Eighty-eight African Americans from Mercersburg volunteered to defend the Union during the Civil War. At least 36 of those veterans lie in Mercersburg Zion Union Cemetery, established in 1876 by local Black citizens.
By 1850 Mercersburg had 26 freedman households. Many former slaves worked in skilled trades as carpenters, carriage builders, blacksmiths, and quarrymen. A smaller squatter community west of town was known as Africa. An active Underground Railroad functioned throughout the area, and Africa, a few miles north of the Mason-Dixon Line, was a haven for freedmen and escaped slaves.
In 1863, when African Americans were given the opportunity to join the Union Army, many men from both communities answered the call. Forty-four Blacks from the Mercersburg area enlisted in either the 54th or 55th Massachusetts Infantry. Forty-four others joined various United States Colored Troops (USCT) units.Veterans known to be buried in Zion Union Cemetery represent the following Pennsylvania USCT regiments: 8th, 22nd, 24th, 25th, 32nd, 41st, and 127th. Additionally, the 54th Massachusetts, 55th Massachusetts, and the 2nd U.S. Colored Cavalry are included. The twelve soldiers from the 54th Massachusetts interred here, constitutes one of the largest known groups from that unit buried in a private cemetery.
54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Recruitment Poster; Courtesy of the Army Heritage and Education Center.
Photograph of Thomas McCullough buried in Zion Union Cemetery. Courtesy of Betty Stenger.