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Henry C. Jackson

John Conway
Posted 2/16/24

Henry Clay Jackson of Wurtsboro lived one of the most eventful lives of any resident of Sullivan County ever, and yet few today are familiar with his name.

For one thing, Jackson, an African …

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Henry C. Jackson


Henry Clay Jackson of Wurtsboro lived one of the most eventful lives of any resident of Sullivan County ever, and yet few today are familiar with his name.

For one thing, Jackson, an African American living in Wurtsboro, was the stepfather of the man known alternately as Robert Jackson and Robert Lewis, who was lynched by a mob of angry townspeople in Port Jervis in June of 1892. The man who has gone down in history as Robert Lewis was actually born Robert Murray, but was adopted by Henry Clay Jackson and assumed his surname. There is not universal agreement as to why, how or when he became known as Robert Lewis.

(Michael J. Worden, author of the award winning 2022 book, ‘Lynched by a Mob,” who has become an authority on the Port Jervis incident and presented a program on it in Eldred last Saturday, conjectures that the man’s name was Robert Lewis Jackson, and maintains that recording his name incorrectly for posterity is another injustice, one more indignity, done to the man  who was dragged through the streets, viciously beaten, and hanged by the neck from a tree.)

Although he was still living when his stepson became the victim of the heinous act for which no one has ever been called to account,  Henry C. Jackson had lived a life full of triumph and tragedy long before that fateful day in Port Jervis.

Shortly after the Union League Club of New York was authorized to raise an infantry regiment of African American soldiers in December of 1863, Jackson’s brother Eli had enlisted in what became designated the 20th Regiment, United States Colored Troops. A few weeks later, the 26th U.S.C.T. infantry was formed, and Henry C. Jackson, enlisted along with his brother Daniel Stanton Jackson. All three of the Jackson brothers were living in Wurtsboro at the time. Fellow Mamakating residents John Low and Charles Jarvis were also members of the 26th, as were James Garnett, Judson Sharpe and William Neal of Cochecton and Theodore Cotton of Barryville. Nelson Hill, another Mamakating resident, was with the 20th U.S.C.T. and Guy Jeremiah fought with the 37th U.S.C.T.

As a member of the 26th, Henry C. Jackson saw plenty of action, as the regiment took part in numerous battles, including the Battle of Johns Island, South Carolina shortly after they reached the south, and the Battle of Burden’s Causeway, also sometimes known as the Battle of Bloody Bridge.

Henry C. Jackson was wounded in the action at Johns Island, one of the 8,000 Union forces who were killed, wounded, or captured during the three days of action there. Incidentally, another African American soldier from Sullivan County, Theodore Cotton, was also injured in the battle, eventually losing his leg, and was captured by the Confederates and made a prisoner of war.

In the final reports of the action, Cotton was listed as killed in action, and his belongings were sent back home. It wasn’t until some months later, when he was part of a prisoner exchange, that it was discovered that Cotton, though seriously wounded, had survived.

The 26th U.S.C.T. and the 9th U.S.C.T. under Brigadier General Rufus Saxton, had joined the command of General John P. Hatch in South Carolina, along with several other units, including the 56th New York, which was heavily populated with Sullivan County men. Saxton had fought at Harper’s Ferry just weeks before, and had distinguished himself enough there to earn the Medal of Honor. General Hatch planned to move his combined forces from Seabrook Island to take Johns Island and then across the Stono River to nearby James Island, and eventually drive the Confederates out of Charleston. It was an ambitious plan that ultimately failed, exacting an enormous toll on the Union forces.

As described on the mycivilwar.com website, the 26th was in the vanguard of the fighting at Johns Island and Bloody Bridge, and suffered many of the losses.

“On July 7, the Union sharpshooters opened fire from some small houses on the left, but the Confederate artillery quickly routed them. All was quiet until about 4:00 P.M. when Saxton and the 26th U.S. Colored Troops, about 1,000 strong, attacked the Confederate rifle-pits. They advanced under cover of woods until they were about 200 yards from the Confederate line, where they entered the open field, charging and taking the works, killing and wounding a number of Confederates.

“The 26th U.S. Colored Troops carried the works, still advancing, pouring volley after volley into the scattering Confederate lines. When all was thought lost, reinforcements of the 32nd Georgia Regiment were moving at double-quick, passing the broken lines and with the "Rebel Yell ", charged to the front. The 26th U.S. Colored Troops stopped still. Their lines began to break and they ran in retreat. The fighting was heavy. The Confederates soon recaptured their works, driving the Federals over them. The Confederates won the day.”

It is not clear at what point in the fighting Henry C. Jackson was wounded, nor is the exact nature of his wound known, but it was serious enough to remain with him for the rest of his long-- and eventful-- life.

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian. Email him at jconway52@hotmail. om


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