People In Perspective

Annual Legacies: Chaplain Garland H. White

There are thousands of legacies housed within the American Civil War Museum, and the Annual Fund helps to provide critical funding for all the things the museum needs to preserve and tell them. It helps fund the preservation of the over 15,000 artifacts in our care, allows our educators to create different programs for school children and continues our public programming. It helps to keep our lights on. Your funding is imperative, and we want to thank you for your interest in and support of the Annual Fund.

Below is one of the stories you’ll help preserve, one of which is featured briefly in our Fall Annual Fund letters. The hope for this blog post is that you will learn more about those featured, as well as the effects of the Civil War and its aftermath on three very different legacies.

Garland H. White was born into slavery in Henrico County, VA in 1829 to an enslaved woman, Nancy. In his youth, he was sold to Robert Toombs, a Georgia lawyer, who would go on to be a key player in the creation of the Confederacy. When Toombs was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1852, he moved to Washington D.C. and took Garland White with him. White seized opportunities to build a life and achieve his freedom. In Washington, he became friendly with abolitionist Senator William Seward (neighbor to Toombs) and was able to study and to become a certified minister in September 1859. The next year, in 1860, Garland fled Washington D.C. to London, Ontario Canada. He was appointed to the African Methodist Episcopal Church mission in October 1861.

Once Congress stopped enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act, White returned to the U.S. in 1862 and became a pastor in Toledo, Ohio until African Americans were able to officially enlist in the Army. He worked to recruit black soldiers in both Ohio and Indiana, later joining the 28th USCT (United States Colored Troops) as a private in late 1863, with hopes of becoming unit chaplain. The 28th USCT saw combat in both the Battle of the Crater and the Siege of Petersburg in 1864 before being ordered to the Army’s supply depot at City Point (now Hopewell, Virginia). When the fall of Petersburg was evident, the Confederate evacuation of Richmond began. The last Confederate troops set fire to the bridges, armory, and warehouses that would effectively set fire to the City of Richmond. Richmond City Mayor, Joseph Mayo, went out of the city to find a U.S. commander to officially surrender the city to, and to ask for help suppressing the fires set by evacuating Confederate troops and burning out of control. White’s commanding officer, General Godfrey Weitzel, accepted possession of Richmond on April 3, 1865. Once the fire had been extinguished, White’s regiment the 28th USCT was amongst the first U.S. troops to march into the city, the streets lined mostly with free and enslaved African Americans. Garland White was at the head of his unit and had been prompted to give a speech to the people surrounding them on Broad Street. It was here, as he would recount to the African Methodist Episcopal Church newspaper, the Christian Recorder, that he would tell of the reunion with his mother after almost 20 years apart.   

“Among the many broken-hearted mothers looking for their children who had been sold to Georgia and elsewhere, was an aged woman, passing through the vast crowd of colored, inquiring for one by the name of Garland H. White, who had been sold from her when a small boy, and was bought by a lawyer named Robert Toombs, who lived in Georgia. Since the war has been going on she has seen Mr. Toombs in Richmond with troops from his state, and upon her asking him where his body-servant Garland was, he replied: “He ran off from me at Washington, and went to Canada. I have since learned that he is living somewhere in the State of Ohio.” Some of the boys knowing that I lived in Ohio, soon found me and said, “Chaplain, here is a lady that wishes to see you.”
After the war, White and his family lived in Indiana, Ohio, and eventually North Carolina. He continued his involvement in the church and got involved with politics in the mid-1870’s, running as the Democratic representative for Congress in North Carolina’s black 2nd District before losing to his Republican opponent John Adams Hyman. His work in Democratic politics caused tension with his community, eventually losing him his post as pastor in Halifax, NC. White continued to live in North Carolina until a respiratory illness, contracted during the Siege of Petersburg, motivated him to move Washington to receive an invalid pension in 1885. He lived and worked in the city until his death on July 5, 1894. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Every legacy of the Civil War should be preserved and told. A gift to the American Civil War Annual Fund allows us to not only conserve the artifacts under our care, it allows us to share the legacies of the people that owned them and the impact the Civil War had on them as well as their impact on us now. Please consider a donation to the fall Annual Fund. To donate online, simply click the red ‘DONATE’ button at the top right corner. You can also send a check to American Civil War Museum, attn: Kathryn Lewis, at 490 Tredegar Street, Richmond, VA 23219. Thank you.