On James Henry Campbell, U. S. Army, World War II, and finding his Civil War ancestor

Photo: Nadia K. Orton, December 30, 2012. All rights reserved.

James Henry Campbell, 1607 E. Washington St., died Wednesday in Louise Obici Memorial Hospital.

He was retired from Norfolk Naval Shipyard after 20 years of service and was an Army veteran of World War II. He was a member of Metropolitan Baptist Church.

Survivors include his widow, Mrs. Beatrice Ricks Campbell, two step-daughters, Mrs. Mabel Harry and Mrs. Mary Joyner, both of Suffolk; a son, James Thomas Campbell of Baltimore; three sisters, Mrs. Mildred C. Wynn and Mrs. Irene C. Beamon, both of Suffolk, and Mrs. Marjorie Evans of Washington; a brother, Levy William Campbell of New York; 14 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

A funeral will be conducted at 2 p.m. today in Metropolitan Baptist Church by the Rev. Dr. M. R. Boone.

Burial with military honors will be in Oaklawn Cemetery. The body will be placed in the church at 12:30 p.m. by T. E. Cooke Funeral Home.”1

James Henry Campbell was born on September 18, 1905, in Suffolk, Virginia. He was the son of John Edward Campbell (1880-1943), and Rosa Mattie Williams Campbell (1884-1959). He was the brother of Irene Campbell Beamon (John Henry Beamon, Sr.), John Edward Campbell (1909-1975), Marjorie Campbell (1915-1988), Margaret Campbell Diggs (Charlie Douglass Diggs), Mildred Campbell Wynn (Wilson Wynn), and Levy William Campbell.

James was raised in a home on Spruce Street, in Suffolk’s Cypress District. His father, John Edward Campbell, Sr., worked alternately as a factory worker and fireman at the local gas plant. James married Miss Lillie Debra Riddick, from Gates County, North Carolina, on May 29,1926. Debra was the daughter of Benjamin Riddick and Estelle Riddick. Their son, James Thomas Campbell, was born on June 6, 1926.

By 1930, James and Lucille had moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where James worked as a stevedore. In 1940, James went north to Aliquippa, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, located just north of Pittsburgh. James moved in with his older brother, John Edward, Jr., who’d been a resident of Aliquippa since 1920.2 James was likely drawn by employment in the area’s steel industry, though African Americans were confined to the lowest paid jobs.

Steel workers’ homes showing how the houses are segregated according to race or nationality in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. Library of Congress
An African American steel worker, who worked the graveyard shift, resting in his apartment. Library of Congress.
Steel mill in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, ca. 1938. Library of Congress

By 1941, James worked as a bartender, and soon enlisted in the Army on May 26th of that year in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. James served a little over a year in foreign service, and was discharged on September 25, 1945, at Woodrow Wilson General Hospital, Staunton, Virginia.

Woodrow Wilson General Hospital, Staunton, Virginia, ca. 1945. National Library of Medicine

Later in life, James married his second wife, Lillie Beatrice Britt Figgs, a widow from Southampton County, Virginia, on February 8, 1964. The couple remained together in Suffolk until James’ decease on December 19, 1979. James was interred in Oak Lawn Cemetery on December 23, 1979. The arrangements were handled by the T. E. Cooke Funeral Home, Suffolk, Virginia.3

In researching James’ story, I realized this is the second time I’ve reviewed the Campbell family’s ancestry. In 2014, I had the opportunity to chronicle the lineage of the Wynn Family of Suffolk, of which the Campbells are a collateral family line. The research was presented at the Wynn Family’s annual reunion in Florida. By all accounts, the research and companion family tree poster were a hit, and it was wonderful to assist the family in such a personal and honorable manner.

Margaret Wynn, Wynn Family Plot. Oak Lawn Cemetery, Suffolk, Virginia, June 11, 2014. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.
Margaret Wynn, Wynn Family Plot, Carver Memorial Cemetery, Suffolk, Virginia. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

This time, I chose to take a closer look into the Campbell Family line, and was surprised to discover a very long tradition of military service.

James Henry Campbell’s paternal grandfather, James Campbell, was a Civil War veteran. He was born enslaved about 1843, in Montgomery County, Maryland, which is located just north of Washington, D. C.4 James enlisted on June 17, 1863, at Mason’s Island (now Theodore Roosevelt Island), and served with Company E, 1st Regiment, U. S. Colored Infantry 5

Enlistment Record of James Campbell

1st U. S. Colored Infantry

1st U. S. Colored Infantry

I’ve written previously on one of my ancestors, my great-great-great-granduncle Daniel Orton, born enslaved in Nansemond County. In 1862, Daniel escaped, and made his way to Washington, D. C, where he enlisted in the Union Army on May 19, 1863, and served with Company A of the 1st U. S. Colored Infantry.6

The Pittsburgh Gazette, June 27, 1864.
1st U. S. Colored Infantry, ca. 1864. Library of Congress.

It’s interesting to think of James Campbell, and Daniel Orton together on Mason’s Island, both having escaped chattel slavery to fight for freedom. Masons Island also served as a refuge for formerly enslaved African Americans, and was the site of a fairly large contraband camp, second to the Freedman’s Village of Arlington Heights, Virginia. The island’s name was changed to Theodore Roosevelt Island in the 1930s.

The Guardian, June 27, 1864 7
Map of the Contraband camp, Mason’s Island. Library of Congress.
Mason’s Island on the Potomac River. Library of Congress.

I visited Theodore Roosevelt Island in 2014. It was a nice setting, with plenty of trees, and walking/jogging paths that were a welcome respite from Washington’s hectic pace and constant traffic jams. Although there was a welcome sign, and a historical wayside describing the Native American presence in the area, there seemed to be no tangible evidence or plaques to tell the story of the contraband camp, or the activities of the 1st U. S. Colored Infantry on Mason’s Island.

Theodore Roosevelt Island welcome sign. Photo: August 28, 2014, Ndia K. Orton. All rights reserved.
Walking path on Theodore Roosevelt Island. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, August 28, 2014. All rights reserved.
A view of the Potomac River, looking north. Theodore Roosevelt Island (formerly Mason’s Island), is pictured to the right. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, August 28, 2014. All rights reserved.

The soldiers of the 1st U. S. Colored Infantry were attached to the Department of Virginia, and soon were dispatched to lower Tidewater, for duty in and around Portsmouth, Virginia by 1864. It was in Portsmouth where the paths of Daniel Orton and James Campbell began to diverge. While my ancestor, Daniel Orton, was encamped with other members of the 1st U. S. Colored Infantry at Paradise Creek, about two miles south of Portsmouth, James Campbell had fallen ill, and was sent to a local Union hospital. He continued to convalesce there while Daniel and others were sent to the front at Petersburg. On June 15th, 1864, Daniel was killed in action, from a burst shell that landed next to him during the First Regiment’s evening assault on Confederate lines.8 James Campbell continued to suffer repeated bouts of illness, and was eventually discharged from a Union hospital in Goldsboro, North Carolina, in 1865.9

After his discharge, James Campbell moved to Bertie County, North Carolina, and later married Judy Urquhart on December 29, 1885, Roxobel, Bertie County.10

James Campbell settled in to life as a farmer, and remained a resident Bertie County’s Woodville district through 1920. James Campbell, Civil War veteran, and paternal grandfather of World War II veteran James Henry Campbell (1905-1979), passed away in 1929, and was interred near his homestead in Bertie County.11

The Woodville district of Bertie County (known as “Hotel” on April 1, 1840), identified in red. Woodville would become James Campbell’s home after his discharge from service until his death in 1929. Library of Congress.

In 2017, I visited the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D. C. I’d researched all of my family’s Civil War ancestors, and was eager to locate their names on the memorial. As it was a long-awaited trip, I took the opportunity to locate the names of the other African American Union veterans I’d studied in dozens of African American cemeteries throughout Virginia and North Carolina.

The African American Civil War Memorial, Washington, D. C. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, August 5, 2017. All rights reserved.

On the panel for members of the 1st U. S. Colored Infantry, I was able to locate Daniel Orton.12 Last night, I located James Campbell’s name as well.

The panel of soldiers of the 1st U. S. Colored Infantry. African American Civil War Memorial, August 5, 2017. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.
The names of Pvt. James Campbell, Company E, 1st U. S. Colored Infantry (left), and Pvt. Daniel Orton, Company A, 1st U. S. Colored Infantry, are identified in yellow. Photo: Nadia K. Orton, August 5, 2017. All rights reserved.

Though happy to find both Daniel and James’ names on the panel, I thought of the sad bond they both share…an unidentified gravesite. Daniel died during the opening assault on Petersburg, June 15, 1864, and laid exposed for two months, with hundreds of other men, before a flag of truce was called to bury the dead. Daniel was noted as interred in the Fairgrounds Cemetery, Petersburg. His remains have never been properly identified, and he either remains buried in what is left of the Fairgrounds Cemetery, or lies in one of the “unknown” graves of Poplar Grove National Cemetery, Dinwiddie County, Virginia.

The “Hard Hat Tour” of Poplar Grove National Cemetery, during its preservation project, April 30, 2016, Dinwiddie County, Virginia. I was the only African American visitor. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

James Campbell was buried somewhere in Bertie County, North Carolina, near Woodville. As is common in rural areas, his gravestone may be located on private property, in the middle of a field, or possibly, one of the illegible and/or undocumented headstones in a local church cemetery.

I suspect, at this point, that it may be easier to find James Campbell, and I’m eager to do so. To date, our family has marked the graves and replaced the illegible headstones of over twenty African American Civil War veterans since 2016. If we’re successful in locating James Campbell’s gravesite, and it is unmarked, perhaps we can assist the members of the Wynn-Campbell family in providing James Campbell the honor that he is due. If I cannot locate Daniel’s grave, perhaps I can help find James Campbell’s.

Today is Veterans Day, and it’s important to remember exactly what James Campbell, and his descendant, James Henry Campbell, were fighting for. James Campbell was born enslaved, so his was a fight for freedom from the degradation and inhumanity of chattel slavery. Eighty years later, James Henry Campbell and other African American soldiers would face a similar struggle in World War II, against fascism abroad, and the lingering effects of slavery, systemic and structural racism and inequality in the United States. This fight was symbolized by the “Double-V Campaign,” for “Double Victory,” initially coined by the Pittsburgh Courier.

The sentiment is captured in a phrase inscribed at the base of the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D. C.:

“Civil War to Civil Rights and Beyond

This memorial is dedicated to those who served in the African American units of the Union Army in the Civil War. The 209, 145 names inscribed on these walls commemorate those fighters of freedom.”

African American civil war memorial, washington, d. c.
African American Civil War Memorial, Washington, D. C., August 5, 2017. Photo: Nadia K. Orton. All rights reserved.

  1. The Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia), 22 December 1879, p. 26, c. 5; image copy, Newspapers (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 12 March 2017).
  2. “U. S. Census 1940,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 October 2020), Pennsylvania, Beaver County, Aliquippa, Dist. 4-6, p. 37, citing, “Year: 1940; Census Place: Aliquippa, Beaver, Pennsylvania; Roll: m-t0627-03425; Page: 18B; Enumeration District: 4-6.”
  3. “Virginia, Death Records, 1912-2014,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 19 October 2020), certificate image, James H. Campbell, 19 December 1973, no. 422, citing “Virginia Department of Health; Richmond, Virginia; Virginia Deaths, 1912-2014.”
  4. Ancestry, “1st U. S. Colored infantry, A-Win,” database with images, “Civil War Service Records (CMSR) – Union Colored Troops 1st Infantry,” Fold3 (https://www.fold3.com : accessed 8 June 2017), entry for James Campbell, Pvt., Co. E, 1st U. S. Col. Inf., Union.
  5. The First Regiment, United States Colored Infantry was organized in the District of Columbia May 19th through June 30, 1863.
  6. Ancestry, “1st U. S. Colored infantry, A-Win,” database with images, “Civil War Service Records (CMSR) – Union Colored Troops 1st Infantry,” Fold3 (https://www.fold3.com : accessed 8 June 2017), entry for Daniel Horton, Pvt., Co. A, 1st U. S. Col. Inf., Union.
  7. The Guardian (Greater London, England), 27 June 1864, p. 3, c. 6, image copy, Newspapers (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 28 September 2020).
  8. Deposition of Claimant, 1887, Sarah Orton, mother’s pension application 339.925, service of Daniel Horton (Pvt., Co. A, 1st U. S. Col. Inf.), Civil War); Case Files of Approved Pension Applications…1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Record Group 15; Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs; National Archives, Washington, C. D.
  9. Ancestry, “Civil War Service Records (CMSR) – Union Colored Troops 1st Infantry,” service database entry for James Campbell, Pvt., Co. E, 1st U. S. Col. Inf., Union.
  10. “Bertie County Marriage Register (1851-1944),” James Campbell-Judy Urquhart, 29 December 1885, image, “North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011,” Ancestry (https://ancestry.com: accessed 5 October 2020).
  11. “North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1976, ” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 7 October 2020), certificate image, James Campbell, 11 December 1929, no. 159, citing, “North Carolina State Archives; Raleigh, North Carolina; North Carolina Death Certificates.”
  12. In his enlistment record, Daniel’s surname was erroneously recorded as “Horton,” so he is listed on the memorial as “Daniel Horton.”

Leave a Reply