Saturday, March 20, 2021

Lydia Walden Hardiman's Civil War #2: The Massachusetts 55th


Collection Smithsonian's African-American Museum
Pineapple Quilt by Lydia Walden Hardiman

Last week we looked at Lydia Walden Hardiman's quilt
made in the 1880s according to family. 

When the Civil War began in 1861 she was 23 years old and had been married for 5 years. Lydia and husband Alexander Hardiman farmed land in southwestern Indiana's Gibson County near the town of Princeton. Lydia's family headed by Henry and Lucretia Walden likely came to Indiana from Tennessee in the early 1840s when Lydia was a young girl. As free Black settlers they were members of a tight-knit community begun in the 1830s. 

Lydia was mother to two young children when the war began, living close to her parents, sisters and brothers.
Marker for Alexander Hardiman (1837-1898)

Lydia's husband was a Civil War soldier, a veteran of the 14th Rhode Island Colored Heavy Artillery.
The Marker reads:
Co. M."
Then perhaps
"14 U.S. C. H. A."

The first question is "What was an Indiana man doing in the Rhode Island army?" 

Henry D. Walden Co I
55 Mass. Inf.

We'll begin with Lydia's father's story. Henry Walden, born in Chatham, North Carolina, was 60 years old when the war began. As an African-American, even though free and probably a free man all his life, he was excluded from the Union Army. But once Abraham Lincoln's executive order the Emancipation Proclamation took effect on January 1, 1863 Lincoln decided to open the Union Armies to African-American men.

Troops were segregated by race (that went on into the 1940s) and officers were white. The best-known of these Colored Troops is the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry whose story was told in the 1989 movie Glory

Massachusetts recruited Black men all over the Union with a very effective campaign in early 1863. Henry Walden age 62 responded by heading for Readville near Boston, Massachusetts and Camp Meigs.

By the time Henry arrived the 54th was full so a 55th regiment was formed and
they accepted him. (If you've seen Glory you know he was lucky to
be in the 55th and not the 54th.)

People back in Lyles Station, Indiana must have been proud of Henry. His son-in-law Alex Hardiman followed his lead a few months later, enlisting in the 14th Rhode Island Colored Heavy Artillery at the end of 1863.

Henry's Massachusetts regiment went to Florida and then to the occupied Sea Islands near Charleston, South Carolina where they spent much of 1864, waiting to take the philosophical capitol of the Confederacy. The C.S.A. abandoned the city in February, 1865 and the 55th marched into Charleston to the delight of the black population who welcomed Yankees of their own color. Henry was likely one of the liberators of Charleston, pictured in Harper's Weekly in March, 1865.

In his history of the 55th Charles Bernard Fox recalled the day. 
"The only restriction placed on them in passing through the city would be to keep in the ranks, and that they might shout and sing as they chose....the streets...were crowded with the colored population. Cheers, blessings, prayers and songs were heard on every side. Men and women crowded to shake hands...The white population remained within their houses, but curiosity led even them to peep through the blinds at the 'black Yankees.' 

"Little disorder occurred. Some pigs, geese, and chickens came to untimely ends...some of the white inhabitants complained that the colored troops insulted them which, when it is considered that they thought it an insult for a black man to address them without first removing his hat, was also to be expected."

Charleston in 1865

Henry must have had compelling stories to tell the rest of his life. He lived to be about 83.

Alex Hardiman's Rhode Island regiment went to the Gulf of Mexico spending time in Texas and occupying Plaquemine, Louisiana to defend Union-held New Orleans. Their duty was less dramatic. An officer described the dangers as they built a fort:

"Though not comparing with the arduousness of field service, our duties were by no means slight. It must be remembered that we were in a semi-tropical country, where to an unacclimated person the climate was itself almost a deadly foe. The extreme heat produced a lethargy that was depressing in the extreme. In a few days of dry weather, the surface of the ground would be baked like a brick. Then would come most violent storms, converting the soil into a quagmire and covering it with water like a lake."

Alfred Waud's painting "Mustered Out," showing troops
 returning to Little Rock, engraved for
  Harper's Weekly in 1866.
Library of Congress

The real enemy there was disease but Alex survived, remaining in Louisiana in the first months of Reconstruction and returning to Rhode Island where he was mustered out in October. He came home to Lydia and three children; baby Paul had been born while he was gone.

The lives of Lydia and her mother Lucy while their husbands were fighting are not so easy to cipher out. Their husbands may have been motivated by the enlistment bonus as well as a desire to fight for slavery's end. Did the men receive a $100 bonus for enlisting? Did their pay go home to support their families while they were fighting?

With no paper trail we are left without answers. The next link to the families is Alex's pension records. He began to receive his war pension in May, 1887 and after his death Lydia got a widow's pension.

See Lydia Hardiman's grave here:

And read about a spectacular quilt taken somewhere in South Carolina by one of the 55th Massachusetts's white officers Captain William H. Torrey from Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Quilt historian Xenia Cord has also done a good deal of research into Indiana's African-American history. See her article "Black rural settlements in Indiana before 1860" in Indiana’s African-American Heritage, edited by Wilma L. Gibbs and published by the Indiana Historical Society in 1993.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting. This is one of my husband's relatives.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing! Lydia and Alexander are my 4th great grandparents. The only correction I see is Lydia had a brother named Henry Dossett Walden who is often confused with their father Henry Walden. It was the son Henry D Walden who served in the 55th. I believe all of Lydia’s brothers served.

Thank you again for the amazing post and research.

Marvin-Alonzo Greer

Anonymous said...

Yes. Lydia is also my Gr-gr-grandmother. It was such a joy to see this quilt when I visited the NMAAHC.