York County African American Civil War Veteran Details Navy Service
Recruitment poster, courtesy National Archives & Records Administration
Elijah Berry was 70 years old and living in Peach Bottom Township, York County, Pa. in February 1907 when he filed an application to have his Civil War pension increased. As time went on after the Civil War, Congress passed a succession of bills making more veterans eligible and increasing benefits, but the veterans had to apply to receive these increases after each new act went into effect.
A friend passed along copies of the application mentioned above and some other documents from the pension files of Elijah Berry at the National Archives. They reveal that Berry served in both the Army and Navy during the Civil War. Not bad for an African American whose former occupation was “slave” before he was recruited in Harford County, Md. for the 39th U.S. Colored Troops in March 1864.
His affidavit explains:
“The recruiting officer was in Harford County, Md. hunting men to join the Army and I volunteered near Black Horse in Harford Co., Md. and was sworn in at Camp Burney, Baltimore, Md.
In April 1864,there was a draft made on our men to fill out the men wanted on vessels. I was drawn, but was not transferred to the receiving ship [Allegheny]–lying at Baltimore, until May. That ship put me, in common with the others, on board the vessel called Daylight. While on board her I cleaned bright work, washed up deck, stood on guard, helped to do anything I was ordered to do on deck. This ship spring a leak. We were then obliged to leave her and put in at the Navy Yard at Norfolk, Va.
From there we were put on to the Brandywine. She took fire.
We were put back onto the Navy Yard at Norfolk and from that were shipped on the Shenandoah. While there I done about the same work as on the Daylight, except when in an engagement, when I helped to run in and out the guns and did whatever commanded–sometimes passed shells to the loaders, etc.
At Philadelphia, Pa. I was transferred to a vessel whose name I cannot recollect. Lt. Watson was one of the officers on it. [It was probably the Conemaugh. His records from the Navy show him on that ship from May 1865 to discharge in January 1866.] I was finally discharged at Fortress Monroe, [Va].
After the war, Berry settled in southern York County. He was married to his wife in January 1869 at the home of Lewis Tillman, near Stewartstown, by Rev. J. G. Cowhick. According to a certificate in his file dated 4 May 1898, at that time he had 12 living children, aged eight to 28.
Berry’s applications for pension increases were probably made a little more difficult because he didn’t have his official papers any longer. He explains why:
“My discharge papers from the Navy and transfer papers from the Army to the Navy have been destroyed. They had become worn and torn by being carried in my pocket and one day my children got them and destroyed them. I did not know this until afterwards, to late to save them.”