Honoring an African American Civil War Soldier

The Fort Drum Cultural Resources Program honors the courage of Sgt. William Anderson, an African American Soldier who fought in multiple battles during the U.S. Civil War. Joining the army in 1864 to help preserve the Union, Anderson is the only African American Soldier known to be buried at Fort Drum, New York.


I’m Dr. Lori Rush. I’m the army archaeologist at Fort Drum new York and cultural resources manager. One of the great privileges of this job is the opportunity to study not just the history of James Laurey or the story of Pine Camp or even the indigenous people of our region, but also the story of the many, many people who have crossed paths here and spent their lives on the land that we now know as Fort Drum new York. Several years ago we began to study our Army historic cemeteries that remained on fort drum in the 1940s, when the residents of five villages and over 650 farms lost their homes here as the installation expanded to make training available for our soldiers during the national emergency. That was World War 21 of those lost villages was the village of sterling ville and sterling ville. Once upon a time was a company town and in fact it’s iron foundry provided much of the iron for the railroad cars of the Union armies. During the course of the Civil War. As we began to study the gate cemetery, which was the protestant cemetery associated with the community of sterling ville, we discovered the interment or grave of Sergeant William Anderson, Sergeant Anderson and his wife Elizabeth are buried all alone on the edge of the cemetery, back toward the woods and as we closely read his epitaph, we realized that he was a member of company F of the 26th Regiment of the U. S. Colored troops. Clearly we don’t use those kinds of terms anymore, but to the colored troops and their regiments referred to African Americans who volunteered to fight with the Union soldiers in order to be sure that the northerners would be victorious during the course of the secession of the south. And so William Anderson at the age of 40 and possibly leaving behind Elizabeth, who was only in her twenties, was courageous enough to show up at Rikers island new York in February of 18 60 for to volunteer to join this regiment. These soldiers only had about a month to get ready and then they boarded a steamer and they headed for Beaufort south Carolina. During the course of Sergeant Anderson’s tour. We learned from his records that he took ill in the camps and that was a common problem for soldiers during that time period diseases ran rampant through the close quarters. And I suspect that perhaps he may have suffered from Giardia because his neighbors who had the greatest respect for him said that even though he lived to the age of 90, um that he never did regain his health after his tour in the American South. But we also know from his records that he was so courageous that he checked himself out of the military hospital to go and fight with his unit. And so he fought at places like Battery Pringle, Honey Hill, johns Island burdens Causeway Tiffany Station McKay’s point. So he saw a lot of action before the end of the war and before his opportunity to move to northern new York to spend the rest of his life. Why is he the only African American soldier that we know of buried at Fort Drum? The answer is that his neighbors thought so highly of him and Elizabeth that they demanded that the word department meet their obligation to Sergeant Anderson probably providing a headstone upon the time of his death. And so not only does this stone mark the heroism of an African American soldier and thus give us the opportunity to learn more about him and to petition for his war record so that we learned of his heroic behavior but also reminds us of that community And those respectful citizens who followed through with the department of the army to make sure that Sergeant Anderson and Elizabeth were remembered. Our archaeology team also went back to the historic Gates cemetery and we used our modern geophysics or remote sensing equipment to really determine if William and Elizabeth were all alone there at the edge of the cemetery. And sure enough our radar and our electrical resistive Itty discovered additional evidence of unmarked graves surrounding William and Elizabeth. So now we know that they’re the only marked portion of the African American community of sterling ville who were also buried at the gate cemetery and Fort Drum is proud that we’ve extended our cemetery protection boundary to be sure that all those individuals graves are protected as well. And so we all owe William Anderson and the other African American courageous soldiers that headed to the American south a debt of gratitude for their courage, sacrifice and service. Thank you.

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