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Personal Experiences of David Modlin
From The New Castle Courier
Told before a meeting of the G.W. Lennard Post, G.A.R.

To the post Commander and Comrades;

   I want to discharge my duty in furnishing the following, as to what I passed through during the war. I was living in Spiceland Township, and I could hear of this one and that one going into the army -- except those that had conscientious scruples about being shot. Although I wanted to go, I was very particular about being shot, and had serious scruples about it. The excitement was running high, and I could hear prominent white men say, and for my benefit, too that every man should enlist and especially the colored man, in defense of his country and flag, for if the Union was not saved every colored person would be made a slave.
   But the thoughts of being shot, when I had conscientious scruples against it, made me sick to my stomach. However, with what I had heard of the slave driver's lash, the auction block and the slave pens with all of their horrors. I was willing to go and enlist and sacrifice my life if necessary for my race in slavery, my country and assist that great and good man, President Lincoln, in demolishing the slave pens, rend the auction blocks asunder and with the slave driver's lash, strike the shackles of slavery from four million of my race. That slavery should no more forever reign in this Republic. And that the black man could worship the same God, with equal liberty and freedom that his old master did.
   So I picked myself up and went to Indianapolis and enlisted, got a "brand new" suit with brass buttons. Rigged out from head to foot, I stepped high, and eyes to the front, but occasionally to the flanks, when I would hear some dirty rebel sympathizer say "look at that n----- soldier," "black soldier" and all the mean things they could say about me. Well, I left the place of my enlistment and landed at White House Plains, Virginia, where I was assigned to Company B, 28Th., U.S. Colored Troops, and ready for duty in camp opposite Fort Powhatten. Lieutenant Colonel C. S. Russell commanded the regiment. While in camp I missed my home grub and bed. I soon adapted myself to the situation and discharged my ordered duty promptly, and without a word, for I didn't want to get shot. Every day I would hear a roaring sound like thunder; would be keeping it up all day. I would look to the sky, which was clear and no cloud to be seen, sun shining bright and warm. So I asked what that was, and was told it was cannonading, I said "Ugh, feel mighty sick." and the chills ran up and down my back like ague back in Spiceland Township. So I became very conscientious, but the officers didn't appear to have any conscience about anything, and made me do, feel and think the same way.
   Well, we marched over to Petersburg, Virginia and were assigned to the 9th.corps under General Burnsides 4th. Div, 2nd brigade. Col. Henry G. Thomas commanded the brigade. It looked like business here. Thousands of white and colored troops were around and about.There was almost constant cannonading and musket firing. General Burnsides had mined the fort and rebel breastworks. The main gallery was 522 feet long, with a gallery of 40 feet running from it at right angles, and these had four magazines each. The mine was charged with 12,000 pounds of powder.
   I do not know what it meant when on the morning of July 30 it exploded, engulfing a battery of artillery and a rebel regiment. It was to have been discharged 3:30 AM, but owing to a defective fuse, it was delayed for 1 and 1 1/2 hours; and immediately after the explosion my division charged on to and through the crater. We went over the outer rebel lines, and when a rebel regiment raised up and drove us back there was great confusion. The rebels made it very hot for us, and it was every man for him self to get out. Black and white troops didn't know their companies or regiments. My regiment lost 124 men. What made it worse, we lost our colors. The color sergeant was shot down and a rebel took the colors and broke with them. That was more fighting than I wanted. I did not want to see any more at such close range. If it had to be, I wanted it to be conscientious like and with my neighbors in Spiceland: but it soon passed away while we remained marching and skirmishing about Petersburg.
   It was a very disastrous engagement, hundreds of lives were sacrificed, and thousands wounded without advantage to the Union cause. The colored soldiers who never had but a week to ten days drill, went into the charge bravely with the old white veterans, and did their duty the best they knew how, and retreated the same as their white comrades and as badly demoralized. It was such a palpable failure that a court of inquiry was instituted to find out why it was a failure, which resulted in placing the blame on two brigadier generals that commanded the colored brigades. In fact the evidence actually shows the two brigadier generals were not with their commands but in the bomb-proofs and back from the lines. Their commands did their duty but they did not. But the evidence shows that the officers higher in command were at fault for concentrating the number of troops at one time, which obstructed the passage of other troops who had a special duty to perform on the occasion. In fact, general Burnsides had not a clear idea of the ground and area to maneuver his troops. So the failure of the fuse to explode at 8:30 am and not until 4:45 PM, disarranged or changed the time for certain brigades and divisions to march to their appointed time, which was calculated from 3:30 AM, and General Burnside not making his orders contingent, caused the frustration of the movement of troops. In November of 1864 we were ordered to City Point for guard duty, which suited me exactly, for I thought my health would be better, being almost constantly disturbed in my sleep every night while about Petersburg and during our stay at City Point. We were transferred to 25th. Corps. Made up principally of colored troops. Then in the Spring of 1865, we were ordered to march and brought up and promptly ordered to stop at Hatcher's Run near the rebels. Our first night there we were disturbed by pickets firing during the night. We advanced the next morning meeting strong resistance from the rebels until they finally gave way, then we kept on our course towards Appomatox Court House. After the surrender of General Lee, we moved back to Petersburg doing guard duty and then on in to Richmond. Those scenes, comrades, I will never forget, but I can not tell them as I would like. Many things occurred which would be of great interest. We were then ordered to Texas and landed at Corpus Christi, where we remained for exercises for four months and then to Indianapolis. Where we were transported to New Orleans, mustered out and sent home to Indianapolis when I drew my pay, I struck out for Spiceland and found my old neighborhood without any conscientious scruples about killing any man who dared to haul down the American flag.
   The position of the colored soldier was a peculiar one. They were not stricctly liked by the white soldiers, and the rebel soldiers utterly hated and despised us. And the same feeling existed with the southern people. For they recognized my race as only fitted for the most menial labor and as a slave only, and to see us rise to the dignity of a soldier and a defender of our country and flag on an equality with all the soldiers of the United States, and far above a rebel soldier, was a transformation that they could not readily become reconciled to and which was not agreeable if they could, But, thank God the time had come when a white rebel was as good as a n-----, as long as he behaved himself. The war ended and I am glad today that I did some small part bringing it to a close, and to know that no black man in this republic can be made a slave, and the black mother can know her child many days hence. The colored people of this country, and, in fact throughout the civilized world, can never do better than to perpetuate the memory of Abraham Lincoln to the very end of time, as the savior of the black race from slavery. Thanking you all, and I will say that. "the colored troops fought nobly."

David Modlin - 1895

UEB 2000

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