Fleetwood Biography

FLEETWOOD, CHRISTIAN ABRAHAM (1840-1914), editor, army officer, bureaucrat, and musician. Born in Baltimore on July 21, 1840, the son of Charles and Anna Maria Fleetwood, both free persons of color, he received his early education in the home of a wealthy sugar merchant, John C. Brunes and his wife, the latter treating him like her son. He continued his education in the office of the secretary of the Maryland Colonization Society, went briefly to Liberia and Sierra Leone, and graduated in 1860 from Ashmun Institute (later Lincoln University) in Pennsylvania. He and others published briefly the Lyceum Observer in Baltimore, said to be the first Negro newspaper in the upper South. When the Civil War disrupted trade with Liberia, he enlisted in the Union Army (Aug. 17, 1863). Honorably discharged on May 4, 1866, he worked as a bookkeeper in Columbus, Ohio, until 1867, and in several minor government positions, in the Freedmen's Bank and War Departrnent, Washington, D.C. He organized a battalion of D.C. National Guards and the high school cadet corps in the 1880s.

He died Suddenly of heart failure in Washington on Sept. 28, 1914. Funeral services were held at St. Luke's Episcopal Church. Interment was in Harmonv Ceme- tery, Washington, D.C., the First Separate Battalion of D.C. National Guards serving as escort. Among the honorary pallbearers were such prominent Washingtonians as Maj. Arthur Brooks, Daniel Murray, Whitefield McKinlay, and Judge Robert H. Terrell.

The participation by the National Guard, and by Arthur Brooks in particular, was an appropriate recognition of the most significant aspects of Fleetwood's career. Enlisting as a sergeant in Company G, 4th Regiment, U.S. Colored Volunteer Infantry, on Aug, 11, 1863, he was promoted on Aug. 19 to sergeant major. The regiment, assigned to the 3rd Division, saw service with the 10th, 18th, and 25th Army Corps in campaigns in North Carolina and Virginia. For heroism in the critical battle of Chaffin's Farm on the outskirts of Richmond (Sept, 29, 1864) he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Although every officer of the regiment sent a petition for him to be commissioned an officer, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton did not recommend appointment.

It was his military career that probably inspired Fleetwood's interest in the Washington colored National Guard and the colored high school cadet corps. A Washington cadet corps, organized and commanded by Capt. D. Graham on June 12, 1880, was expanded into the Sixth Battalion of D.C. National Guards on July 18, 1887, with Fleetwood appointed major and commanding officer. After reorganizations, several Negro battalions were consolidated into the First Separate Battalion in 1891. Passed over as its commanding officer, Fleetwood resigned in 1892. Meanwhile he and Maj. Charles B. Fisher, who had commanded the Fifth Battalion, were instrumental in organizing the Colored High School Cadet Corps of the District of Columbia in 1888. Military science instruction was first offered in the Miner Building, 17th and Church Streets NW, but because of inadequate facilities the cadets drilled at the O Street Armory of the Washington Cadet Corps. Fleetwood, the first instructor of the colored high school cadets, served until 1897, when he was succeeded by Maj. Arthur Brooks. These two officers developed a tradition of military service among young colored men in Washington which led some of them to enlist in World War I and others to be commissioned at the Colored Officers Training Camp in Fort Des Moines, Iowa.

Fleetwood never returned to active duty with any military organization. However, many residents of the District of Columbia recommended that he be appointed as the Commander of the 50th U.S. Colored Volunteer Infantry during the Spanish-American War. This request was not seriously considered by the War Department, and the participation of colored soldiers from the District of Columbia was similarly disregarded. It is not known whether Fleetwood's short stature and physical ailments reduced his chances for consideration. His army records state that he was five feet, four and one half inches tall. These records also state that he applied in 1891 for a pension because of "total" deafness in his left ear, the result of "gunshot concussion," and "severe" in his right ear, the result of catarrh contracted while in the army. His application also stated that these ailments prevented him froim speaking or singing in public. Other evidence shows that for a number of years he had served as choirmaster of the 15th Street Presbyterian Church, St. Luke's and St. Mary's Protestant Episcopal Churches, as well as the Berean Baptist Church. Supported by the community, including the wives of former presidents (Lucy Webb Hayes and Francis Folsom Cleveland), his musical presentations were extremely successful.

With his wife Sara Iredell, whom he married on Nov. 16, 1869), he led an active social life. Fleetwood was acquainted with most of the prominent Negroes of the period. They frequently visited his residence, and presented him with a testimonial in 1889.

Most references containing material on the career of Fleetwood are in the Fleetwood Papers of the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Information concerning his military and militia activities are located in microfilm publication number 929; Documents Relating to the Military and Naval Service of Blacks Awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor from the Civil War to the Spanish-American War in the National Archives, Washington, D.C., and the Records of the Adjutant-General's Office, District of Columbia National Guard, respectively. For contemporary accounts of his activities, see the Washington, D.C., newspapers, especially the Bee and the Evening Star. His speech "The Negro as a Soldier" was published as a pamphlet (1895), and in Alice Dunbar-Nelson (ed,), Masterpieces of Negro Eloquence (1914).

-CHARLES JOHNSON,
JR.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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