David H. Champlin

Photograph of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment

(Other Images Below)

David Henry Champlin born in Norwich, Connecticut on April 18, 1835 to David and Emily Champlin. Not much is known about him before he fought in the Massachusetts 54th Regiment during the Civil War.  This regiment was the first in the country to be composed entirely of black soldiers.  Champlin enlisted as a substitute soldier in the 54th Regiment as a private in August of 1863.   Wealthy men who who were drafted often did not want to participate in the war, and would therefore pay a substitute, like Champlin, three hundred dollars to take their place.

During his time in military service Champlin participated in several important and bloody campaigns, mostly in the state of Florida.  In February of 1864 he and his fellow soldiers attempted to capture Jacksonville.  It was to be the largest military campaign in Florida during the Civil War.  Several black regiments were sent to participate because military leaders hoped that a major victory by these troops would encourage other African-Americans to enlist.  It was also hoped that capturing Jacksonville, a strategic shipping point for confederate goods, would hinder the flow of food supplies to the South. 

The city was captured on February 7th, and Champlin was sent with his company to move deeper into Florida.  On February 20th the Battle of Olustee took place.  It was a difficult battle in which the Union lost over 1,800 soldiers.  The 54th regiment was praised for their bravery in this and many other battles.  In March of 1864, Champlin was promoted to the rank of corporal.

The soldiers in the 54th had to struggle with the federal government in order to receive the same pay as their white counterparts, for they were initially paid significantly less.  After over a year of protest by the soldiers and officers in the regiment and the admonition of Massachusetts Governor John Albion Andrew, the government relented and paid black soldiers the same amount as white soldiers.

Champlin also had to fight in order to receive benefits provided by the town.  In August of 1863 a Town Meeting was held in Hingham and residents voted to supply $15,000 to aid the families of drafted men.  Black men were not included in the draft, because many people did not consider them citizens.  When the 54th Regiment formed, it was composed only of volunteers.  Although Champlin was substituting for a drafted man, his family was technically ineligible for town aid. Still, he requested that the town provide his family with town funds and, after a prolonged struggle, was granted his request.

After the war, Champlin presumably returned to Hingham, as he is buried in Fort Hill Cemetery with a simple stone for "Corp'l D.H. Champlin, Co. B, 54th Mass Inf."  He was married twice and the roster for the 54th Massachusetts Regiment lists his occupation as "laborer."  His date of death was not recorded on his gravestone, although it probably occurred in 1886.