20 Apr 2015


Lost Capitol Hill: Benjamin Drummond

tn bdI had the honor of leading a tour of Capitol Hill yesterday, focusing on the African American experience during the Civil War here. It gave me the opportunity to research a lot of different people and places that I previously had only known a little about. Today, I want to look at the man whose name graced the Emancipation Day Celebrations at the Hill Center over the last five days: Benjamin Drummond.

While the Army did not begin officially accepting African American soldiers until 1863, and was not properly integrated until 1948, the Navy was far more open in this regard. One of those who enlisted early on in the war was Benjamin Drummond. Born in New York, he grew up in Massachusetts and it was from there that he joined the Navy in 1861.

The following year, after having served on a number of other ships, Drummond was assigned to the USS Morning Light, an eight-gun ship built in Philadelphia. The ship was mainly detailed to the Gulf o of Mexico, and Drummond participated in the blockade of numerous ports, as well as the destruction of salt works in Texas.

In January, 1863, the ship was sent to Sabine Pass, the outlet of the Sabine Lake into the Gulf of Mexico, on the border between Texas and Louisiana. Two lightly armored Confederate ships steam ships – so-called “cotton-clads” – attacked, destroying the Morning Light and capturing its fellow ship, the USS Velocity, as well as all the sailors on both ships.

Drummond was injured in the legs during this attack and found himself in Confederate captivity. He managed to escape after seven months, making his way onto a boat that was intercepted by the USS Katahdin, which had been sent to the area to reinforce the blockade. Drummond was brought to New Orleans and a hospital there.

A little over a year later, Drummond re-enlisted in the Navy, and served out the rest of the war. He remained in the Navy thereafter, but September 1866, while working at the Washington Navy Yard, one of the wounds he had received during the capture of the Morning Light reopened, and on October 1, he was admitted into the brand-new Naval Hospital – the first patient to be thus received.

Hospital ticket filled out when Drummond was admitted to the Naval Hospital on October 1, 1866. (hillcenterdc.org)

Hospital ticket filled out when Drummond was admitted to the Naval Hospital on October 1, 1866. (oldnavalhospital.org)

Drummond’s wound remained stubbornly open and he was finally discharged from the Navy and the hospital on March 23, 1868, having been given a 50% disability. This was enough for him to apply for and receive a pension four years later, though Drummond continued to work – the $4 the government gave him as a pension was clearly not enough to live on.

Drummond died in New York City 12 years later, though not apparently from his wound: the cause of death on his death certificate indicates that it was an inflammation of his kidneys that did him in. He left behind his wife of 20 years, Laura Berkely Drummond, and a son, Benjamin W. Drummond.

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