Caryne Moses is an 11th-grade student at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md. She wrote the following essay—which has been edited for readability—about her great-great-grandfather, Civil War veteran Marcus Chambliss (1842-1922), for an assignment in her world history class.
My great-great-grandfather, Marcus Chambliss, is connected to historical events in the United States in at least two ways—he lived during the period of slavery in the United States, and he fought in the Civil War.
I am connected to Marcus Chambliss through my maternal grandmother, Sibyl Chambliss Moses. Her father, Cleveland R. Chambliss – a shoemaker in Jackson, Miss., and graduate of Alcorn University – was one of 12 children born to Marcus Chambliss and his wife Susan.
In order to locate information about Marcus Chambliss, I interviewed a member of my family and then we went to the Library of Congress to search for pension and census records. My great-great-grandfather died Nov. 25, 1922, in Tillman, Miss. After his death, his wife, Susan, filed for his pension on Jan. 2, 1923.
My family knew that Marcus Chambliss was born in March 1842 in Jefferson County, Miss., on the plantation of Peter Chambliss. Peter Chambliss was Marcus’ slave master and was also his father. As an enslaved person, my great-great-grandfather was not allowed to read and write because it was against the law.
Slaves were separated from their mothers and often didn’t know their father, such as the case of Frederick Douglass. However, my great-great-grandfather knew that his father was his slave master, but he never knew his mother.
Still, while born a slave, Marcus Chambliss died as a free man who had served his country in the fight for our freedom.
In the 1840s, Mississippi was a slave state, and in 1861 it became a member of the Confederacy. Blacks were not allowed to fight in the Confederate military. But, we believe that Marcus Chambliss somehow escaped from slavery in 1863 and joined the Union Army’s 2nd Regiment Infantry (African Descent)—one of two in which he served. This Infantry was organized on July 27, 1863 in Vicksburg, Miss. So, he must have joined either on July 27, 1863 or sometime after. That regiment changed its name to the 52nd U.S. Colored Troops on March 11, 1864. He joined as a private and later became a corporal.
The Civil War began on April 12, 1861 and lasted until April 9, 1865; it was also known as the “War between States” where the Northern states, also called the Union, fought against the Southern states, the Confederacy. At the beginning of the war, Blacks were not allowed to fight, but the Union later recruited Blacks to fight.
On May 22, 1863, the U.S. War Department established the “Bureau of Colored Troops” to handle the recruitment of African-American soldiers. My great-great-grandfather was one of 17,869 members of the Colored Troops in Mississippi. The Union won because they had help from the U.S. Colored Troops—though Blacks received less pay than White soldiers.
My great-great-grandfather is known as a legacy in our family. We honor his bravery because he escaped from slavery in Mississippi, joined the Union Army and fought to end slavery, so that he and his descendants would be free. I am thankful to my great-great-grandfather because I am not physically beaten by a slave master every day, and because I have had the opportunity to learn how to read and write.
Private Marcus Chambliss was one of the African Americans who paved the road for other African Americans to join the Armed Forces and also opened the doors for the many other races in the United States to benefit from the right to be free and equal.