Biographical Profile of Sgt. Alfred Jackson, 108th U.S. Colored Infantry

Sgt. Alfred Jackson, Company F, 108th U.S. Colored Infantry
Sgt. Alfred Jackson, Company F, 108th U.S. Colored Infantry*
Alfred Jackson Muster and Descriptive Roll
Alfred Jackson Muster and Descriptive Roll

This chilling headline in the September 3, 1864, issue of the New York Times announced an attack by Confederate cavalry raiders on Union soldiers: “A Battalion of Negro Troops Slaughtered in Cold Blood; Murders and Outrages in Kentucky.” The victims, as many as five hundred men who belonged to the 108th U.S. Colored Infantry, included twenty-four-year-old Sgt. Alfred Jackson of Lexington, Kentucky.

Jackson had left his job as an army teamster two months earlier and enlisted in the regiment.430 Soon afterward, military authorities ordered the 108th to garrison two Union-occupied Kentucky towns. Half the regiment (one battalion) went to Munfordville. The other half, including Jackson and his company, traveled to Owensboro. It was here that the reported slaughter occurred.

If the headline had been strictly true, the killings would have been one of the largest such atrocities committed during the war. However, the Times headline was misleading. An attack did occur, but with far less loss than a battalion.

On August 27, 1864, about twenty cavalrymen from the Confederate Tenth Kentucky Partisan Rangers descended on Owensboro, along the Ohio River on the Indiana border. They were led by Capt. Jake Bennett, a notorious figure who had escaped from the Ohio State Penitentiary a year earlier with Gen. John Hunt Morgan, and who, it was rumored, had the scars of twenty-six bullets on his skin.431 The partisan horsemen galloped into the town with guns blazing. Residents ran for cover. At least one man, a federal officer, suffered a wound.432 The raiders rode to the town wharf and charged a boat laden with government supplies that was guarded by ten soldiers from the 108th. According to reports, the Confederate troopers shot seven of the guards and the other three hid on the vessel. The Confederates then set the boat on fire and fled. Citizens extinguished the flames and saved the remaining guards.433 The rest of the battalion, including Jackson, had departed Owensboro a day earlier.434

The raid on Owensboro turned out to be the only time any part of the 108th came under fire during its enlistment. The two battalions later reunited and served in a variety of garrison and guard duties in relative safety.

Jackson earned a reputation as one of the best sergeants in the regiment, according to one of his company officers.435 He mustered out with his comrades in March 1866 and returned to Lexington. He died the following year of an unknown cause. His widow Annie, whom he had married in 1861, attributed his death to disability contracted during his army service, but the nature of the disability is not specified in the official record.436

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

430 Alfred Jackson military service record, NARA.
431 Jacob Coffman “Jake” Bennett (1840–1904) started his Confederate army service with Company H of the Eighth Kentucky Infantry. He later joined the Tenth Kentucky Partisan Rangers. Watson, Confederate Guerrilla Sue Mundy, pp. 37–38, 119, 206.
432 Period newspaper reports name the officer as Capt. Walters of the Third Kentucky Cavalry. No one by that name and rank is on the rolls of the regiment. However, two first lieutenants named Waters are on the rolls, John L. Waters of Company B and William Waters of Company K.
433 Louisville (Kentucky) Journal, August 30, 1864; Collins, History of Kentucky, vol. 1, p. 139.
434 Louisville (Kentucky) Journal, August 30, 1864.
435 The reference can be found on the back of the carte de visite of Jackson owned by Theodore Francis Wright, who served as first lieutenant of Company F. A brief note penned by Wright states, “Freeman in the army as teamster, is considered one of the best Sergeants in the regiment.”
436 Annie (Jackson) Thompson pension record, NARA.

566 Fanny Garvin pension record, NARA. 567 Sinclair Garvin (1791–1866) of Rockingham County, Virginia, owned nineteen slaves, according to the 1860 Slave Schedules. He married Harriet Woodson (1803–1863) in 1821. Woodsonville is named for her father, Thomas Woodson (1772–1857). 568 Abram Garvin military service record, NARA. 569 The soldier was Lafayette Rogan (1830–1906), who served as a second lieutenant in Company B of the Thirty-fourth Mississippi Infantry. Hauberg, “A Confederate Prisoner at Rock Island: The Diary of Lafayette Rogan,” p. 46. 570 Capt. Leroy D. House to “Friend B,” September 26, 1864. Leroy D. House Letters, Connecticut Historical Society. 571 Fanny Garvin pension record, NARA. 572 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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