The Civil War letters of Tillman Valentine

Tillman Valentine was twenty-seven years old when he enlisted with the Third US Colored Infantry on June 30, 1863. Standing five feet four inches tall, with black hair, gray eyes, and a yellow complexion, the mulatto laborer from Chester County, Pennsylvania, bade farewell to his wife of seven years, Annie, and his children, Elijah (born February 13, 1858), Clara (born February 4, 1860), and Ida (born August 11, 1861).

Tillman gave Annie “an affectionate good bye” that morning, as one longtime family friend remembered. The couple did not know it yet, but Annie was pregnant with their fourth child, Samuel, who would be born on March 3, 1864.1 Valentine’s enlistment was part of a wave of recruitment of black soldiers in Pennsylvania during the summer of 1863. Prominent public figures such as Pennsylvania’s Republican governor Andrew G. Curtin, abolitionists Lucretia Mott and Anna Dickinson, and Congressman William D. Kelley all made broad appeals to the black men of the Keystone State to enlist. On July 6, 1863, Frederick Douglass proclaimed: “Young men of Philadelphia, you are without excuse. The hour has arrived, and your place is in the Union Army. Remember that the musket—the United States musket with its bayonet of steel—is better than all mere parchment guarantees of liberty.”

Learn more in “The Civil War Letters of Tillman Valentine, Third US Colored Troops” by Jonathan W. White, Katie Fisher and Elizabeth Wall, originally appearing in the April 2015 issue of The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography.


The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (PMHB), HSP’s scholarly journal published since 1877, is one of the country’s most prestigious state historical journals. PMHB is a benefit of membership and is also available to individual and institutional subscribers in print & digital formats.

HSP’s collections document the experiences and representations of African Americans from the colonial era to the present. HSP’s archivists created a subject guide to these materials – including manuscripts, books, pamphlets, serials, prints, broadsides, other graphics, and microfilm – to help researchers navigate the collections.

Join HSP for a free workshop on March 9, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. exploring new resources available for genealogists researching African American ancestors.

Stay tuned as we share more stories throughout this year’s Black History Month.

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