CHESAPEAKE, Va. – The Unknown and Known Afro-Union Civil War Soldiers Memorialat 1001 Bells Mill Road in Chesapeake honors the legacy of Afro-Union Civil War patriot heroes.
“The war could not have been won without the inclusion of Afro-Union Civil War patriot heroes,” historian and author Dr. Curtis Alexander said.
The memorial is the final resting place of Dr. Alexander’s great-grandfather, Sgt. March Corprew. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1863 at Fortress Monroe as a member of Company L, 2nd United States Colored Troops Cavalry Regiment.
Earlier that same year, President Abraham Lincoln, fearing the Union would lose to the Confederacy, created the Bureau of Colored Troops. More than 209,000 enslaved Africans and free people of color volunteered their lives to save the United States and defeat slavery.
“They had to fight for the right, to fight for the right, to die to defeat slavery and to save the United States of America,” Dr. Alexander said.
Following the Civil War’s end in 1865, Sgt. Corprew purchased 200 acres of land in Chesapeake, formerly Norfolk County, in 1872 with money he earned as a farmer. The land became the cornerstone of the Bells Mill Community and includes the Unknown and Known Afro-Union Civil War Soldiers Memorial.
“[They fought] for the continuation for the American idea,” Dr. Alexander said of his great-grandfather and his fellow Afro-Union soldiers and Sailors.
Dr. Alexander, along with other descendants of Afro-Union Civil War soldiers and Sailors, began expanding his great-grandfather’s grave site in 2005 to honor other Afro-Union soldiers and Sailors from our region. Thirteen of them are celebrated at the memorial, which has garnered local, state and national recognition for honoring these American heroes.
“[There are] generations of Americans who would not even remember what the Colored Troops did,” said Dr. Alexander.
Dr. Alexander passed down his passion to his children, including award-winning author Kwame Alexander. He wrote the renowned book “The Undefeated,” which pays tribute to the triumphs of Black people in America. The younger Alexander dedicated the book to Sgt. Corprew, his great-great-grandfather.
“This is for the unafraid. The audacious ones who carried the red, white and weary blues on the battlefield to save an imperfect Union,” writes Kwame Alexander in “The Undefeated."
“As long as there is an Alexander alive, the story goes on,” said Dr. Alexander. “Every day is a good day to keep working harder.”
Dr. Alexander hosts annual events during Memorial Day and Veterans Day at the memorial site. It is free and open to the public. You can listen to an extended interview with Dr. Alexander for the City of Chesapeake’s African American Heritage Trail Podcast.