Civil War Union marker for Private William Tibbs,
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Civil War Union marker for Private William Tibbs, Company B, 6th Regiment, U.S. Colored
infantry, located in Parkersburg's Spring Grove Cemetery. The 6th Regiment fought in several
crucial campaigns including Fort Fisher, North Carolina. From Edwin & Rose Seymour Family Scrapbook more on Private William Tibbs
In 1854 William Tibbs saw enough of slavery on his home plantation near West Union, Virginia, and with the Parkersburg household that bought him to work as a servant, recalls a great-granddaughter Ann Hill of Lansdowne, Penn.
So, at age 16 Tibbs escaped to freedom, probably in the Baltimore area and became a sailor before volunteering to join the 6th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry, according to his service record. Tibbs was among 189,000 African-Americans that served in the Union Army in 160 separate regimental units, said Ohio University history professor Marvin Fletcher, Their participation really made a difference in the outcome of the Civil War. The total strength of black soldiers was about 18 percent of the Union Army, he said.
The 6th Regiment was formed of about 1,000 African-American soldiers in June 1864. Tibbs volunteered in September, getting assigned to Company B. Some historians believe that after a Confederate victory at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, in April 1864, southern soldiers needlessly slaughtered African American troops that had been surrounded.
It became a rallying cry for union soldiers especially among blacks, Fletcher said. James Paradis, author of the 1998 book "Strike the blow I for freedom: The 6th United States Colored Infantry," wrote about the military campaigns regiment where William Tibbs spent a year of his life serving. "Tibbs probably participated in several battles including New Market Heights, Fort Fisher, and the siege of Petersburg, Paradis said. The New Market Heights battle near Richmond on September 29-30, 1864 resulted in a Union victory over Gen Robert E. Lee, but at high costs, he explained.
Company B had seven that were killed or died from wounds and many more injured in the battle from a total of 40 to 50 men," Paradis said. In January 1865, the 6th Regiment was among Union forces that caused the surrender of the Confederate garrison Fort Fisher and later mounted a victory at Wilmington, Delaware, closing off the South's last open seaport on the
Union soldiers achieved another triumph in April 1865 Petersburg, Virginia, in a classic match between Lt. Gen Ulysses S. Grant and Lee. The 6th Regiment and other Union troops forced the Confederates to evacuate late at night, which led to the capture of Richmond, the Confederate Capitol. Tibbs was mustered out of the army in Philadelphia in September 1865, although his service record indicates he was ill at the time.
He made a full recovery and returned to Parkersburg where he married Sophy Dabney and raised five children, Sonora, Lavernia, Laura, George and William Jr. The Tibbs family lived on a small side street near the Parkersburg Gas Company off Ninth Street, Ann Hill said. The eldest child Sonora married into the Dodd family. She was a self-taught, accomplished painter and often discussed themes and colors with her son Joseph, also an artist.
the family still has one of her small paintings, Ann said. Ann's mother Ethel Sophia was one of Sonora's six children. My mother said that William Tibbs excelled on the fiddle. No one remembers him talking much about the war, Ann said. Her mother also told the story about how difficult is was to get someone to haul William's head stone to Spring grove Cemetery.
Tibbs died in 1903 at the age of 65 and is buried at Spring Grove Cemetery in Parkersburg. Sophy would live another six years. Thomas E. Hill, great-grandson of Tibbs and grandson of
Sonora, is a past member of Ohio House of Representatives. The artistic talent skipped a few generations from Sonora through her great-grandson Edwin Seymour of Parkersburg to Edwin Jr. who graduated from the Pittsburgh Institute of Art with a computer graphics design degree.
Edwin's brother William Van Dewey Seymour graduated from West Virginia State College and now lives in Dayton. He has the original discharge papers of his great-great-grandfather
William Tibbs. The Civil War veteran's daughter Lavernia married a man named Martin and they had four children. One son, Clifford A. Martin became principal of Parkersburg's Sumner School after teaching and coaching for many years. His son Clifford graduated from Howard University and became an administrator there.
She remembers Martin as being an excellent teacher and leader of the local school for African-Americans, The school closed in 1955, one year after the Brown v. Board of Education decision.
Cynthia Buskirk did extensive research on Spring Grove Cemetery with her manuscript titled, "People of Color, Cemeteries and Short Histories, Wood County, West Virginia. Her work has interesting anecdotes from old newspapers as well as courthouse records and details from grave markers.
Buskirk believes there are perhaps dozens of black Civil War veterans from Wood County.
Currently there are four or five black Civil War veterans with military markers at Spring Grove.
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