Biographical Profile of Corp. Jacob Finley, 108th U.S. Colored Infantry

Corp. Jacob Finley, Company F, 108th U.S. Colored Infantry
Corp. Jacob Finley, Company F, 108th U.S. Colored Infantry*
Jacob Finley Standiford Muster and Descriptive Roll
Jacob Finley Standiford Muster and Descriptive Roll

On a spring day in 1865 soon after the fall of the Confederate capital, all ten companies of the 108th U.S. Colored Infantry performed a formal battalion drill on the grounds of the Rock Island prisoner of war camp, located on an island in the Mississippi River midway between Iowa and Illinois. The exercise proceeded without incident until the regiment deployed for a mock skirmish.635

“By some confusion of orders the companies on the right of the line ran over each other and a number of men were injured by being trampled over,” explained Joe Taylor, a sergeant in Company F.636 Several soldiers were hurt, including Pvt. Jake Finley.

Born and raised enslaved in Kentucky, Finley enjoyed a reputation as a good man of moderate habits. Sgt. Taylor, who had known him before the war, remembered: “He’d take a drink, but I never saw him full but once in my life. … He was a great dancer & attended all the balls.”637

Finley joined the army in the summer of 1864.638 He was assigned to Company F of the 108th. After a few months on garrison duty in various locations in his home state, he and his comrades reported to Rock Island as guards at the prison camp.

According to Sgt. Taylor, during the 1865 mock skirmish, Finley “received an injury in his bowels. He was sent to hospital and remained there about two weeks. When he came out he was excused from duty, but would insist on doing duty” despite constant abdominal pain. Medical personnel diagnosed him with a double hernia and treated him with a truss.639

Sgt. Taylor took pity on his friend. “As soon as I could make a vacancy I made him a corporal on account of his condition.”640 The promotion lightened somewhat the physical demand of Finley’s duties. He held the rank until the regiment mustered out of the service in March 1866.641

Finley returned to Kentucky and worked as a laborer. About 1878 he married, moved to Indiana, and settled in the Indianapolis area. He found a job as a plasterer’s assistant and worked additional odd jobs to make ends meet.642

In 1890, at about age forty-six, he suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on the right side. His wife cared for him until 1895, when he gained admission to the U.S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Marion, Indiana. He died nine years later at about age sixty.643

Excerpted from African American Faces of the Civil War by Ronald S. Coddington.
Copyright 2012 by Johns Hopkins University Press. Reprinted by permission of the author and Johns Hopkins University Press.

See Footnotes

635 Jacob Stanford pension file, NARA.
636 Ibid.
637 Ibid.
638 According to Sgt. Taylor, Finley’s master was Dr. Standiford of Louisville, Kentucky. A search of the 1860 Census and Slave Schedules failed to find a physician named Standiford (or variants on this surname) who owned slaves. [subsequent research by Reckoning, Inc. found his enslaver was named Dr. Elijah D. Standiford]
639 Jacob Stanford pension file, NARA.
640 Ibid.
641 Jacob Stanford military service record, NARA.
642 Jacob Stanford pension file, NARA.
643 Ibid.

*Photo courtesy of the Randolph Linsly Simpson African-American Collection, James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection in the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

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