General Order No. 3. At the last four words of the first sentence, “all slaves are free,” the entire throng was motionless. It seemed no one even breathed. While it took a while to sink in, the order soon turned into an explosion of emotion that has lasted now for 150 years — Juneteenth, Freedom Day, 1865.

Private Bill Costley of Pekin probably didn’t get much of a celebration when his mother was emancipated 24 years earlier, but he did not miss the joys of this party that lasted all day, into the night and again the next day. However, they were still under military orders. “June 21 — Put to sea.”

  • * *

After the war, Bill returned to Pekin, where in 1870 the Civil War hero found himself indicted for murder. Bill had encountered a convicted rapist named Patrick Doyle brutally attacking a woman in the street. Bill intervened, twice ordering Doyle to stop, and when Doyle ignored him, he shot and killed him. (The records of Doyle’s inquest detailing Bill Costley’s actions are still on file with the Tazewell County Coroner.)

The people of Pekin knew Bill and his family, though, and they also knew who Doyle was and what he’d been sent to prison for — so after a two-day trial, the all-white jury acquitted Bill Costley, finding the homicide justifiable due to Bill’s having come to the aid of a woman in need. (Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” page 296, has a brief reference to Bill Costley’s trial and acquittal.)

Adams’ research shows that Bill later left Pekin, moving to 320 Main St., Davenport, Iowa, and then to 1134 N. Ninth St., Minneapolis, Minn., where it’s possible some of his family had also moved. Though the years wore on, Bill’s old war wound continued to plague him. Bill kept complaining of shoulder pain to his Pension Board, so he finally was admitted to Rochester State Hospital in Rochester, Minn., in May 1888, and there he died five months later, on the night of Oct. 1, 1888. The ward notes say he had “expired before he could be undressed.”

William Henry Costley, war hero and witness to the first Juneteenth, was laid to rest — under the name of “William H. Crossley” — in Rochester’s Quarry Hill Park, in the Rochester State Hospital Cemetery, located between 11th Ave. NE and Route 22, just north of Route 11.

Shown is the grave marker of Pekin Civil War veteran William H. Costley (surname misspelled “Crossley” in the inscription) in the Rochester State Hospital Cemetery, Rochester, Minn.

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