Monday, February 14, 2011

Black History Month Highlight: William Tillman

"The Attack on the Second Mate." NHHC Photograph
The National and Department of Defense theme for this year's observance is "African Americans and the Civil War." In honor of this year's theme and every African American past and present in the United States Navy, we will be highlighting several African Americans who served during the American Civil War. Today, we will be highlighting civilian ship's cook William Tillman (also spelled William Tilghman).

This brief biography of William Tillman's courageous actions during the Civil War are reprinted here, courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command:

William Tilghman was serving as cook on board the American schooner S.J. Waring when she was captured by the Confederate Privateer Jefferson Davis at sea off the U.S. east coast on 7 July 1861. While she was en route to a Confederate port on 16 July, Tilghman, who as an African-American had every reason to fear for his future in Southern hands, used an axe to kill the prize crew and recapture the vessel. He then took S.J. Waring to New York City, where he received a hero's welcome. Reportedly, he later was given a six-thousand dollar award for his actions.
"Schooner 'S.J. Waring', Recaptured from the Pirates by the Negro Wm. Tillman," from Harpers Weekly 3 August 1861
The New York Tribune spoke highly of Tillman's bravery and conduct in the face of adversity:
"To this colored man was the nation indebted for the first vindication of its honor on the sea. Another public journal spoke of that achievement alone as an offset to the defeat of the Federal arms at Bull Run. Unstinted praise from all parties, even those who are usually awkward in any other vernacular than derision of the colored man, has been awarded to this colored man. At Barnum's Museum he was the center of attractive gaze to daily increasing thousands. All loyal journals joined in praise of the heroic act; and, even when the news reached England, the negro's bravery was applauded."
Please check back, as this is the first of many posts dedicated to African Americans serving in the Civil War.

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