For Black History Month, the AFRO presents a series of articles highlighting important local heroes from the paper’s archives. This week’s heroes are ex-slaves who started a National Guard unit in D.C.
Following the Civil War there returned to civil pursuits thousands of colored men, who having played a major part in the battle for their liberation, felt the urge to keep alive the fires of their military association and at the same time prepare for national defense.
These veterans formed military and quasi-military organizations in the late 80’s which were the forerunners of the National Guard Units of the District.
First Battalion Chief
The first battalion commander was the late Major Frederick Revelle, who served until his death in 1897. His successor was the then Capt. Arthur C. Brooks, who served as a major and commander of this battalion until his retirement as lieutenant colonel, National Guard 1912.
The following were the officers of the Battalion in 1892: Major Revells, commander; Capt. H.T. Smith, adjutant; Capt. Joseph S. Coolidge, quarter master; Capt. Thomas C. Upshur, surgeon; Capt. Albert H. Brodie, rifle practice inspector.
Capt. Arthur Brooks, 1st Lt. E.L. Webster and 2nd Lt. F.L. Dodson.
Capt. J.A. Perry, 1st Lt. P.H. Simmons and 2nd Lt. F.J. Webster.
Capt. J.H. Campbell, 1st Lt. C.H. Hill and 2nd Lt. G.W. Edwards.
The First Separate Battalion was mobilized on June 16, 1916, for service on the Mexican Border in connection with defensive measures occasioned by the Villa raid. This battalion commanded by 100 per cent colored officer personnel left Washington on July 4 and on July 7 took station at Naco, Ariz., on the international border.
With the retirement of Major Brooks in 1912, the command of the battalion passed to Capt. E James E. Walker., then commanding Company B, who, being promoted to major, was in command of the battalion when the call for Mexican border duty came. The company commanders were the late Capt. C.C. Davis, Company A; Capt. Sylvester H. Epps, Company B; Capt. Louis H. Patterson, Company C; and Capt. John E. Smith, Company D.
Other officers were: Capt. Albert Ridgely, surgeon, and Lts. U.R. Browne, B.D. Boyd, Raymond A. Jackson, Arthur C. Newman and West A. Hamilton. Later, Lts. C.A. King, Thomas J. Abrams, James E. Sanford and Clarence Ross reported for duty.
January 1, 1918, marked the establishment at Newport News, Va. (Camp Stuart) of the 372nd Infantry. The First Separate Battalion, D.C. Infantry, became the first battalion of this regiment. The second battalion was the old Ninth Ohio Battalion, while the third battalion was a composite unit made up of separate companies from Baltimore, Boston, Hartford, Connecticut, and Nashville, Tenn.
With the close of the World War, this unit as well as all other national guard units, stood disbanded. Thus was written the final chapter for the time being of the First Separate Battalion, District of Columbia Infantry.
EDTOR’S NOTE – Efforts to revive this battalion have been underway for some time. Military authorities who have reenlisted men for white national guard units, say there are no funds for a colored unit.