Image of Union veteran, a former slave, donated to Lincoln
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[April 20, 2012]
SPRINGFIELD -- He escaped from slavery
in Abraham Lincoln's birth state of Kentucky, enlisted in the Union
Army from Illinois, was wounded in one of the most desperate battles
of the Civil War, was elected an officer in a Civil War veterans'
organization and died in 1910 as a respected farmer in northern
Illinois. And now his rare original photograph is part of the "Boys
in Blue" Collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in
The approximately 5-by-7-inch photographic cabinet card of Nathan
Hughes and his second wife, Jane, taken in Yorkville around the turn
of the century, was acquired and given to the presidential library
by the Marks and Salchi families of Chicago. The image shows a
seated Mr. Hughes proudly wearing a medal that identifies him as a
local chapter officer in the Grand Army of the Republic, the
organization formed in 1866 for Union veterans of the Civil War.
Although not in uniform in the photograph, Hughes was a member of
the 29th United States Colored Troops, Company B, the only
all-African-American regiment raised in Illinois. It is the first
original image of an identifiable 29th USCT member to become part of
the presidential library's collections.
"Until now we had no identified 'colored soldiers' in our
collection, as these original images are very rare indeed," said
Kathryn Harris, library services director. "Our 'Boys in Blue'
Illinois Civil War soldiers' exhibit talks about the
African-American soldiers and their contributions, but being able to
put a face and a name to one of them as we tell his story is very
Hughes' story began with his 1831 birth as a slave in Bourbon
County, Ky. He escaped and made his way to Illinois.
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When the Emancipation Proclamation allowed African-Americans to
take up arms for the Union cause, Hughes joined the 29th United
States Colored Troops in Chicago. The regiment saw action in several
major engagements, including "The Crater," an infamous battle in
1864 near Petersburg, Va., where Union forces tried to dislodge
Confederate defenders with buried explosives and instead created a
gaping hole in which trapped Union soldiers became easy targets.
Hughes was severely wounded in his left leg by a minie ball in that
battle; in fact, the back of his photograph bears the pencil
inscription, "WIA The Crater."
After the war, Hughes settled as a farmer in Kendall County in
northern Illinois, near Oswego, and joined the local Grand Army of
the Republic chapter in 1884, becoming an officer in the
organization. He died in 1910, a well-respected member of the
For more information about the presidential library's
collections, exhibits and events, go to
and click on "Library."
Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
file received from the