Sunday, December 8, 2013

Charles Henry Gamble, USCT: Putting the Pieces Together

Image is from; puzzle created with
     I enjoyed Delores Summons’ post, Elementary My Dear Watson, likening the search for relatives to a diligent detective's work hunting down each clue to solve a mystery.  I always love a good mystery, but my own genealogical pursuits are often more like another favorite pastime: putting together jigsaw puzzles.   I like to start with  the edge pieces, then fill in one section at a time, until finally the picture starts to emerge, making it easier to see where the remaining pieces fit in the overall scheme.  As with puzzles, I am always sifting through the “pieces” I've collected about my family, seeing where they belong.  With this person over here, or have I tried to force a piece that doesn't belong?
      My current puzzle involves my godfather’s maternal grandfather, who appears on the 1870 and 1880 census' as Henry Gamble of Maryville, TN, my father’s hometown.   The 1870 census lists Henry's birthplace as Tennessee, while the 1880 census and all but one of the documents for his children list Henry's birthplace as Virginia. His date of birth is given as 1840 on the 1870 census, but 1844 in the 1880 census.
    One important puzzle piece I soon learned was that just as I am called by one name, but use another on legal documents, so too did Henry.  The record of his marriage to Mary Lucinda Wilson in 1868 lists him as Chas. H. Gamble.  When he and Mary Lucinda had to bury their first daughter and fifth child, Myra J. Gamble (1878-1887), he is listed as C. Henry Gamble.  While the various people and places listed on all these records line up so that I am fairly confident that they are all referring to the same man, this wasn't the case when I started looking for his military records.
    With the help of another African-American Genealogy & Slave Ancestry Research (AAGSAR) member, Xzanthia Yvonne Zuber, who offered to do look-ups for some of us on, I thought I had located the records of the correct Charles Gamble serving in the United States Colored Troops as a member of the 1st Heavy Artillery regiment organized in February 1864 in Knoxville, TN.  The pieces seemed to fit:  this Charles was from Blount County (Maryville is part of Blount), and Knoxville is just up the road from Maryville.
Poster from
Perhaps, Charles, was one of the many who heard the Union army was recruiting and made his way to join up; or it could be that he was enslaved and his owner was seeking the $300. bounty paid to owners who freed their slaves for military service. Tennessee was not included in the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, so serving in the Army or working for it was one way for enslaved persons to gain their freedom. 
    One curious puzzle piece in the records Xzanthia found: Charles Gamble was absent from duty from September through November 1865 because he was “in arrest.”
    I was happily putting together my puzzle when I found two other records on 1) pension claims filed on behalf of Charles Henry Gamble in 1890, and his widow, Mary Lucinda, after Charles Henry’s death in October 1895; and 2) a request for a military headstone for Charles Henry.  Both of these records gave another USCT regiment: the 42nd Infantry, Company E.  Being enamored of my puzzle as it was coming together, I first tried to make these pieces fit.  Maybe Charles had started out in the 1st Heavy Artillery, and then was transferred to the 42nd Infantry.
Cover of Doback's 2011 book
This seemed plausible enough, especially when I read in William Doback’s book, Freedom by the Sword. US Colored Troops 1863-1867, that the 42nd regiment was organized to include soldiers deemed fit for garrison or “laborer” duty rather than field operations.  Men in other regiments were routinely transferred to the 42nd for medical reasons.  

     However, the discrepancy was enough of a concern to me that, like Delores’ dogged detective, I knew I had to follow up and so I took out a trial membership to  I learned that there were two different men named Charles Gamble who served in the USCT, although as we’ll see they may well have crossed paths.The new records I found were for a Charles H. Gamble, from Norfolk, Virginia, who joined the 42nd regiment in Chattanooga, TN in October 1864.   His physical description was entirely different than the first Charles, eliminating the possibility that they were the same person.  Charles H. was younger, taller, had gray eyes, and a “yellow” complexion.  Since Henry Gamble was listed as a mulatto in the 1870 census, this description seems to fit.   His enlistment papers show that the 42nd was indeed a special “invalid” unit because the examiner crossed out “able-bodied soldier” and substituted “soldier in this regiment.”
Enlistment document for Charles H. Gamble from

     Though the 42nd regiment was confined to garrison duty for the duration of the war, this was hardly easy or light duty as Doback notes in Freedom by the Sword. The garrison was constantly under pressure from guerrilla raids by rebels who particularly targeted black soldiers.  Doback quotes one of the commanders who reported that his troops were ill-quartered, under constant attack, and many were sick.  Chuck Hamilton, in a wonderful blog post on the role of African Americans in Chattanooga from the civil war on, notes that the 42nd regiment engaged in building roads and Chattanooga’s first bridge as well as guarding the garrison.  It was in Hamilton’s blog that I learned a very interesting fact: In August of 1865, the 42nd, and several other US Colored infantry regiments were joined by the 1st Heavy Artillery regiment in Chattanooga, forming the 2nd Colored Brigade.  So from August 1865, both Charles Gamble and Charles H. Gamble were in the same brigade, though different regiments.  But there is even more reason to think that their paths might have crossed: Charles H. Gamble, like Charles Gamble, was absent, “in arrest,” and under confinement in September through November 1865!  They very likely were in the brig together for some of that time.  The records for Charles H. Gamble give more information:  he was arrested for mutinous conduct in Chattanooga and tried in Huntsville, Alabama.  The case against him was “not approved,” and he was returned to his regiment and mustered out shortly thereafter, on Jan. 31, 1866.  Charles Gamble was also returned to his regiment and mustered out on March 31, 1866.
Proceedings against Charles H. Gamble obtained via

     While I am delighted to learn of my godfather's grandfather’s service (and that of his namesake, for that matter, and of the 20,000 other African American men from Tennessee who served in the Union Army), the records have pointed out just how many missing pieces there are to this puzzle.  What malady consigned Charles Henry Gamble to the invalid regiment?  I have my suspicions, and will only note here that two of his sons also had medical issues related to their military service, though another served without incident as did my godfather, who served in WWII.  Was Charles Henry in Tennessee before the war, as I had previously assumed, or did he make his way from Virginia?  Why the age discrepancies between the military and census records?    And, last but not least, what was his “mutinous conduct” in the fall of 1865 and did this involve the other Charles Gamble? I hope to gather more pieces to my puzzle by reviewing Charles Henry’s pension file, which I have ordered through the National Archives.   If nothing else, it will help me to confirm if I finally have the right Charles Henry Gamble!


  1. This was so informative. I hope I find USCT. I went to the museum this summer in DC and they even worked during the shutdown. Great Resources.

    1. Thanks, True. I have been fascinated with what I've learned about the USCT, and I have Charles Henry to thank for that.