Did your African American Ancestor March From Asheville to Volunteer in the Spanish American War?

In our recent post “PART 2: A WHO’S WHO LIST OF PROMINENT BLACK ASHEVILLE BUSINESSMEN IN 1922” we were giving the story of Noah Murrough and said that he had joined the Maceo Volunteers, a company of “colored men under Capt. Thomas L. Leatherwood” that left Asheville in July 1898 for Cuba.

It occured to me that the list of men who joined Leatherwood’s company is of importance to Black Asheville’s history. The article copied below is from the Asheville Citizen-Times Wednesday July 13, 1898.

*The name Maceo Volunteer’s comes from Jose Maceo, a military and Cuban patriot. Thomas L. Leatherwood was the editor of the Colored Enterprise in Asheville.

*Note also that Lieutenant H. B. Brown refers to Harrison B. Brown who was a founding member of the YMI. He received his lawyer’s license in 1896 when he was listed as the principal of Catholic Hill School.

*In an Asheville Citizen-Times article that lists all of the Co. K (Maceo Volunteers) Noah Murrough is listed as “Q. M. Sgt.” [See North Carolina Room Newspaper Files/Spanish American War, “50 Years Ago, Asheville Men Marched to War and Cuba” April 25, 1948-132.3]

The Maceo Company of volunteers was one of three North Carolina Volunteer regiments that were raised to go to Cuba in the war with Spain. The company was mustered in June 23, 1898 as Co. K, Third North Carolina Volunteers. All African Americans, it was made up almost entirely of Asheville men.

Third North Carolina Volunteers and officers. Photo from A Brief History of the 3rd North Carolina Volunteer Infantry.

During the regiment’s term of service, it lost one officer killed in an accident, thirteen enlisted men who died of disease, and two enlisted men who were murdered. In addition, twelve men were discharged on disability and fourteen men deserted. [From: A Brief History of the 3rd North Carolina Volunteer Infantry, Compiled By: William R. Navey. http://www.spanamwar.com/3rdnorthcarolina.html]

Only three states of the American union provided military regiments that consisted exclusively of black enlisted men and officers. North Carolina was the only southern state to recruit an all-black regiment for service in the Spanish-American War.” [From North Carolina’s Role in the Spanish-American War by Joseph F. Steelman, 1975. Ref. N.C. 973.894 S814N.]

The History of the Negro Soldiers in the Spanish American War by Edward A. Johnson, 1899 says that “no colored volunteers were engaged in active warfare, yet they attained a high degree of discipline.” [Reference NC 973.894 J66H] The Third North Carolina Regiment consisted of all “colored officers.” The book mentioned above contains several complimentary comments about the this regiment by officers who were there at the time. The photograph above was published in this book.

The war lasted one hundred and fourteen days. The returning soldiers were given a banquet in the ballroom of the Swannanoa Hotel on April 27, 1899.That is, at least, those soldiers from Company F First North Carolina Volunteers.

This photograph from our collection has in handwriting on back, “Swannanoa Hotel with Visiting Military Companies in Front” with the signature “H. Y. Mashin.” Staff dated the photo circa 1888. A search through the newspapers from the send off of the Asheville men in July 1898 until the soldiers return in April 1899 give no accounts of visiting soldiers at the Swannanoa, though happenings at the Swannanoa seem thorough. Several accounts are given of squad drills of the Asheville Light Infantry in the hall of the Swannanoa. It seems a possibility that this photo might document Company F of the First North Carolina regiment’s return in April 1899. L603-8.

The Welcome Home, as stated in the newspaper coverage was given for for Company F, and although no other companies are mentioned, the paper reads, “The soldiers of the Asheville company and men who went from Asheville to fill up other companies of the regiment are expected to reach home Sunday . . .” Would this have been a segregated event? And if it was, was there a separate celebration given to the men who served in the African American companies such as Co. K, Third North Carolina Volunteers? The Asheville Times and its precursor the Asheville Daily Gazette generally had more coverage of the African American residents than the Asheville Citizen, but the coverage was the same for this event. And none of the coverage referred to black military companies serving in Cuba.

Although newspaper accounts following the return of the military groups who served from Asheville only mention the Maceo Volunteers, in terms of African Americans, articles at the time of the conflict refer to the Asheville Quicksteps as the first group of African Americans to organize here. The captain was H. T. (Hayman T.) Scott, Samuel Taylor as first lieutenant and John C. Ford as quartermaster. These volunteers left Asheville with 60 men on June 30, 1898. No company list has been found. Scott was from Cheraw, S.C. and had come to Asheville to open a dye house. Reportage from the Asheville Citizen-Times October 21, 1898 says that he accidently mortally shot himself at Knoxville, age 42.

Edward W. Pearson Sr. in his uniform from the Spanish American War. 

E. W. Pearson Sr., who came to Asheville in 1906, served in the Spanish American War in the 9th cavalry, Troop C, a black regiment from Fort Robinson, Nebraska. We are very thankful to E. W. Pearson’s daughter Iola Pearson Byers and his grandson Clifford W. Cotton II for loaning us their family photographs and ephemera to scan and add to our collection. B735-DSa.

We have no photographs of either of the two African American companies, the Maceo Volunteers or the Asheville Quicksteps. If you have a photograph of a relative that served in either company or of a company photograph, please consider loaning it to the North Carolina Room so that we can scan it an add it to our collection. This is important Asheville history that needs to be documented. An Asheville Citizen-Times article of May 19, 1899 mentions that a “souvenir portrait 24 x 36 inches of 36 pictures was made of the officers in the “Third North Carolina regiment, colored, accompanied by sketches.” It was published and copyrighted by Captain Thomas L. Leatherwood. Also, if you have any further information about the Asheville Quicksteps, please contact us.

If you would like more information about the Third North Carolina Regiment as well as how they were treated both at their training forts and after the war, this NCpedia page is worth reading.

Post by Zoe Rhine North Carolina Room librarian

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