After we left Bells Mill Park,
we drove by a sign directing visitors
to a small "Afro-Union" cemetery and Civil War Memorial.
There is a lot of Civil War history in Virginia,
and my husband and I have visited quite a few historical sites over the years,
but none that memorialized
the contribution of freed slaves to the Union cause.
So we decided to go.
We traveled a long and winding street back to an area
on the other side of the same creek
we had seen from our hike in the Park.
It was the Bells Mill neighborhood,
at one time an African-American settlement established in 1872.
(source: Bells Mill Historical Research and Restoration Society)
And we easily found the small cemetery
although it was encroached upon by houses and industry.
A huge shade tree in the corner
spread its branches over the graves in the narrow lot:
Some of the old Civil War soldiers' graves
were marked with still-legible stones, but most were not.
It's probable that for some of them,
their families never knew where they were laid to rest.
But someone had tried to commemorate their war service
by marking their resting places with makeshift headstones and silk flowers:
According to the National Archives,
180,000 freed African slaves joined the Union Army
toward the end of the Civil War,
after a 1792 law banning them from serving had been essentially repealed.
The site also says that 16 black soldiers
were awarded the Medal of Honor for valor.
Read more here:
From that site there is a link to an article written
by Archives volunteer Budge Weidman
that includes letters written by black Civil War soldiers.
Here are a few lines from a letter written by a soldier named Samuel Cabble:
Dear Wife i have enlisted in the army
i am now in the state of Massachusetts
but before this letter reaches you
i will be in North Carlinia
and though great is the present national dificulties
yet i look forward to a brighter day
When i shall have the opertunity of seeing you
in the full enjoyment of fredom ...
According to Weidman, Cabble did survive
and was able to settle with his wife in Denver, Colorado after the War.