Civil War Living History Program Shares Story of Private Elbert of the United States Colored Troops

Elkton, Dec. 1, 2012 — On this busy Saturday in December, one crammed with plenty of special holiday events, things were hopping at the Historical Society of Cecil County as a number of activities were underway.  Our research volunteers, Darlene McCall and Beth Boulden-Moore, aided about a half-dozen patrons looking for information on auto dealerships, land records, and genealogy.

When it appeared that things were winding down for our history detectives in the library, a Civil War Soldier showed up to talk to another crowd assembled in the gallery.  It was Private James Elbert of the United States Colored Troops (USCT), and he talked about the burdens for African-American soldiers during the Civil War.  The 24-year old Polktown farmer enlisted with C Company of the 8th United States Colored Troops in September 1863. After leaving his home just outside Delaware City, he trained at Camp William Penn and fought in many battles during the conflict.

The attentive audience listening to this hour-long program felt as if they’d been transported back through time as the old soldier followed orders from his sergeant-major to carry out a mission.  His narrative included comments about the fears, the courage, and the extraordinary achievement of the soldiers.

After the performance, a group gathered around Private Elbert peppering the military man with lots of questions about his amazing tales. This outstanding dramatic portrayal was presented by Willis Phelps, Jr. It’s an excellent program and we thank Mr. Phelps for sharing a powerful performance about the USCT with the crowd. Mr. Phelps works as a historical interpreter at Fort Delaware and presents his programs in many venues including colleges and universities. Presented for the first time in Cecil County, this program is part of the Society’s annual speaker’s series.

Next month’s talk will be about the Mason Dixon Line.

Private Elbert talks to the crowd at the Historical Society. Photo by Dave Scarbrough


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