From Slave to Soldier

Another rare find in a Civil War pension file at the National Archives. This photograph of Henry Johnson of the 23rd US Colored Troops was found inside his pension file. Henry was a former slave who fought for the Union army. His photo was included in his file because the special examiners needed to verify that he actually fought in the Civil War by showing his picture to the men that he had formerly served with.

His pension file was over 550 pages (the largest one I’ve seen to date), full of depositions from his family, friends, and former soldiers. In it, he gives the names both of his parents and his brother, along with the names of his former slave owners. He tells where he was born and the place where he was enslaved– incredibly valuable information for a former slave to have documented. To find a photo of him on top of that is almost unheard of.