Issue 2-23-14 Website - page 11

The Other Henry Clay
by Lynne Belluscio
From records on file with
the Genesee County Historians
o f f i ce , t he f i r s t Af r i can
American Civil War veteran
listed is Henry Clay, who died
September 13, 1925 and is
buried in Machpelah Cemetery
(Section E lot 24).
From what I can find, Henry
was born February 25, 1849 as
a slave inWashington, Georgia,
near Savannah. While he was
still a teenager, he accompanied
his owner in the Confederate
Army and they were both taken
prisoner by Union troops. In
1864, he joined up with the
New York 8th Heavy Artillery,
and although he is listed as a
veteran, I suspect that because
he was black, he was never
allowed to enlist.
The 8th Heavy Artillery
was under the direction of
Col. Peter A. Porter. It was
written that Clay “went with
Captain Cook of S. Byron,
New York and worked as a
servant for the Eighth NewYork
Heavy Artillery.” I’ve checked
the roster for the 8th Heavy
Artillery and there are several
Cook names that are part of the
group that enlisted in Byron.
The only one that received the
rank of Captain was mustered
in at Lockport and was killed
during the war.
In 1923, the Eighth Heavy
Artillery held their 59th reunion
at theOdd Fellows home on Park
Place in Batavia, and Henry
Clay joined the festivities and
shared some old war stories:
“I was along as a cook with
Company I. I was only a young
duck then, about 10 or 11 years
old.” (Probably a little older if
he was born in 1849.) “Youmust
have been a nice cook at that
age,” interposed his wife with
a smile. “Oh, it wasn’t much to
be a cook in the army. I could
carry water and peel potatoes
and do things like Henry Clay’s
war experiences were with
some of the heaviest fighting.
He was with the Artillery at
Cold Harbor, Fredricksburg and
Petersburg. He was captured
by Confederate soldiers at
Gettysburg. While under
confinement, in Boonesboro,
Pennsylvania, he attempted to
crawl away and was bayoneted
in the arm.
After the war, he came north
and settled in LeRoy for a short
time, working as a farm hand.
He moved to Batavia in 1875,
and lived at 92 Main Street
with his wife. He worked as
a janitor in Batavia until his
death, September 13, 1925. His
wife, Lucy, died in 1934. The
Machpelah Cemetery records
notes that there are to be no red
flowers placed on their graves.
I cannot find a reference to this
curious notation. One thought
is that during the Civil War
and after, there were groups
of men in the South who were
known as “red shirts” and they
eventually became members of
the KKK. Perhaps the color red
was symbolic of that activity.
One other thought that
crossed my mind is that his
name, Henry Clay, would not
have been an endearing name
to slaveholders in the South, and
that more that likely he adopted
the name, after he became a
An image from the Library of Congress.
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