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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Ode to a colored soldier whose name I bear


Military service to this country has been a tradition on both sides of my family. My dad was a Tuskegee Airman in WWII.  His white forebears fought in the Civil War on the side of the Union, in the Mexican War and the War of Independence. But I am named for my mom’s great uncle, who childless at the time of his death left his land in the hills of Loudoun county VA to the women of my family, and it is passed down to the oldest daughter to maintain.

His name was Dennis Weaver, he was a slave who ran off to fight for the Union as “a colored soldier” and in his honor I was named Denise. My grandfather was named Dennis for him as well.  

Dennis Weaver served in Company D, 1st Regiment, USCT (United States Colored Troops). He joined at age 19.  

According to the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors website run by the National Parks Service:

1st Regiment, United States Colored Infantry

Organized in the District of Columbia May 19 to June 30, 1863. Ordered to Dept. of Virginia and attached to United States Forces, Norfolk and Portsmouth, Dept. of Virginia and North Carolina, July to October, 1863. United States Forces, Yorktown, Va., Dept. of Virginia and North Carolina, to April, 1864. 1st Brigade, Hincks’ Colored Division, 18th Corps, Army of the James, Dept. of Virginia and North Carolina, to June, 1864. 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 18th Corps, to December, 1864. 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 25th Corps, to December, 1864. 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 25th Corps, to March, 1865. 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 10th Corps, Dept. of North Carolina, to August, 1865. Dept. of North Carolina to muster out.

SERVICE.-Duty at Norfolk, Portsmouth and Yorktown, Va., till April, 1864. Expedition from Norfolk to South Mills, Camden Court House, etc., N. C., December 5-24, 1863. Butler’s operations south of James River and against Petersburg and Richmond, Va., May 4-June 15. Action at Wilson’s Wharf May 24. Assaults on Petersburg June 15-18. Siege of Petersburg and Richmond June 16 to December 7, 1864. Explosion of Mine, Petersburg, July 30. Demonstration on north side of the James River September 28-30. Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, New Market Heights, September 28-30. Fort Harrison September 29. Battle of Fair Oaks October 27-28. Expedition to Fort Fisher, N. C., December 7-27. 2nd Expedition to Fort Fisher, N. C., January 7-15, 1865. Assault on and capture of Fort Fisher January 15. Sugar Loaf Hill January 19. Sugar Loaf Battery February 11. Fort Anderson February 18-20. Capture of Wilmington February 22. Northeast Ferry February 22. Campaign of the Carolinas March 1-April 26. Advance on Goldsboro March 6-21. Occupation of Goldsboro March 21. Cox’s Bridge March 23-24. Advance on Raleigh April 9-13. Occupation of Raleigh April 13. Bennett’s House April 26. Surrender of Johnston and his army. Duty in thc Dept. of North Carolina till September. Mustered out September 29, 1865.

Regiment lost during service 4 Officers and 67 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 1 Officer and 113 Enlisted men by disease. Total 185.

I honor all those who died for freedom.  But my story about Dennis deals with his struggle to get a pension, after he retuned home, to the county where he was once a slave.  

I was able to obtain his pension files from NARA.  A stack of documents of over 200 pages.

His battle to get a pension involved him in legal wrangling for years.  The amount of paperwork, bureaucracy, and persistent denials he had to face was enough to discourage anyone, but he persevered and finally wound up with initially six dollars a month, later increased to twelve dollars. Dennis was luckier than many, for he could read and write.

I have documented his history in his own words, and handwriting, on my website, including the surprise information that he played a cornet in the military band.  He wrote,  “my music teacher said to me ‘Weaver I’m going to give you a piece of music to play that will either kill you or cure you”.

The pension struggle with the government  continued after Dennis died on the 27th of June in 1911.  Delia Fields Weaver, his wife had to then prove she was married to Dennis – in order to get a widows pension.  The case was closed in 1935 when a check sent to Delia was returned, for she had died.

I am luckier than most, because Dennis was mentioned in a History of Snickersville (now Bluemont). It tells the story of how Dennis obtained the land that is my legacy from him.

“On This mountain side, James Fields, a free negro, already had bought land . Now It was to become a haven for those negroes who were just becoming aware of the privilege of home ownership. One of the first to buy was Benjamin Franklin Young, who bought 17 acres from Dr. Plaster in 1871. Later that year, Dr. Plaster sold Dennis Weaver 6 acres. Dennis Weaver built a house on this mountainside, on the narrow road that bounds the Carrington house, winds past the old school, and twists up behind the breastworks of the war that brought freedom. Dennis and his wife Delia cleared the woods for lawn and garden and from This house went back and forth to the village – Dennis to help the farmers bring the scorched earth back to productivity and Delia to care for countless of the households and

children. One of these children remembers today her spankings.

Aunt Delia cared for others until about 1923, when she herself needed care. It was hard to persuade someone to live up in the woods, so Delia, in return for her services which she had agreed to render me in waiting upon me and nursing me during my last illness I willed Winifred Scott all her household and kitchen furniture and all her money, except $100 which she bequeathed to Christopher Scipio. Aunt Delia was healthier than she anticipated and by 1931 Winifred Scott felt she could no longer render those final services (probably got married) and the will was changed to name Glovia Scott as the nurse. Delia Weaver lived until 1935 and now lies buried beside Dennis, not on the mountain, but only a few miles away, looking back to the village in which they lived in slavery and the home which they built in freedom. ”

Dennis is buried in Rock Hill Cemetery in Loudoun County.  A writer for the Times-Mirror, Shannon Sollinger tells the story of the cemetery and the elderly caretaker of his grave, Vernon Peterson.

Yesterday President Obama sent a wreath to African American Civil War Memorial, to be laid at the foot of the stirring sculpture by Ed Hamilton, pictured above.

One of the most comprehensive sites on the web, documenting Civil War Colored Soldiers is hosted by Bennie McCrae.  I thank him for his help in discovering Dennis’ files.  

My Dennis was not “African-American” at the time of his birth.  He was simply property.  A negro slave.  The family took the surname Weaver, from the occupation of his grandmother, a weaver for the family who owned her.

A polite term to use for blacks was “colored”.  

And so as I write today of this young colored soldier, I am reminded of the classic poem by Paul Lawrence Dunbar:


If the muse were mine to tempt it

And my feeble voice were strong,

If my tongue were trained to measures,

I would sing a stirr
ing song.

I would sing a song heroic

Of those noble sons of Ham,

Of the gallant colored soldiers

Who fought for Uncle Sam!

In the early days you scorned them,

And with many a flip and flout

Said “These battles are the white man’s,

And the whites will fight them out.”

Up the hills you fought and faltered,

In the vales you strove and bled,

While your ears still heard the thunder

Of the foes’ advancing tread.

Then distress fell on the nation,

And the flag was drooping low;

Should the dust pollute your banner?

No! the nation shouted, No!

So when War, in savage triumph,

Spread abroad his funeral pall —

Then you called the colored soldiers,

And they answered to your call.

And like hounds unleashed and eager

For the life blood of the prey,

Spring they forth and bore them bravely

In the thickest of the fray.

And where’er the fight was hottest,

Where the bullets fastest fell,

There they pressed unblanched and fearless

At the very mouth of hell.

Ah, they rallied to the standard

To uphold it by their might;

None were stronger in the labors,

None were braver in the fight.

From the blazing breach of Wagner

To the plains of Olustee,

They were foremost in the fight

Of the battles of the free.

And at Pillow! God have mercy

On the deeds committed there,

And the souls of those poor victims

Sent to Thee without a prayer.

Let the fulness of Thy pity

O’er the hot wrought spirits sway

Of the gallant colored soldiers

Who fell fighting on that day!

Yes, the Blacks enjoy their freedom,

And they won it dearly, too;

For the life blood of their thousands

Did the southern fields bedew.

In the darkness of their bondage,

In the depths of slavery’s night,

Their muskets flashed the dawning,

And they fought their way to light.

They were comrades then and brothers.

Are they more or less to-day?

They were good to stop a bullet

And to front the fearful fray.

They were citizens and soldiers,

When rebellion raised its head;

And the traits that made them worthy,–

Ah! those virtues are not dead.

They have shared your nightly vigils,

They have shared your daily toil;

And their blood with yours commingling

Has enriched the Southern soil.

They have slept and marched and suffered

‘Neath the same dark skies as you,

They have met as fierce a foeman,

And have been as brave and true.

And their deeds shall find a record

In the registry of Fame;

For their blood has cleansed completely

Every blot of Slavery’s shame.

So all honor and all glory

To those noble sons of Ham —

The gallant colored soldiers

Who fought for Uncle Sam!  

I cannot compete with Dunbar.

Let his ode stand for all those who fought and died for freedom.

I can only simply say “thank you”.


  1. This is a well-deserved tribute to your namesake. It is a very interesting story.

    I lost an uncle during WWII. That’s not quite right. He died before I was born. He was my mother’s beloved older brother. He died near the end of the war in the European Theater. My father and one of his brothers served in the Pacific. Both came home with medals. His other brother was on convoy duty on the North Atlantic run. I don’t know whether he received a medal, but every man that sailed in those convoys deserved one.

    Like you, I have ancestors that fought in almost every war. I can trace ancestors back to the 1600’s in the New World. Strangely enough, I now find myself viewed as an outsider by some. I’m not a “real American” as defined by the Right, because I believe in equality for all and espouse liberal ideals. I wonder how that works? Am I supposed to go back where I came from?

    Thanks for posting that poem by Paul Lawrence Dunbar. I’ll have to read more of his work.

    One of my favorite poets is Langston Hughes. This poem of his is a nice complement to the Dunbar poem.

    Langston Hughes

    Will V-Day Be Me-Day Too?

    (A Negro Fighting Man’s Letter to America)

         Over There,

               World War II.

    Dear Fellow Americans,

    I write this letter

    Hoping times will be better

    When this war

    Is through.

    I’m a Tan-skinned Yank

    Driving a tank.

    I ask, WILL V-DAY


    I wear a U. S. uniform.

    I’ve done the enemy much harm,

    I’ve driven back

    The Germans and the Japs,

    From Burma to the Rhine.

    On every battle line,

    I’ve dropped defeat

    Into the Fascists’ laps.

    I am a Negro American

    Out to defend my land

    Army, Navy, Air Corps–

    I am there.

    I take munitions through,

    I fight–or stevedore, too.

    I face death the same as you do


    I’ve seen my buddy lying

    Where he fell.

    I’ve watched him dying

    I promised him that I would try

    To make our land a land

    Where his son could be a man–

    And there’d be no Jim Crow birds

    Left in our sky.

    So this is what I want to know:

    When we see Victory’s glow,

    Will you still let old Jim Crow

    Hold me back?

    When all those foreign folks who’ve waited–

    Italians, Chinese, Danes–are liberated.

    Will I still be ill-fated

    Because I’m black?

    Here in my own, my native land,

    Will the Jim Crow laws still stand?

    Will Dixie lynch me still

    When I return?

    Or will you comrades in arms

    From the factories and the farms,

    Have learned what this war

    Was fought for us to learn?

    When I take off my uniform,

    Will I be safe from harm–

    Or will you do me

    As the Germans did the Jews?

    When I’ve helped this world to save,

    Shall I still be color’s slave?

    Or will Victory change

    Your antiquated views?

    You can’t say I didn’t fight

    To smash the Fascists’ might.

    You can’t say I wasn’t with you

    in each battle.

    As a soldier, and a friend.

    When this war comes to an end,

    Will you herd me in a Jim Crow car

    Like cattle?

    Or will you stand up like a man

    At home and take your stand

    For Democracy?

    That’s all I ask of you.

    When we lay the guns away

    To celebrate

    Our Victory Day


    That’s what I want to know.


    GI Joe.  

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