Portrait Leads To Long Overdue Story Of USCT Soldier
By Nancy Jennis Olds
(October 2012 Civil War News)
Dianne Cross displays “The Soldier,” the soldier she now knows is her great-great-grandfather, Sgt. Isaac Hall, at her home. (Nancy J. Olds)
LAUREL, Md. — As a child, Dianne, her siblings and cousins simply called him “The Soldier.” The elaborately framed colorful drawing of the U.S. Colored Troops soldier hung in her grandmother Helen’s house.
In the background were a cannon, an American flag and a canvas bag that appears to be hung on a small tree while the peaks of two white canvas tents indicate a Union campground.
Family oral history suggested he had a relationship to the family. Today Dianne Cross and her husband Lewis are The Soldier’s guardians and they now know who he was.
Cross has always been drawn to historical narratives. Alex Haley’s 1976 novel, Roots, about his African family ancestry, and the miniseries that followed aroused her interest in discovering her roots.
Haley claimed that his ancestor was kidnapped in 1767 and sent to Maryland to be sold into slavery. According to Cross family stories grandmother Helen’s great-grandfather was similarly captured as a small boy and raised on a plantation in Sussex County, Delaware, owned by David Hall.
After the PBS broadcast of Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” in 1990 Cross could not stop thinking about The Soldier and his connection to her family. She knew it was time to learn more about him while her grandmother was still alive, although by then her health and memory were beginning to fail.
There was little to go on but the oral history about the slave-owner David Hall, the young soldier being born in Sussex County, Delaware, and the name of Isaac Hall, a young slave working on the farm.
Cross learned that David Hall owned two slaves, a female aged 45 and a male aged 13, according to 1850 U.S. Census records. She found records at the National Archives and other sources for an Isaac Hall — in fact there were seven black Union soldiers with that name.
Through an Internet search she confirmed that an Isaac Hall enlisted from Sussex County. The War Department’s General Orders Number 329 dated Oct. 3, 1863, offered compensation up to $300 to slave-owners in states that hadn’t seceded who were loyal to the Union and offered their slaves for enlistment in the Union army.
Slave owners had to swear, “I have not purchased said slave from any person or persons disloyal from the Government of the United States, with the object of receiving compensation for the same.”
Cross also found the Evidence of Title by which David Hall asserted that his slave, Isaac Hall, was born in March of 1839 to slave parents in his service and that he was enlisted with the 32nd Regiment, Co. K of the United States Colored Troops (USCT).
David Hall signed The Deed of Manumission and Release of Service stating his slave Isaac Hall, “has enlisted in the service of the United States … [I] do hereby in consideration of said enlistment do manumit, set free, and release the above named Isaac Hall from all services due to me.”
Once David Hall fulfilled all the requirements, as he indicated by his signature on The Oath of Allegiance, Isaac Hall would be enlisted in service.
On March 3, 1864, as it is noted on The Deed of Manumission and Release of Service document, Hall was successfully enlisted in the Union army and was a free man. He was quickly promoted to sergeant. ”He must have had an exceptional memory or had been an outstanding leader,” Cross says, noting he was illiterate and signed with an “X.”
He also was a family man. The 1870 U.S. Census records revealed that Isaac Hall and his wife had two daughters, Georgiana, born in 1862, and Mary, born in 1863.
Hall’s regiment trained at Camp William Penn in Philadelphia, Pa., and was sent to Hilton Head, S.C., on April 27, 1864. On Nov. 30 the 32nd Regiment participated in the Battle of Honey Hill in Boyd’s Neck, S.C., the third battle of Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea. The black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry also was in the battle.
On Dec. 6, the 32nd USCT successfully took control over a portion of the Confederate railroad and repulsed a surprise attack the following day. In February 1865 they moved toward Charleston, entering the city on Feb. 18, the day it surrendered.
Hall and the 32nd Regiment were on the march again in April, capturing 20 Rebel locomotives and 200 freight cars and enduring three weeks of almost daily skirmishes. They performed garrison duty at Charleston, Beaufort and Hilton Head until the middle of August. On Aug. 22, 1865, the 32nd Regiment was mustered out.
Isaac Hall and his family moved to Camden, N.J. He probably spent his remaining years in the towns of Radnor and Berwyn, outside of Philadelphia, Pa. The 1880 census records show a third child, Rachel, Cross’ great-grandmother, was born in 1868, followed by four more children.
So that was the answer – Isaac Hall was Cross’ great-great-grandfather.
An 1888 pension record listed Isaac’s occupation as laborer. He was collecting $10 a month pension as an invalid, while suffering from a hernia and kidney disease.
Cross learned from her grandmother Helen about Aunt Jane “Jen” Hall, a former slave who took care of Helen when she was growing up. Over the years, Aunt Jane often visited Helen who worked for Quaker families in Moorestown, N.J., and told her stories about The Soldier.
Cross visited a cousin who had Helen’s family Bible. Pressed inside was a napkin with the name of Isaac’s wife, Louvinia, known as “Lovie” from other records. She died in February 1901. Isaac Hall passed away in July 1902. Cross hopes to discover his burial place.
Recently, Cross visited the family matriarch, her 86-year-old second cousin, Rachel Truitt. Truitt recognized The Soldier as the picture her Aunt Helen, Cross’ grandmother, had.
Cross feels a “real connection with Isaac Hall’s spirit and that he wants his story to be told.” The discovery that her ancestor served in the Union army gives her a sense of pride.
She speaks about his service, has appeared on You Tube with her “Long Overdue Story” and created the www.longoverduestory.com website, which includes Hall’s records that she found in her research.
Cross hopes that her efforts will encourage families to pursue researching their family history.
One of her favorite landmarks is the African American Civil War Memorial & Museum on Vermont Avenue, Northwest in Washington, D.C. The museum helped with her research.
At the “Spirit of Freedom” bronze sculpture memorial across from the museum she can reach out and stroke the inscribed name of Isaac Hall, 32nd Regiment, USCT, Co. K, and tell him how much “The Soldier” portrait on her wall has changed her life.