As Memorial Day 2021 approaches, for the first time in many decades—perhaps for the first time ever—flags will mark the gravestones of African American veterans who were buried at Halfway, Maryland. This historic cemetery just outside Hagerstown was neglected for many years and almost lost. Now being slowly restored by local residents and archaeologists from Hood College, the Halfway cemetery is the final resting place of hundreds of people, most of them from Hagerstown’s historic Jonathan Street community.
At least eleven men buried at Halfway were U.S. military veterans, but only three veterans’ headstones are currently visible in the cemetery. This is because some veterans were buried there without grave markers, and other soldiers’ markers have been lost over the years. As the cemetery is restored in the future, we hope to mark more of the graves.
Below, as a small memorial, are very brief biographical sketches of the veterans we know were buried at Halfway. Most of them served in the Civil War, in the United States Colored Infantry (USCI). After the Civil War many of those men belonged to the Lyon Post (that is, the local African American branch) of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the national fraternal organization for Union veterans. Several of them also belonged to the Order of Good Samaritans and Daughters of Samaria, which purchased Halfway Cemetery in 1897 and ran it for many years.
William Bell: Born somewhere in Maryland in 1846, Bell enlisted in Compny H of the 11th US Colored Heavy Artillery in Providence, RI, in November, 1863. Was he in New England because he had escaped from slavery? His war records state that he was free at the outbreak of the war. After mustering out of the army in Louisiana in October, 1865, he came to live first in Funkstown and then at 442 North Jonathan Street, Hagerstown. A member of Ebenezer A.M.E. Church and the Good Samaritans, he died on April 18, 1902.
Benjamin F. Brooks: Born free in Frederick County, MD, Brooks enlisted in Baltimore in February 1865. Serving in the 38th USCI, he was promoted to corporal and then, in 1866, to sergeant. He mustered out in Texas and returned to Maryland, where he bought property on North Street in Hagerstown. He was an officer of the Lyon Post. He died on August 15, 1909.
Henry W. Dorsey: Born in Williamsport in 1842, Dorsey was a free man and a stonemason before the war, as well as a musician. After joining the army as a recruit in Baltimore in August 1863, he served in Company D and the regimental band of the 4th USCI. He was wounded at the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm on September 29, 1864; mustered out in May, 1866; and later received an invalid pension. In Hagerstown, after the war, he operated a restaurant, owned property on the north side of West Bethel Street, and was an officer of the Lyon Post. He died on February 27, 1905. Although there is no marker for Henry Dorsey, his wife Mary Jane’s headstone was uncovered at Halfway in the spring of 2021.
John W. Dorsey: This soldier’s headstone was uncovered in a rubble pile at the cemetery in March of 2021. The military headstone specifies his regiment (24th USCT) and company (F), but this information doesn’t line up exactly with existing military records, which show him in Company D. Assuming this is the same man, he was a Hagerstown native who enlisted in Harrisburg, PA, in February, 1865. He mustered out near Richmond in October of the same year. He seems to have died in 1886 or earlier. I’ve found little information about his background or post-war life in Hagerstown (partly because his was such a common name), but I hope to be able to tell his story more fully in the future.
Jacob Harris was born in the early 1840s in Maryland. I haven’t been able to trace his military career, but after the war he was active in the Lyon Post (serving as an officer), which indicates he was a veteran. In 1897, when the Good Samaritans purchased Halfway Cemetery, he was an officer of the Samaritans and attended the cemetery dedication. A resident of Hagerstown, he worked for 24 years as a driver for T.B. Cushwa. Harris died on May 31, 1904, at his home at 40 West Bethel Street.
Oliver Hicks: Born in Washington, DC, Hicks was said to have served in Company I of the 1st USCI. After the war, he lived in Williamsport and then in Hagerstown. He was active in the Lyon Post and served as an officer. In his later decades he lived with his daughter at 25 West Bethel Street, where he died on April 20, 1932. He was one of Hagerstown’s last surviving Civil War veterans, as well as one of the last people known to have been buried at Halfway.
James C. House’s background and military record are uncertain, though he may have been born in Virginia and enlisted there in the 117th USCT during the final month of the Civil War. After the war he worked as a barber in Hagerstown. He belonged to the Lyon Post, the Masons (among whom he was highly regarded), and the Knight Templars of Quesne, PA. He lived on North Jonathan Street, where he died at home on May 24, 1900. Lyon Post members served as pallbearers at his funeral.
Perry Moxley and his two brothers formed the locally well-known “Moxley’s Band” with other men of color before the Civil War. A dozen of them were recruited together in Hagerstown in August, 1863, as the First Brigade Band. They played at recruitment functions and also saw active duty in Virginia. After mustering out in Texas in April, 1866, most of them returned to Hagerstown. Perry Moxley, who was 32 years old when he enlisted, was a Samaritan and a trustee of the Halfway cemetery, was active in the Lyon Post, and served for a time as the Post’s commander. You can read more about the Moxleys and their connection to Halfway here. Perry Moxley’s elaborate headstone is one of the stones we uncovered in March 2021 so that it could be fully legible.
Irvin Sullivan: Born Irvin Gray in Hagerstown in 1894, Irvin took the surname Sullivan from his stepfather. During the First World War, he enlisted in June, 1918; trained at Camp Meade near Washington, DC; and served with the 371st Infantry in France from August 1918 to November 1919. After returning to Hagerstown, Sullivan worked as a waiter and a barber. In a sad blow to his family, both he and his stepfather died of the same illness on August 11, 1927. They share a headstone, which survives at Halfway. For Sullivan’s full story, click here.
Oliver Thomas: Born in Washington County, Thomas was drafted and enrolled in Company D of the 6th USCI at Frederick in October, 1864. He mustered out at Wilmington, NC, in September, 1865. After the war he lived in Williamsport for a few decades; later he moved to Hagerstown and lived on West Antietam Street. On Dec. 13, 1902, Thomas was working as a driver in Harrisburg, PA, for the Central Iron and Steel Company, when a train struck the cart he was driving and killed him.
James Edemy, who also went by the name Rodney Edemy, was born in Washington County. Drafted in Frederick in May 1864, he joined the 19th USCI in Baltimore and served in Company K. He was wounded in the hand in a charge at Petersburg that summer, and had to have three fingers amputated. Discharged from a military hospital nearly a year later, he returned to Washington County and lived near Weverton for several decades. Later he moved to Hagerstown, where he died at home on Bloom’s Avenue on May 28, 1905. Edemy’s burial record was discovered a day after this post was first published—a reminder that our work to recognize the dead of Halfway continues.
Preserving the Halfway Cemetery:
Today the Halfway African American Cemetery is less than an acre in size and cannot be seen or accessed from any street. (It is entirely surrounded by private property.) You can read more about the cemetery in this blog post and in this Hagerstown Magazine article. The Friends of Halfway MD African American Cemetery have a Facebook group with frequent updates. If you’re interested in helping, please message the Facebook group to be put on the email list. The Friends are hoping to hold additional volunteer cleanup days in 2021 as pandemic conditions allow. We’re also planning to do archaeological surveying and remote sensing (such as ground-penetrating radar) in the fall of 2021.
 Service record on Fold3.com; 1890 Veteran’s Census, Washington County; Hagerstown Mail, 24 May 1895, and 25 April 1902.
 Service record on Fold3.com; 1890 Veterans Census, Washington County; Hagerstown Mail, 29 Jan. 1886; Hagerstown Morning Herald, 8 Dec. 1900; Washington County, Maryland, Cemetery Records, vol. vi, p. 4.
 Service summary on Fold3.com; Hagerstown Morning Herald, 8 Dec. 1900; Hagerstown Herald and Torch Light, 9 Mar. 1905; death certificate, online at Maryland State Archives. For the 4th USCI and its band, see Edward G. Longacre, A Regiment of Slaves: The 4th United States Colored Infantry, 1863-1866 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003).
 Service records for John W. Dawson/Dorson, Co. D, 24th USCT (Fold3.com); Pension Application Index Card, John W. Dorsey alias Dawson, NARA (Ancestry.com); U.S. Records of Headstones of Deceased Union Veterans, 1879-1903 (FamilySearch.org).
 U.S. Census, 1900, Washington County; Hagerstown Herald & Torch Light, 26 Aug. 1897, and 13 Dec. 1900; Hagerstown Morning Herald, 3 June 1904.
 U.S. Census, 1880-1932, Washington County; Hagerstown Morning Herald, 8 Dec. 1900, and 21 April 1932. I have not been able to locate his service record.
 Hagerstown Mail, 30 March 1900.
 Perry Moxley USCT widow’s pension file, NARA, online at Maryland State Archives; Washington County, Maryland, Cemetery Records, vol. vi, p. 4; Hagerstown Daily Herald & Torch Light, 14 Dec. 1892.
 My thanks to Anne Bryant for most of the information about Oliver Thomas. Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database, NPS.gov; service record for “Oliver Thompson” on Fold3.com; U.S. Census 1870-1900, Washington County (where he is listed as Oliver Thompson in 1880), and 1900, Harrisburg, PA; Hagerstown Daily Mail, 13 Dec. 1902.
 Service record (Fold3.com); death certificate, online at Maryland State Archives; U.S. Census, 1870 and 1900, Washington County, and 1890 Veterans Schedule.
Edited May 24, 2021, to add James Edemy.