From Slavery to Union Soldier: Pleasant Whitely Escapes Slavery in Virginia to Join the Union Army 43rd USCT

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lelliott19

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"When I enlisted I gave my name as Philip Pleasant. My slave name was Pleasant Whitely. I took the name Philip from my uncle, who was named Philip Thompson. Since the war I have been known and called Pleasant Whitely."

Pleasant Whitely was born in Bedford County, Virginia, around 1845. He was a slave on the plantation of Hopkins A. Whitely. On June 18, 1864, during the Battle of Lynchburg, Pleasant Whitely made a bold decision; he ran away from the plantation where he was enslaved and joined the Union Army.
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Special Collections, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va., MSS 11820

Pleasant Whitely made his way to Boston, Massachusetts where he arranged to enter the army as substitute for O. F. Clark.
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[Fold 3, Union Records, Colored Troops, 43rd Infantry, Philip Pleasant, p. 15.]

On July 22, 1864, Whitely enlisted into the 43rd USCT as Phillip [Philip] Pleasant and was sent to join the regiment near Petersburg, Va where he arrived September 3, 1864.
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[Fold 3, Union Records, Colored Troops, 43rd Infantry, Philip Pleasant, p. 11.]

On his pension application, filed in 1911, Whitely detailed his service as follows:
"In June 1864 I ran away from my master…joined Union army, went to Charleston, W.Va., and from there to Boston, Mass., where I enlisted in Co. B, 43rd U.S.C.T. about July 22, 1864, and about Sept. 1864, went with regiment to Petersburg, Va., where command remained, until about June 1865, when went to Brownsville, Tex. by steamer. Mustered out in Texas and there by steamer to Philadelphia, Pa., where finally mustered out. Took train from New York to Philadelphia, Pa."
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[Fold 3, Union Records, Colored Troops, 43rd Infantry, Philip Pleasant, p. 12.]
After the war, Whitely returned to Lynchburg and purchased property at 407 Floyd Street.

In 1911, on his pension application, he described his health as follows:
“....My disability is such as it disables me from hard labor. It does exist all the time, slightly in the summer, and warm weather, but suffers very much in the winter, with my side, which contracted while in the service of the United States, in or about the first of March year of 1865. I have been taken medicine, internals, and treated with waring Plasters on my side. .....I suffers mightily in the winter and spring with my side. I have violent attacks at times in the winter and spring...."

Apparently his disability resulted from being struck by his Captain with a sword on or about March 1865.
"...My captain struck me with his sword and ask me what was the matter while I was on drill...”

Whitely continued to live in Lynchburg the rest of his life - until April 10, 1937, when he died of kidney disease at age 92.

He was buried in the Old City Cemetery, right there in Lynchburg, just a block from his home. Of all those buried in the Old City Cemetery at Lynchburg, Pleasant Whitely is the only one known to have escaped slavery to join the Union Army.
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https://www.gravegarden.org/phillip-pleasant-ples-whiteley-c-1848-1937/
*Portrait of Pleasant Whitely courtesy of Rosemary McDaniel via https://www.gravegarden.org/phillip-pleasant-ples-whiteley-c-1848-1937/
 
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