Leaving his home on the Illinois prairie, Giles Shurtleff attended Oberlin College just prior to the Civil War. President Lincoln's call for troops after the firing on Fort Sumter in 1861 led to a great fervor of patriotism in Oberlin. Giles was elected Captain of Company C of the 7thOhio Volunteer Infantry. He wrote this about army life: "No other experience could equal it as a school for the study of human nature" both at its worst and at its best.
Most of his soldiers realized they were liable to be sick, wounded or killed, but never thought about being captured. In August of 1861 Capt. Shurtleff and 35 others were taken prisoner at the Battle of Cross Lanes, VA. Giles was kept prisoner in the South, in places such as Libby Prison, under deplorable conditions over a period of a year. During that time, he personally experienced what it does to the human soul to be robbed of dignity.
After a year, Giles was released in a prisoner exchange and was then recruited to raise a regiment of "colored troops." His goal for them was to disprove the rampant rumor that former slaves and free African Americans would make poor soldiers. At the Battle of New Market Heights, in which Giles was wounded, his regiment proved worthy. Four of the men from his regiment were amongst the twenty "colored soldiers" who received the Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry during the Civil War. At the end of the war, Giles was breveted out of the military as a Brigadier General.
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