Charcoal Drawing of Corp. Elijah Madison, after 1864

15, February 2010

Born into slavery in 1841 on a plantation near the present-day site of Babler State Park, Elijah Madison probably earned his freedom at the height of the Civil War when Federal recruiters announced that the U.S. Army would accept any able-bodied man of African descent into its ranks. Although the circumstances of his enlistment are not clear, Madison may have fled from his owner's plantation to St. Louis. He enlisted in the Union army on March 17, 1864, at Benton Barracks and was mustered into service with Company F of the 68th U.S. Colored Troops within a week.

The 68th remained in St. Louis until April 27, 1864, when Gen. Henry W. Halleck ordered the regiment to Memphis to help defend the city. The unit engaged in battles at Tupelo, Mississippi, in July 1864, where it successfully fended off Confederate attacks. The regiment was then ordered south, first to New Orleans and then to Barrancas, Florida, where it later marched to Alabama to help lay siege to the Confederate stronghold at Fort Blakely. The fort was eventually captured, largely due to the network of trenches dug by the 68th that brought Union troops closer to the fort. A commander of the 51st U.S.C.T. commented: “The behavior of the men when constructing trenches under fire was a convincing proof that the former slaves of the South cannot be excelled as soldiers.”

After the war, Elijah Madison continued serving in the army until his discharge as a corporal in 1866. He returned to the St. Louis area to farm on land near the plantation where he had formerly been a slave. In 1868, he married Elizabeth West, and the couple raised 15 children. In his later years, Madison moved to Elmwood Park, Missouri, where he became a minister. He died in 1922.

Gift of Gloria White