Unknown & Known Afro-Union Civil War Soldiers Memorial
The Unknown and Known Afro-Union Civil War Soldiers Memorial is the only memorial of its kind in Virginia dedicated to saluting Afro-Union Soldier and Sailor Patriot Heroes.
United States Colored Troops Background (aka Afro-Union Soldiers)
- The United States Congress passed the Militia Act in July of 1862, which empowered President Abraham Lincoln to use people who were enslaved in any capacity in the army.
- President Lincoln signed legislation for the Militia Act on July 17, 1862.
- On September 27, 1862, the first regiment to become a United States Colored Troops (USCT) regiment was officially brought into the Union Army.
- In May 1863, President Lincoln established the Bureau of Colored Troops. The term Afro-Union Soldier was later popularized.
- By the Civil War's end in April 1865, the 175 USCT regiments made up about one-tenth of the manpower of the Union Army. About 20% of USCT soldiers died.
- A total of 15 Medals of Honor were earned by USCT members in Virginia Theater during the Civil War.
Sergeant March Corprew
The memorial is on the site of the Sergeant March Corprew Family Memorial Cemetery. Steps from the memorial is a marker and burial headstone for Sergeant March Corprew. In 1872, Sergeant Corprew established the location that would become the final resting place for his family. He enlisted in the Army as a member of Company L, 2nd United States Colored Troops Cavalry Regiment. He bravely fought in numerous battles. After the war, Corprew bought 200 acres of property in Norfolk County (now Chesapeake) and became a founder and pillar of the Bells Mill community, where the Unknown and Known Afro-Union Civil War Soldiers Memorial is located today. Named in his honor, March Corprew Place is in the Bells Mill Community.
The thirteen marble and granite grave markers include full name, dates of birth and death, rank, and company. There is a marker for Sergeant James Miles, Medal of Honor recipient. The marker for Sergeant Littleton Owens identifies his years of service in the Virginia House of Delegates. There is a marker for Private Jeremiah Locker. Jeremiah Locker Street in the Bells Mills area is the only public street in Virginia that was renamed for a USCT member.
The flag at the memorial carries the names of the Virginia battles where those memorialized fought, including Wilson's Wharf, Suffolk, Petersburg, and New Market Heights. It is significant that a flag representing their service to the country now waves proudly. It is likely the American flag would not have flown in their honor at the time of their passing.
Chesapeake native Dr. E. Curtis Alexander, the great-grandson of Sergeant March Corprew, oversees the memorial site. He is an author, educator, and historian who has lectured internationally on the histories of people of African descent and Afro-Union Civil War history. At the memorial, Dr. Alexander hosts annual events during Memorial Day and Veterans Day. The events are open to the public.
You can learn more about the Unknown & Known Afro-Union Civil War Soldiers Memorial in Podcast Episode 6: Tracing Our Brave Ancestors: The Unknown and Known Afro Union Civil War Soldiers Memorial.
Parking is available along Richmond Cedar Works Road.