In the early 1830s, Henry Abington, born in Henry County, Virginia in 1767, moved west to Missouri. The U.S. financial status had caused many of the old plantation owners to look west, to the new territory, the young state and its plentiful lands. He and his wife, the former Elizabeth Johnson brought their huge clan, including their sons Henry (1793-1851) and William (1794-1840). The family were large slave owners, and would fight, steal and bicker over them in the St. Charles County courts for years. They left a large amount of records that tell a story that has helped provide the U.S. 56th Colored Troops a monument in Jefferson Barracks nearly two hundred years later..
Before dying in October 1840, Henry’s oldest son William had married Francis Shelton and had two sons William and Samuel who would inherit their father’s fifteen slaves brought from Virginia. In addition to the slaves they inherited from their father, came also their share of inheritance of slaves from Grandpa Henry when he died in 1844. One of those Abington family slaves William Abbington married Louise Allen in 1866, in which those St. Charles County Colored Marriage Record Book list their son Granville Abbington. Granville is an ancestor to a George Abbington.
Granville Abbington was a member of the U.S. 56th Colored Troops (Union). In St. Louis in August of 1863, the 3rd Regiment Arkansas Volunteer Infantry was assigned to the Union Army, then dispatched to Helena, Arkanasas where it was re-organized as the 56th United States Colored Infantry, commanded by a German, Col. Carl Bentozoni. He trained the troops for combat, which they saw July 29, 1864.
The enemy were concealed in the thick timber and were within 150 yards of us before I opened on them, when they charged with a yell, but being well supported by Captain Brown, of the Sixtieth, with sixteen men, and Captain Patten, of the Fifty-sixth, with twenty-five men, and using canister rapidly and carefully, we repulsed them….During the whole fight the colored men stood up to their duty like veterans, and it was owing to their strong arms and cool heads, backed by fearless daring, alone that I was able to get away either of my guns. They marched eighteen miles at once, fought five hours, against three to one, and were as eager at the end as at the beginning for the fight. Never did men, under such circumstances, show greater pluck or daring.I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,H. T. CHAPPEL,First Lieutenant.
(Ref.Christ, Mark, “Re: Battles of Helena and Jenkins Ferry”, Arkansas in the Civil War Message Board, Posted 7/25/2006, Accessed 24 May 2015 http://www.history-sites.com/cgi-bin/bbs62x/arcwmb/arch_config.pl?md=read;id=13202)
(The unit’s connections with Napoleon Bonaparte Buford, half-brother of Union cavalry leader and Gettysburg hero John Buford, began in 1864. The unit was one of 14 that Buford commanded in Eastern Arkansas.)
The 56th Colored Regiment losses during service consisted of four officers and 21 enlisted men killed or mortally wounded; and two officers and 647 enlisted men by disease; for a total of 674 fatalities.The vast majority of the deaths due to disease occurred during a cholera epidemic that struck in August 1866. The unit was mustered out of the service on September 15, 1866, and the 56th was traveling aboard 2 steamers to be mustered out. During the trip several soldiers died of an undiagnosed illness. A surgeon inspected the men and reported no cholera among them. The men arrived in St. Louis at night and were kept onboard until the next morning, rather than being allowed to roam the town. The next morning, it was clear that the 56th Regiment had cholera. Ordered back to Quarantine Station, the unit lost 178 enlisted men and one officer in the next few weeks. Granville Abbington was one of those soldiers.
A monument to the 56th Infantry Regiment, United States Colored Troops honoring the memory of the 175 soldiers of
the 56th USCT who died of cholera was placed on Quarantine Island where the soldiers had been held. In 1939 the monument and the remains were removed from “Quarantine Station, Missouri” by authority of the War Department, to the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. From 1939 to August 2014 that obelisk marked the grave of Granville Abbington, as one of those “unknown” soldiers.
However, the St. Louis African American Genealogical Society was determined to change this, lobbying, and writing, they wanted a monument to list these brave soldiers, listing their names. The U.S. Government would grant this if they could produce proof and a descendant of one of those soldiers known to have died due to the Cholera.
Enter George Abbington, who had gone in search of his grandparents, all four of which were born into slavery and who had lived in St. Charles County. George Abbington’s search into his families past provided enough documentation that in 2014, a new and long overdue monument was placed with the names of the soldiers of the 56th upon the grave formerly marked as “unknown”. And Granville Abbington would finally receive his own memorial headstone.