- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2003

The Prince George’s County Council yesterday unanimously endorsed a plea to the Army to restore honor to an Army chaplain who served with the Buffalo soldiers after the Civil War.Capt. Henry Vinton Plummer, born a slave in Prince George’s County on July 31, 1844, was the first black man appointed chaplain in the Army, but he was court-martialed and dishonorably discharged in 1894.The council resolution, approved 9-0, urges the Army Board of Review to overturn the court-martial and the Congress and the president to review and approve Plummer’s reappointment.At the request of the Committee to Clear Chaplain Plummer, council member Douglas J.J. Peters, Bowie Democrat, introduced the resolution while seven uniformed Civil War re-enactors stood nearby.Although Plummer was an officer, he was assigned to quarters with the enlisted men of the Buffalo soldiers, who were black, said Bowie City Council member William Aleshire, who obtained the information from Army muster rolls and records while preparing to write a book about the soldiers.Until his death in 1905, Plummer sought reappointment as chaplain, claiming that he had been dismissed because of “false testimony and prejudice.”The County Council resolution states: “Because of the color of his skin, he and his family were not afforded the respect and dignity despite his service as an officer, including boarding with enlisted men.” Plummer was court-martialed for “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.” Officers aren’t supposed to fraternize with noncommissioned men, Mr. Aleshire said. “But he did.”Specifically, Plummer was accused of partying with enlisted men when one of them was promoted to sergeant, furnishing liquor and drinking with them, and using “intemperate and vulgar language toward an enlisted man” in the presence of the man’s wife. The Buffalo soldiers were so-named by Indians because of their brown hair and muscular bodies. After the Civil War, they were assigned to duties west of the Mississippi to guard stage coach routes, fight rebellious Indians and help settlers. Most Buffalo soldiers had been among the 200,000 blacks who had enlisted in the Union Army. The officers of the Buffalo soldiers were white, except for Plummer. Participating yesterday in the presentation in Upper Marlboro were the Rev. Jerome L. Fowler, a descendant of Plummer’s, and Frederick Douglass IV, great-great-grandson of the famed abolitionist, who had recommended that President Chester A. Arthur appoint Plummer as Army chaplain in 1884.Mr. Aleshire quoted Douglass as saying then, “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S. Let him get an eagle on his button and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on Earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States.”Mr. Aleshire was among those dressed yesterday in full uniform with authentic 1878 saber and Colt .45 as Col. Edward Hatch, who was commissioned to establish the 9th U.S. Cavalry Regiment in 1866. It and the 8th U.S. Cavalry Regiment comprised the Buffalo Soldiers.Plummer was born a slave on the Three Sisters Plantation, most of which became the city of Bowie. He escaped from his Ellicott City owners in 1862 and served in the Navy three years during the Civil War. He married Julia Lomax and they had nine children while he studied for the ministry at Wayland Seminary in the District. After graduation, he was pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church in Bladensburg and then Mount Carmel Baptist Church in the District.As Army chaplain, he served 10 years at Fort Riley, Kan.; Fort McKinney, Wyo.; and Fort Robinson, Neb. After his dishonorable discharge, Plummer became deputy sanitary sergeant of Kansas City, Kan., held office in the Kansas State Baptist Convention and was pastor of Rosehill Baptist Church.

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