Mister William Watson

Fifth Iowa Volunteer Cavalry

Not every member of the Fifth Iowa Cavalry entered the regimental family through the normal "enlistment" process. Like most Union regiments, the Fifth was the beneficiary of a number of former slaves who "signed on" to provide important support duties for the regiment and its individual companies and messes (groups of troopers who shared tents and meals). These liberated slaves were called "contraband" by the military, and their contribution to the war effort was welcome, whether it came in the form of enlistment in "United States Colored Troops" regiments or in a civilian capacity.

Unfortunately, formal records related to civilian service as part of various regiments were never maintained. Therefore, the proud civil war service of thousands of African-American soldiers has gone unnoted. We do not know how many of these men (and women) assisted the troopers of the Fifth Iowa Cavalry in their efforts to restore the Union. However, through the following entry in the 1905 publication Souvenir of Williamson County [Illinois], we are privileged to learn the name of at least one of the Fifth's contraband warriors. The material below is not a direct quote (we do not have access to the text), but is a paraphrase of his biographical entry.

Watson, William - Mechanic

William Watson was a former slave. According to William, he was born 16 May 1820 near Salina Junction, Tennessee. According to his neighbors he was about 100 years old in 1904. His father is unknown but his mother died in 1892 in Guthrie, Kentucky at the age of 110. His former master was Samuel Watson of Massachusetts, he owned land on the Cumberland River in Tennessee. During the Civil War he joined the Fifth Iowa Cavalry repairing wagons. After the war he lived in Nashville, Tennessee until 1866 when he moved to Johnsville, Tennessee. He finally arrived in Marion, Illinois in 1882. He was married a first time while a slave and this lady died during the Civil War. He married a second time to Charlotte Walker on 16 May 1870, she was a former slave from Texas.

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