Gibbs Steps Into Role of Civil War Soldier

WHEELING-Anthony Gibbs brought the role of a black Civil War soldier to life Saturday as part of the “Step Into Stories” series at the Ohio County Public Library.

Columbus, Ohio resident Gibbs travels extensively as an artist and living history performer. He came to Wheeling through a cooperative effort of the library and the Ohio Humanities Council to tell the story of a black soldier’s participation in the Civil War from the soldier’s point of view.

On Saturday, Gibbs stepped into the roll of one of nearly 200,000 black soldiers who fought for the Union. He said their story is a unique chapter in the American conflict.

“These men were freedom fighters who fought for emancipation and for full citizenship rights,” he said.

Gibbs took the audience through a period of national unrest, beginning in 1850, over the issue of slavery. Tension mounted, then boiled over when newly-elected President Abraham Lincoln ordered southern states to abolish slavery by Dec. 31, 1862.

When they refused to comply, he freed the slaves through the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.

He talked about being among a group of black men from Cincinnati who tried to get into the 54th Massachusetts Infantry.

When that failed, they gained permission from the War Department in 1863 to form the 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, later designated at the 5th Colored Infantry.

Gibbs said the Civil War claimed more than 600,000 lives.

“That’s more than died in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam combined,” he said. “Of that total, more than 33,000 black fighters died.”

He said black solders were paid $10 per month as compared to $13 per month for white men.

“Black men distinguished themselves as brave fighters,” Gibbs said. “Four of them earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.”

Gibbs’ beautifully woven story moved from the civil unrest of 1850, through the Civil War years of 1861-65 and to passage of the U. S. Constitution’s 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery; to the 14th Amendment, granting blacks citizenship; and to the 15th Amendment, giving black men the right to vote.

Also during his presentation, Gibbs touched on how the issue of slavery divided the people of Virginia to the point of part of it breaking away to form a new state called West Virginia on June 20, 1863.

A graduate of The Ohio State University, Gibbs is founder and creative director of Black Historic Impressions, an organization dedicated to the remembrance, appreciation, and exhibition of African-American contributions throughout history.

The Step Into Stories series is presented at the library at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. each Saturday. It is designed to draw children into the world of literature through exposure to puppets, storytellers and authors.