African American Civil War Burials and Mt. Hope Cemetery

African American Civil War Burials and Mt. Hope Cemetery

Image Credit:
Mt. Hope Cemetery War Memorial

611 East Pennsylvania Avenue, Champaign, IL

Located west of Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Mount Hope Cemetery was plotted and internment began in 1856. Sitting on the dividing line between the two cities, it’s the oldest operating cemetery in Champaign-Urbana. Throughout its 150 years, it has been the final resting place for many local African Americans and their families, including most of those who fought in the Civil War. The majority of these veterans were buried in what was the Grand Army of the Republic’s (G.A.R.) section, now known as the “old” veteran's section, found as you enter the cemetery. It is represented by the Civil War Memorial and a 32-pound canon built in 1851. However, many of the original markers no longer exist for many of these and other Civil War veterans, or they were moved to other locations in the cemetery.

African Americans veterans from various wars including World War I and II are also buried in this section. 📍

Continue Reading History Show Less

Many local African Americans who fought in the Civil War are buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Champaign-Urbana as well as in other cemeteries around the county. Although many individual markers do not exist or have not been relocated, our understanding of which Civil War veterans buried at Mount Hope and other cemeteries are based on available records. The list of veterans below, though extensively researched, may not be complete.

Enlistees in the Illinois 29th include:

  • John Clemens/Clements, Homer, Pvt. 29th USCT Illinois, Co. He was born in Tennessee, and died of disease on February 21, 1865, at sea.
  • Payton Colwell, Champaign, Pvt. 29th USCT Illinois, Co. I. He died in New Orleans.
  • Dennis Jackson, Champaign, 29th USCT Illinois. Enlisted February 15, 1865.
  • David Johnson, Champaign, Wagoner, 29th USCT, Illinois. Enslaved on May 11, 1822, in Prince William County, Virginia, he was brought to Missouri by his owners, the Hose. He married Harriet Harbison in 1848 and had 13 children. David and Harriet later moved to Illinois, working on farms. In 1863, they arrived in Champaign where David appears to have joined the army as a wagoner. After the war, he worked as a laborer and married Anna Washington after his Harriet’s death. David died on November 9, 1908. Services were held at Second Baptist Church (Salem) and he was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Urbana.
  • George W. Johnson, Champaign, Pvt. 29th USCT, Illinois. Enlisted February 15, 1865.
  • William Kelly, Champaign, Pvt. 29th USCT Illinois
  • Samuel Persons, Homer, Pvt./Cpl./Sgt. 29th USCT, Illinois, Co. F; buried in Homer G.A.R. Cemetery.
  • Jerry Pinney/Penney/Penny, Champaign, Pvt. 29th USCT Illinois. Enlisted February 15, 1865.
  • James Walker, Champaign, Pvt. 29th USCT Illinois, Enlisted February 15, 1865. He was born around 1842 in Maryland. After the war, he worked as a laborer. He died on May 1, 1894, and was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Urbana.

Enlistees in Infantries outside of Illinois:

  • Bryor Bell, Urbana, 26th USCT New York. Enlisted February 21, 1865.
  • Thomas Benton, Champaign, 26th USCT New York. Enlisted February 21, 1865.
  • Elijah Gibbs, Champaign, 55th USCT Massachusetts Vols., Co. H. Born around 1836 in Morgan County, Alabama, he came to Champaign County in 1861. After emancipation in 1863, he enlisted in the 55th After the war, he returned to Champaign and lived at the corner of 4th Street and University Avenue. He died on June 22, 1876, and was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery.
  • James S. Keines, Champaign, 26th USCT New York. Enlisted February 8, 1865.

African American Civil War Veterans who came to Champaign County after the Civil War:

  • Jordan Anderson, Indiana, Pvt. 28th USCT Indiana Vol.; Member of local G.A.R. and buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Urbana.
  • James H. Bell, — , Pvt. 29th USCT Illinois, Co. D. Born on May 1, 1847 he came to Champaign around 1865–67. He was a minister from 1872–1902 and died of tuberculosis on May 1, 1911. Services were held at Salem Baptist Church and was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Urbana.
  • William G. Blackburn, — , Pvt. 50th USCT Louisiana, Co. I; He died on January 20, 1893, and was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Urbana.
  • Isaac Beard, — , Pvt. 13th USCT Tennessee, Co. C; buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Sidney.
  • J.C. Cone, — , Pvt. 54th USCT Massachusetts, Calvary; He was buried in Old Homer Cemetery.
  • George W. Johnson, 118th USCT Maryland, Co. K; organized in Baltimore. He was born around 1831 in Missouri. While with the 118th, he participated in the siege of Petersburg and occupation of Richmond. After the war, he moved to Champaign and worked as a day laborer. He died on January 23, 1885, and he was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery.
  • John C. Lewis/Louis, Indiana, Sgt. Indiana 28th USCT, Co. In 1832, John was born in Canada. He came to Champaign-Urbana after the Civil War in 1865 and first worked as a plasterer. He married and had four children. He died of dropsy on September 17, 1886, and was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Urbana.
  • John R. Marrick, — , Pvt. 55th USCT Massachusetts Vols., Co. I. He was born around 1843 or 1844. After the war, he came to Urbana where he worked as a laborer. He was a member of the Black Eagle Post #129 of the GAR in Urbana. He died of pneumonia resulting from influenza on January 14, 1890, and was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Urbana.
  • Martin McDermot, — , 1st Class, Navy, 293-ton side Wheeler US Gunboat Hasting that carried eight guns, US Ouachita and US Clara Dolson on the Mississippi River. He served with the 60th Iowa USCT, known as the first Iowa African Infantry, in Company F. He enlisted on August 24, 1863.
  • John Morse/Moss, — , Pvt. 55th USCT Massachusetts Vols., Co. H. Enlisted June 15, 1863, in Boston, Massachusetts; discharged August 29, 1865, in Charleston, South Carolina.
  • Elijah Nelson, Tennessee, Pvt. 29th USCT Illinois; enlisted in Tennessee.
  • Ruff Phillips, Missouri, Pvt. 48th USCT Missouri Vols., Co. C, and Drummer, 7th Illinois Calvary. After the war, he was employed for a time at John Moss’ barbershop. He died in Danville on February 16, 1879, and was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Urbana.
  • Jess (James) Edward Riley, Sr, Mississippi, Pvt. 29th USCT Illinois, Co. K. He was born in Wilkinson County, Mississippi, on March 16, 1834, and enlisted in Tennessee. After relocating to Champaign after the war, he worked as a laborer. By 1884, James became a barber residing with his family on the north side of University Avenue, four doors east of 4th Street. He died on June 14, 1892, and was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Urbana. He had at least two sons, George, who attended the University of Illinois, and James Edward Jr.
  • Stephen Roey/Roy, Tennessee, Pvt.. 110th Colored Reg. Alabama, Co. C. The 110th was organized out of the 2nd Alabama USCT. He was born in approximately 1842–45 in Tennessee. After serving during the war doing garrison and guard duty in Tennessee and northern Alabama, he moved to Champaign around 1873 and worked as a laborer. He died on August 13, 1893. Services were held at the Second Baptist Church (Salem) and was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Urbana.
  • Al Robinson/Robinson, —, 23rd USCT Virginia. The 23rd is noted for being the first African American infantry to fight in direct combat with General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in 1864.
  • Simon Ross, — , 49th USCT Louisiana, Co. K and I. While assigned to Co. I, he performed garrison duty at Vicksburg. He was born in South Carolina around 1830. After the war, he came to Champaign and worked as a laborer. He died on February 15, 1883, and was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Urbana.
  • Joseph Stocks, Vicksburg, MS, Sgt. 50th USCT Louisiana, Co. H. He was born on February 1, 1841, in Tensas Parish, Louisiana, and he enlisted on December 2, 1863. Enlisting as a private in Vicksburg after its fall to Union troops, Stocks was able to attain the rank of 1st Duty Sergeant. He saw action at Bruinsburg, Snyder Bluff, Fort Blakely, and Mobile. He sustained an eye wound at Fort Blakey and was hospitalized in Vicksburg and in Jackson, Mississippi. Stocks described a hard march from Florida to Mobile where the troops were on the verge of starving with nothing to eat but half cooked meat and parched corn. On one occasion, they had to wade through neck-deep water for more than a mile. He was discharged on March 20, 1866. He came to Champaign in 1894 and worked as a laborer until about 1906.
  • George W. Smith, Tennessee, Scout.
  • William Summerville, — , 29th USCT Illinois, Co. G; He is listed as a laborer and resident at 52 Park Street, Champaign, in 1885. He was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Urbana.
  • Larkin N/H. Walden, — , Pvt. 55th USCT Massachusetts Volunteers, Co. I. Born in Tennessee in 1830, he came to Champaign in 1865 as a laborer. He died on May 24, 1900, and was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Urbana.
  • James Walker, Maryland, Pvt. 118th USCT Maryland, Co. K. He was born in Maryland. He may had participated in the occupation of Richmond and served on the Rio Grande in Texas after the announcement of emancipation in Texas on June 19, 1865 (Juneteenth). After the war, he came to Champaign and worked as a day laborer. He died on May 1, 1894, and was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Urbana.
  • Stephen Winston, — , 110th USCT Alabama, Co. C. He died on May 4, 1900, and he was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Urbana.

Other African American Civil War Veterans Buried in Champaign County:

  • William P. Winn, — , Cpl. 18th USCT Missouri, Co. D. Winn was born in Tennessee around 1846 and after the war lived in Monticello, Piatt County, Illinois. He was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Urbana.

Source:

From Salt Fork to Chickamaunga: Champaign County Soldiers in the Civil War, Chapter 22 “Black Soldiers in the Civil War,” by Robert H. Behrens [Urbana, IL: Urbana Free Library, 1988] pps. 371-381.

Decade:

1850-1859

Location(s):

  • Champaign, Illinois
  • Urbana, Illinois

Additional Champaign Trail Sites

Education

Booker T. Washington School

Booker T. Washington Elementary School was built to replace Lawhead School and opened in 1952. Designed by Berger-Kelley Associates, it was a K-6 building serving Black children in the neighborhood. Odelia Wesley, formerly a first grade teacher at Lawhead, was principal and led an all-Black staff. She remained at the school as principal from 1952–1972. In 1968, Booker T. Washington School was established as a magnet program in partnership with the University of Illinois, as a part of Unit #4’s desegregation plans to promote voluntary integration. While Black families would have to bus their children to southwest Champaign to integrate the schools there, white families could voluntarily choose to send their children to Washington School to access “innovative” instructional programs. Following the retirement of Mrs. Wesley, Mrs. Hester Suggs assumed the principalship (1972–1993) and developed an award-winning arts and humanities-based program which continued under the leadership of Dr. Arnetta Rodgers (1993–2000). 📍

Military

William F. Earnest American Legion Post 559

African Americans from Champaign County fought bravely, and died, in World War I. Those who served did so with courage, honor, and distinction. Many of those who returned home found community and services at the William F. Earnest American Legion Post 559. Originally located at Fifth and Hill Streets, the Post is now located at 704 N. Hickory in Champaign. It was chartered in 1932 by African American World War I veterans and named for a fallen comrade who was a University of Illinois student-athlete from Homer, Illinois. Earnest served as a sergeant in the all-Black 370th Infantry Regiment from Illinois. One of the columns at Memorial Stadium also bears his name. The founding members of Post 559 were Clifford Caldwell, Robert H. Earnest (brother of William F. Earnest), Dr. L.P. Diffay, Dr. Henry Ellis, Alvin Foxwell, Raymond Hines, Thomas Macklin, Cecil D. Nelson, and George Ray. 📍

Military

Cecil Dewey Nelson, Sr.

Cecil D. Nelson was the most decorated World War I soldier in the county. A sergeant in both the Mexican Expedition of 1916 and World War I, he increased his age so he could enlist in the Illinois 8th Regiment, known as the “Old 8th,” in Danville, Illinois. With the U.S. involvement in World War I, his unit become part of the all-Black 370th Infantry where he met and became friends with William Frank Earnest, whom he saw die. On October 18, 1918, he was awarded the French Croix de Guerre by French General Vincendon for bravery under fire, and several other decorations later for his service during World War I. The son of Joseph and Estella Nelson (née Anderson), he, like his mother, was born and raised in Champaign, Illinois, and was a member of Bethel AME. He returned home where he met and married William Franks’ niece, Carrie Mae Earnest, and became an active and respected member of both the Black and white communities. He lived at 1002 N. 5th Street in Champaign, and he is one of the founders of the William F. Earnest American Legion Post #559.

Community

Education

Champaign Public Library Douglass Branch

The Douglass Center Library was organized in 1970 to serve both Urbana and Champaign, a joint project of the two cities’ libraries, Lincoln Trail Libraries System, and the Champaign Park District. The Library was named for Frederick Douglass, the American abolitionist and journalist who escaped from slavery and became an influential lecturer — including at least one stop in Champaign. 📍

Social and Religious Life

Emancipation Day Celebrations

President Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. For many years afterward, in or around September, African Americans would congregate at parks and other community spaces for Emancipation Day celebrations. These celebrations were held in Champaign, Homer, Tolono, Sidney, and other parts of Champaign County. Celebrations often included food, music, and dancing.

Business

Education

Innovation

Walter T. Bailey and the Colonel Wolfe School

Walter Thomas Bailey was the first African American to graduate with a degree in architectural engineering from the University of Illinois in 1904, and he was the first licensed African American architect in Illinois. He contributed to the Colonel Wolfe School in Champaign as a young man, and later enjoyed a successful and influential career leading architectural projects throughout the United States. Bailey assisted with the design of the Colonel Wolfe School at 401 E. Healy in Champaign. The Colonel Wolfe School was constructed in 1905 as a public elementary school. Named after Colonel John S. Wolfe, captain of the 20th Regiment of Illinois Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War, the building was designed by the architectural firm Spencer & Temple from Champaign. 📍