William H. Dupree was an African-American Ohioan who served in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment during the American Civil War. Sources disagree regarding his birth date and birthplace, with some claiming that Dupree was born in 1838 in Chillicothe, in Ross County, Ohio, with other sources contending that he was born on March 13, 1839 in Petersburg, Virginia. The sources that argue that Dupree was born in Petersburg also contend that he was born a slave.
William H. Dupree was an African-American Ohioan who served in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment during the American Civil War. Sources disagree regarding his birth date and birthplace, with some claiming that Dupree was born in 1838 in Chillicothe, in Ross County, Ohio, with other sources contending that he was born on March 13, 1839 in Petersburg, Virginia. The sources that argue that Dupree was born in Petersburg also contend that he was born a slave. These sources claim that Dupree eventually secured his freedom and moved to Chillicothe by the early 1860s. According to his enlistment papers, Dupree earned a living as a plasterer in Chillicothe. He also found employment as a messenger for the Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad. Dupree was active in his church and also was a skilled musician, playing the baritone in and managing the Ohio-Union Valley Brass Band. Dupree received an education in Chillicothe's common schools. He left school at nineteen years of age, when his father died.
With the American Civil War’s outbreak in April 1861, Dupree hoped to enlist in the Union military. The federal government prohibited African Americans from military duty until 1863, following the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation. Once the federal government began to permit African Americans to serve, black volunteers had to serve in segregated units under white officers. The State of Ohio refused to create any African American units. For this reason, 5,092 African American Ohioans joined the United States Colored Troops or enlisted in black regiments in other states, most notably in Massachusetts. Dupree, himself, enlisted as a private in Company H of the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment along with eleven other African Americans from Ross County. Dupree enlisted on June 5, 1863 and was formally mustered into service on June 22, 1863. On June 25, 1863, he became first sergeant of Company H, and due to his musical background, Dupree also eventually became manager of the 55th Massachusetts Infantry's regimental band.
Upon becoming ready for frontline duty, the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment spent most of the Civil War fighting in the vicinity of Charleston, South Carolina. On May 30, 1864, Dupree was appointed as Second Lieutenant of Company I of the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. Military authorities did not grant Dupree his commission officially until July 1, 1865, after the Civil War had ended and shortly before Dupree and the rest of the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment were honorably discharged on August 29, 1865. Authorities waited until this late date to grant the commission purportedly because white officers were unwilling to serve with African-American officers. One African-American soldier wrote that Dupree and two other soldiers did not receive their commissions immediately, "because God did not make them White."
Upon the war's conclusion, Dupree moved to Boston, Massachusetts, although he did make several trips back to Chillicothe, where he married Elizabeth "Lizzie" Maria Isaacs on June 23, 1871. In Boston, William Dupree became one of the first African Americans to secure employment with the United States Post Office. He worked for the Postal Service from February 12, 1866 to 1914, working as a letter carrier from 1866 to October 1, 1874, when he became a clerk, eventually becoming superintendent of Station A in Boston. In 1903, Dupree diversified his economic interests, purchasing with some additional investors the Colored Co-operative Publishing Company, which published the Colored American Magazine. This publication was one of the leading African-American magazines in the United States of America. The journal and its owners soon became major supporters of civil rights activist Booker T. Washington's platform of accommodation. Washington preferred avoiding confrontational approaches for African Americans to gain equal rights with whites. Rather, Washington advocated that African Americans excel in the opportunities that whites granted blacks to show whites that African Americans deserved additional opportunities. Dupree remained with the Colored Co-operative Publishing Company only for a few years before selling his interest.
In Massachusetts, Dupree became involved in numerous other activities. He was a member of both the Thomas G. Stevenson Grand Army of the Republic Post in Roxbury, Massachusetts, as well as of the Benjamin Stone, Jr. Grand Army of the Republic Post in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Dupree served as commander of the Benjamin Stone, Jr. Post in 1895. Of the post's 297 members, only three were African Americans. In 1888, Dupree served as the chairman of a committee in Boston to convince the state legislature to erect a monument to Crispus Attucks, the only African American killed by British soldiers at the Boston Massacre, one of several events that led to the American Revolution. In 1905, Dupree was a member of the Colored Citizens of Greater Boston. With this group, Dupree helped organize a celebration in honor of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison on the one-hundredth anniversary of his birth. In 1890 and 1891, Dupree also served as chairman of the commissioners of the Firemen's Relief Fund of Massachusetts and was considered as a possible candidate for Massachusetts state auditor in 1892.
Dupree died on June 22, 1934 in Boston.
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"William H. Dupree." (2021) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved September 19, 2021, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=232
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