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James Stone was a light-skinned Black man who escaped the clutches of slavery to become, by most accounts, the first African-American soldier to fight in the U.S. Civil War. Passing as a white man when he enlisted, the true nature of his race wasn’t discovered until after he died.

Stone, who was born some time in 1829, was a slave in Kentucky who escaped to the north and settled in Lorain, Ohio with another Black family. Of the few records of his life that exists, Stone and the family never highlighted their race on census records, and he married  a mixed woman in 1860 with whom he had children. On August 23, 1861, Stone joined the First Fight Artillery of Ohio to join the Union forces in battling the Confederate soldiers.

On October 30, 1862, Stone died from injuries that he suffered in the war. Upon examination of his body, it was revealed that he was indeed Black. It can be safely assumed that Stone and the family he stayed with kept their true racial identity secret to remain free as fugitive slaves such as himself yielded high rewards to owners in the South. Records do state that Stone’s wife and their children listed themselves as mulattoes in census accounts.

Stone’s enlistment in the Union Army came two years before Black soldiers were allowed to join, partly due to the fact that the Union needed to bolster its numbers against the Confederate Army.

 

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