Niles own Julius Caesar gets proper burial

Published 9:49 pm Wednesday, August 22, 2007

By By Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery
The man, who was a plasterer by trade, could not afford his own headstone. His family was needy and unable to defray the expenses of burial.
However, a proper burial was owed to Julius Caesar. Henry C. Beswick, county agent at the time of Caesar's death in 1907, determined that Mr. Caesar had indeed "served the full term of his enlistment in the Eighth Regiment of U.S. colored troops," according to a report of his death in The Niles Daily Star of the day.
According to the history of the Eighth United States Colored Infantry (USCI) Regiment, the company was formed at Camp William Penn near Philadelphia, Pa. from September to December 1863. During the Civil War, Camp William Penn produced 11 regiments of United States Colored Infantry – more than any other single camp.
The Eighth USCI was made up of free black men from Pennsylvania and other northern States and runaway slaves from several border states. In late 1864, the Eighth was assigned to the newly formed 25th Army Corps, Army of the James. The 25th Army Corps was the first and only all Black Army Corps.
Through the troop's service to this country, four officers and 115 enlisted men were killed or mortally wounded and 132 enlisted men died by disease. By the end of the Civil War, the Eighth USCI numbered third among all Black Regiments in terms of combat losses.
Caesar's survival of the war is not a surprise. He had already survived much.
Born in Clark County, Va., in 1817, he was sold as a slave and taken to Paris, Ky., where he was raised.
After enlisting in the war, he was present at the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, Va.
Caesar escaped Paris via the Underground Railway route to the free states and took up residence in Niles. Here he practiced both plastering and broom-making to support his family.
He was active with the Grand Army Post in Berrien Center and attended Second Baptist Church on Ferry Street. At the time of his death, the whereabouts of his son Charles was unknown, however two daughters, Mrs. Etta Gault and Miss Cora Caesar, were still residing in Niles. His wife had died in 1904.
He was 84 years old, drawing a pension of $12 a month and had made application under a new pension law, which came into effect Feb. 10, 1907. His next check, due at the time of his death, would have been in the amount of $20, the rating for all pensioners who had reached the age of 80 years.
Due to Caesar's record of service to his country, Beswick ordered that the county pay the $40 for his burial and the war department was to furnish a $12 headstone "12 inches in width and four inches in thickness, to extend three feet above ground and made of gray marble, marked with the date of birth, date of death, the name of regiment of which he was a member, age, etc.," the news reported.
The funeral service was described as "impressive." Its description continued: "The Woman's Relief Corps and members of Frank Graves' Post G.A.R., attended, besides a large concourse of sorrowing friends.
The Relief Corps furnished a beautiful floral wreath and other flowers were in evidence.
Julius Caesar may have been born into slavery, but he died a free man, rich in respect. A final note to the reports of death said:
"Those who knew Julius Caesar esteemed him highly. He was excellent citizen and a Christian gentleman. He did all in his power to make his surroundings pleasant and those about him happy. Always bright, happy and cheerful, he carried sunshine with him wherever he went. Peace to his ashes!"
The Friends of Silverbrook have cleaned the stone of this esteemed Niles resident and are determined he will get his proper recognition with the flag awarded all veterans who rest within the cemetery. They are proud to make Caesar's story known.
If you are interested in joining their efforts in caring for local history and the legacies left within the borders of Silverbrook Cemetery, contact: Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery c/o 508 E. Main St. Niles MI 49120, Tim and Candace Skalla at 684-2455, or contact Ginny Tyler at 684-3687,