Biographical Profile of Sgt. Charles English, 108th U.S. Colored Infantry

Sgt. Charles English, Company C, 108th U.S. Colored Infantry
Sgt. Charles English, Company C, 108th U.S. Colored Infantry*
Sgt Charles English Muster and Descriptive Roll
Sgt Charles English Muster and Descriptive Roll

On August 11, 1865, the commander of the U.S. Army Department of Mississippi issued Special Order No. 22, which transferred the 108th U.S. Colored Infantry from Vicksburg to the vicinity of Jackson.729 Poor health forced at least one man, Sgt. Charley English of Company C, to remain behind. He suffered from chronic dysentery. English had no known medical issues before he joined the army.

Born in Hardin County, Kentucky, he grew up on a farm near the village of Elizabethtown, about twenty miles from the birthplace of President Abraham Lincoln. Charley was one of about six people enslaved by Robert English, a prosperous merchant, one-time sheriff, and former state legislator.730

About 1855, Charley married Sarah Ann, an enslaved woman who also lived on the farm. She became pregnant the following year. Late in her pregnancy, their enslaver sold Sarah Ann to a neighbor; but after their son was born—named Charles after his father—the two enslavers allowed Charley, Sarah, and their baby to live together.731

In the summer of 1864, Charley left his family and enlisted in the 108th Infantry, without the consent of his enslaver. Two days later he became a sergeant and added chevrons to his uniform coat sleeves to designate his rank. In this capacity he implemented the orders of his company officers at various posts in his home state until January 1865, when the regiment was sent to Rock Island, Illinois, where they guarded Confederate prisoners of war.

In May 1865, Charley departed with his comrades for duty in Mississippi. He fell ill with dysentery about this time. On August 24, 1865, medical personnel admitted him to a military hospital in Vicksburg. He succumbed to the disease three days later at about age thirty-three. His wife survived him by five years. She died in 1870, leaving twelve-year-old Charles an orphan.732

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

729 Special Order No. 22, Headquarters Department of Mississippi. OR, I, XLVIII, 2: 1,177.
730 Haycraft, A History of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and Its Surroundings, p. 117.
731 1860 Slave Schedules; Charles English pension record, NARS.
732 Charles English military service record, NARS; Charles English pension record, NARS.

*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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