ALLENTOWN – An open space parcel that was recently purchased by the borough has been named the Sgt. George Ashby Memorial Park. The open space tract is known as the Wilbert property.
Municipal officials named the memorial park in honor of Ashby by passing a resolution at the Borough Council meeting on June 27. The resolution was passed by council President Wil Borkowski, Councilwoman Angela Anthony, Councilman Rob Schmitt and Councilwoman Johnna Stinemire.
According to the website findagrave.com, Ashby died at his home in Allentown on April 26, 1946 at the age of 102. At the time of his death he was the last remaining New Jersey Civil War veteran.
Ashby is buried in the African Methodist Episcopal cemetery on Hamilton Avenue adjacent to the Wilbert property.
Municipal officials said there are other African-American soldiers who served in the Civil War from Allentown who are also buried in the AME cemetery.
Ashby was born in Virginia in 1844 and was farming in Crosswicks, near Allentown, when he accepted a $100 enlistment bonus to join the Union Army during the Civil War.
In August 1864 he was mustered in as a private in the 22nd United States Colored Troops, but soon after he was assigned to fight in the 45th United States Colored Troops, according to the website.
Ashby’s regiment was assigned to the Union’s Army of the James and placed in the all-African American XXV Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Godfrey Weitzel.
As part of the operations around Petersburg, Va., Ashby’s regiment fought in the battles of Chapin’s Farm, New Market Heights, Darby Town, Fair Oaks and Hatcher’s Run, according to the website.
After the Confederate lines were broken in April 1865, Ashby’s regiment took part in the final pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia that ended with Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Va., according to the website.
While many Union soldiers went home after the war, the men of the XXV Corps were dispatched to Texas along the Mexican border as a show of force to intimidate Emperor Maximilian from encroaching into American territory, according to the website.
In Texas, Ashby was promoted to 1st Sergeant of Company H, 45th United States Colored Troops on Aug. 15, 1865. He was still serving in Texas when he received his discharge in November 1865.
Ashby returned to New Jersey, married and settled in Allentown, becoming the father of nine children. One of his grandchildren, Harold James Ashby, served as deputy attorney general for New Jersey in the 1950s.
Allentown’s Historic Preservation Review Commission and the Board of Recreation Commissioners each recommended that the Wilbert property be known as the Sgt. George Ashby Memorial Park.
The borough’s Recreation, Parks and Public Events standing committee agreed with those recommendations “in keeping with the tradition of honoring those in our community who have served their country and to recognize the struggles of those in our community who have fought for civil rights,” according to the resolution.