Nyack Sketch Log: Slaves and Civil War Substitutes Fought So You Could Vote

by Bill Batson

Those of us able to vote today have had our franchise handed to us on a silver platter. Some of those that bequeathed that gift were born slaves, never voted, but still fought heroically so some unknown progeny might be able to. Men of this caliber lie in marked and unmarked graves near the Palisades Mall in Mount Moor Cemetery.

2 weeks ago, a representative Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War named William Stump arrived at Mount Moor to help restore the markers of African American Civil War veterans ravaged by the elements and neglect. When these veterans were interred, Mount Moor was a segregated cemetery. Today, a stroll through Mount Moor will prepare you to secure the victory or fight on.

December 2 Armchair Tour Lecture:

Mount Moor: Time to Pay Respect

guest speaker William Stump

William Stump describing the process of identifying veterans buried at Mount Moor Cemetery Stump is the Junior Vice Commander of Colonel Augustus van Horne Ellis, Camp #124, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War Mount Moor is the third cemetery that he has surveyed with the intent to have the markers of veterans restored or replaced by the Department of Veterans Affairs. His two other project were St.Patrick’s Catholic Churchyard in Verplanck and East Yard Cemetery in Yorktown. In just five minutes in Mount Moor Stump was able to identify Solomon Miller as a solider who witnessed General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Click here to register for the December 2nd, 7p  program. The Armchair tour is sponsored by Mount Moor Cemetery Association, The Historical Society of the Nyack and the Nyack Library. Mount Moor Cemetery Association (l-r) William Stump, Mount Moor Cemetery Association Co-Chairs, Bill Batson and Ed England, and Spring Valley NAACP President Willie Trotman at Mount Moor. If you would like to be placed on a mailing list to be kept informed of developments at Mount Moor send an email to mountmoorcemeteryassociation@gmail.com or visit our facebook page.

Andrew Cason was an associates of Nyack abolitionist John Towt, who funded the construction of the AME Zion Baptist Church on Mill and North Broadway. And article describing their close bond follows.

The least we can do to honor the battle these men waged is to vote today. (And if you have voted already, get someone who hasn’t to the polls!) But while standing in line to vote today, it’s also worthwhile to dwell on the lives of Solomon Miller, who witnessed the surrender of Robert E. Lee; and Andrew Cason, a member of the 1st Colored Cavalry.

In the first auspicious day of a very inauspicious year, allow me to introduce you, through the writing and research of William Stump, to 2 of the bravest men our country has ever known. It’s time to pay our respects at Mount Moor Cemetery

Solomon Miller

The first grave to be featured will be that of Private Solomon E. Miller of Company H 8th Regiment United States Colored Troops. Born in 1843 in the upstate town of Amsterdam, he was noted as standing 5’5 & 1/2” upon his enlistment at age 20 in Schenectady, NY. The Amsterdam record of service by men of the town notes that Miller was actually a substitute (able bodied men could pay others to enlist in their place to avoid being drafted). William Brown of Amsterdam paid Miller $300 ($5000 today) to enlist in his place.

The Bureau of Colored Troops had come into existence on May 22, 1863 with the purpose of raising Black regiments commanded by white officers. The 8th was one of those units mustered into service on September 22, 1863. Miller’s records show he was present with the unit at Camp William Penn from October 24 to December 31. The 8th left Pennsylvania and traveled to Hilton Head, South Carolina on January 16th. Miller was reported sick at Camp William Penn from January 16th to February 19th. His medical records do not describe what ailment befell him. But given the poor sanitation and the deadly spread of disease in muster camps, it could have been any number of causes. While Miller was recuperating, the 8th seized Jacksonville, Florida on February 8th. Just as Miller was arriving in Jacksonville to rejoin the unit on February 20, 1864, the 8th took part in the Battle of Olustee. It was the largest battle in Florida during the war and was a defeat which stymied Union goals and forced a retreat to Jacksonville. The 8th raided Baldwin, Florida and its surroundings from July 23-28, which may have been Miller’s first real taste of combat.

In August, 1864, the 8th moved to Deep Bottom, Virginia to join the Petersburg Campaign. Miller’s records note he was in action at the resulting Battle of Deep Bottom as part of the Colored Brigade under the command of General William Birney, an Alabama-born college professor and diehard abolitionist. The battle was fought on a brutally hot day and a large number of Union casualties were caused by heat stroke. Though it was largely inconclusive, the battle did force Confederates to spread their ranks thin. Miller and the 8th returned to duty at the trenches around Petersburg until September 27.

On September 29, Miller and the 8th were a part of the crucial Battle of Chaffin’s Farm and New Market Heights. The Colored Brigade assaulted the heights twice at a murderously high cost but managed to take them from some of Lee’s best troops. Meanwhile, the Confederate Fort Harrison fell, cinching the Union stranglehold on the doorway to Richmond. On October 27, Miller was again in combat at the Battle of Fair Oaks & Darbytown Road. The bloody assault on the defenses of Richmond was a costly defeat for the Union with 1,603 casualties to less than 100 for the Confederates.

Miller and the 8th served in the muddy trenches of Petersburg until March 27th and the beginning of the final endgame in Virginia, the Appomattox Campaign. After the fall of Petersburg on April 2, Miller took part in the chase after Lee’s collapsing Army of Northern Virginia. The Amsterdam town record noted that Miller was present at the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865. He may have seen with his own eyes the face of Lee and other once-proud plantation owners as they hung their heads in defeat–at the hands of men whom they would have considered property no less.

After Lee’s defeat, the 8th returned to the trenches of Petersburg for garrison detail. In May of 1865, Private Miller was reported sick and transferred to the General Hospital at Fort Monroe. He was recorded as having been in the hospital through October, 1865 (the cause wasn’t given), while the 8th was shipped off to Texas for occupation duty in the last Confederate bastion. He was discharged on November 10, 1865, when the 8th demobilized in Philadelphia.

After the war, Miller returned to Amsterdam. He was awarded an invalid pension #1163909. This means the government agreed that his disability, which was not recorded, was caused by his military service. It is unknown as to why he was in Nyack on September 26, 1918, when he passed away at age 75. Mount Moor has many Millers, so perhaps he had moved there to be with family.

Andrew Cason

Despite having a simple enough name, no one could ever quite get Andrew Cason’s name right: it’s given as “Cason,” “Casson,” “Casen,” and “Casan.”

He was born into slavery in Princess Anne County, Virginia (today, part of Virginia Beach) in 1833. In December, 1863, he had made it to Union forces in Norfolk. The Emancipation Proclamation had gone into effect a year earlier, and it freed all slaves who were either liberated by the Union army or who made it to federally held territory. Cason enlisted December 1, 1863, and was mustered into Company B 1st Colored Cavalry on December 22nd. The Confederacy had made it clear that any Black soldiers captured would be returned to a state of slavery while their white officers would be executed for fomenting servile insurrection. Knowing the risks, Cason still signed up to liberate his family through strength of arms.

Cason’s service record is nondescript, stating he was absent in the hospital from some point in May or June 1864 until May 19 1865. This oversight hides the level of his service. In February, the 1st was involved in reconnaissance operations in King and Queen County, Virginia. As they rode by plantations, slaves could have watched men such as Cason on horseback, having traded their rags for Union blue. In May, the unit became involved in one month of intense fighting with the landings at Bermuda Hundred and City Point. The Battle of Swift Creek took place on May 9th with the Army of the James tearing up railroad tracks in an inconclusive clash. The 1st was involved in further action against Fort Darling on Drury’s Bluff on the James River from May 12-16. Then on to trench detail at Bermuda Hundred until June 18th, and finally an assault against Petersburg on the 19th. It was in one of these battles that Private Andrew Cason was shot in the chest. The bullet would stay lodged in his body until his death. Most likely, that Confederate bullet still rests with Cason below the wooded hillside of Mount Moor.

Eventually transferred from Norfolk Hospital to DeCamp Hospital on Davids Island off the coast of New Rochelle, NY, Cason would have been there at the same time as previously discussed veteran PVT Benjamin Samuels, who rests about 50 yards away in Mount Moor. At DeCamp, Cason met John W. Towt. Towt, moved by Cason’s story, hired him and eventually moved him to Nyack once he was released from the service on May 19, 1865. Cason worked for Towt for the rest of his life. The 1870 census shows Cason lived in Clarkstown and had married a mixed-race woman named Jane. It also noted that he could not read nor write, which helps explain why his name is given so many spellings.

Cason died of what was called a congestive chill on February 17, 1883, perhaps as a result of his chest wound from the war. He was 50 years old. His obituary noted that he held office at St. Philip’s AME Zion Church in Nyack and that he was a proud member of Colonel William C. Silliman post #172 of the Grand Army of the Republic. It was noted also that both the post and a group known as The Order of the Sons and Daughters of Providence were at Mount Moor for his funeral. Having no children of his own (in New York at least), his obituary also read: “He will be missed by many, especially by the little folks, with whom he was a great favorite and for whom he exercised a tender care.”

Cason’s journey from enslaved to liberator is a uniquely American story. His willingness to sacrifice for is why we must always keep green his memory. Cason’s grave has been chipped by the elements since 1883 and Camp 124 will be submitting an application for its replacement.

See also:

Nyack Sketch Log: Our Segregated Cemetery Nyack Sketch Log: St. Philip’s AME Zion Church Nyack Sketch Log: John Towt House

An artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Slaves and Civil War Substitutes Fought So You Could Vote“© 2020 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.