The dream started in Idolia Shubrooks’ attic. It was there she found her grandfather’s muster papers into the United States Colored Troops (USCT). He was one of more than 500 black St. Mary’s countians to serve in the Civil War in the Union Army. Although most white St. Mary’s countians were Southern sympathizers, there were also about 60 who served in the Union Army.
Three county residents received Medals of Honor during the war, UCST members Sgt. James H. Harris and Pvt. William H. Barnes and Joseph Hayden, a white soldier from St. Inigoes who served on the USS Ticonderoga. Those three men will be memorialized in the monument that will be erected in John G. Lancaster Park in Lexington Park. Ground was broken for the monument during a ceremony Sunday.
Noting that St. Mary’s County was a tenth of the size during the Civil War than it is today, Elmer Brown also noted that New York City had only one and St. Mary’s County had three Medal of Honor recipients. “I think that is an accomplishment.” Brown was founder of the United Committee for Afro-American Contributions (UCAC), lead organization for the nearby Freedom Memorial in Lexington Park and the new memorial at Lancaster Park.
Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War Sgt. James H. Harris Camp #38 also has helped spearhead the memorial effort. Camp Commander Duane Whitlock said that USCT members bravely fought alongside his ancestors and were trusted as guards for the engineer company he represents. He said members of the 38th USCT were the only troops who broke through the defense line during the Battle of Richmond. If they were captured by Confederate troops, the chances are they would not make it to a prisoner of war camp, he said.
Janice Walthour, co-chair of the USCT Memorial Monument Committee of UCAS, said, “Education is one of the major goals of this monument.” She said it would help everyone remember the members of USCT, “So their sacrifices will never be forgotten.” Walthour praised Shubrooks, her committee co-chair, for her dedication to the cause.
The memorial was made possible because of a $150,000 Maryland General Assembly bond bill sponsored by Senator Roy Dyson and Delegate John Bohanan and a match of the parkland from the county commissioners, plus contributions from community organizations and individuals. Both legislators and Commissioner President Francis “Jack” Russell mentioned Shubrooks’ persistence in bringing the memorial to a reality. Del. Anthony O'Donnell, who attended the event, was also thanked for his help.
Patuxent River Naval Air Station Executive Officer Capt. Benjamin Schevchuk also spoke. He noted that African-Americans have fought for their country since the Revolutionary war. Of the Civil War, he said, “These troops rose up to fight for their freedom.” He noted being uncomfortable talking about the historic fact that slave owners were given $300 to allow “their property” to be freed to fight in the war. African-Americans were allowed to fight in combat with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Of their bravery, he said, “I pray we will be encouraged and inspired.”
UCAC President Nathaniel