A New York native, William Henry Brown moved with his parents to what would become Junction in the early 1840s. He entered Wheaton College and left after a year to enlist in the Illinois 105th Infantry. William was 22 and like Lucius B. Church (see the Campaign Singer post), was a member of Company B.
But for a brief respite due to dysentery, Brown served two and a half years as a private. In March of 1865 Brown was discharged from the 105th so he could serve as a lieutenant in Company E of the 101st United States Colored Infantry.
African American enlistment for the War occurred after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in January of 1863. Active recruitment was begun by the War Department in May 1863 and both freedmen and runaway slaves signed up. Infantry, cavalry and artillery units formed what was known as the United States Colored Troops.
About 186,000 black servicemen were placed in as many as 166 units of the Union Army, and many served in the Navy. Commanding officers of the all black units were white, but surgeons and chaplains were often African American. William Brown was one of two officers from Turner who led these men, who were often supplied with second-hand uniforms and shoddy equipment. Prisoners of war were treated as property by the Confederacy and made slaves.
Although black servicemen were fighting and dying on the battlefields, they were not receiving equal pay for an equal sacrifice. Paid $7 a month to white soldiers $13 a month, many black soldiers resisted this discrimination by refusing their pay. The pay inequity kept many recruits from enlistment. In June of 1864 Congress remedied this problem by granting equal pay and making it retroactive.
African American soldiers made up 10% of the Union Army and provided a much needed boost in troop numbers at a critical time in the war. Almost one third, 40,000, died from battle wounds or disease.