By September, 1863 African American men were entering their ninth month of service in the United States Army. They had already shown their valor at Fort Wagner in South Carolina and Port Hudson in Louisiana as well as dozens of other battle sites from Virginia to the Indian Territory. Hundreds of them had already died in battle or in other war-related service.
On September 8, 1863, the Young Mens Literary Association together with the citizens of Chicago gathered at Bethel Church to pay respect to a former member, Sergeant Joseph Wilson, of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment of Colored Volunteers, who had lost his life in the charge on Fort Wagner, manfully fighting to uphold his countrys banner. J. Stanley delivered a tribute to Sergeant Wilson. That tribute appeared in the Christian Recorder on September 23, 1863 and is reprinted below.
THREE YEARS AGO, Joseph Wilson came among us an entire stranger, an obscure young man. At the formation of the Y.M.L. Association he became one of its first members. We found him modest and unpresuming. Wherever he was called upon to serve the Association, either as an officer or committeeman, he cheerfully assented. Feeling the want of early advantages, he ever manifested a strong desire for all useful information and instruction. The deceased, prior to the breaking-out of the rebellion, interested himself in a corps of citizen soldiery. Here the genius of the man developed itself; he excelled his companions in the healthy exercise of drilling; on this subject his mind was clear and comprehensive; in a word, he was a natural soldier.
When the Commonwealth of Massachusetts sent her agents to Illinois to recruit men for her colored regiments, Joseph Wilson was the first to enroll his name for the gallant Fifty-fourth. Need I tell you, fellow citizens, that the Fifty-fourth have won for themselves and their race imperishable honor? Need I tell you they have forever settled the question that colored men can and will fight? Yes, through God they have proved their