"If poor old Nick Biddle calls on you with a document, as he calls it, don't say you are in a hurry and turn him off, but ornament the paper with your signature and plant a good round sum opposite your name. Nick has been a good soldier and now that he is getting old and feeble, he deserves the support of our citizens."
Excerpt of Weekly Miners' Journal (Pottsville, PA) article
Do you know know who was the first to have shed blood in The War for the Union, later called the Civil War?
It was a Black man, a former slave, a 65-year old Pottsville, PA resident named Nick Biddle.
His original name is unknown, but we do know that he was born a slave in Delaware, escaped to Philadelphia, and later moved to Pottsville. Some say that he worked, for a short time, as a servant for Philadelphia financier Nicholas Biddle and decided to name himself after his employer in admiration.
When Abraham Lincoln called for 90-day volunteers to serve in order to give soldiers to train, a militia company from Pottsville changed their name from the Pottsville Blues to the Washington Artillerists and answered the call, Biddle included. This militia became one of five Pennsylvania companies that were to be forever hailed as The First Defenders.
However, when traveling through Baltimore to get to Washington D.C., their train was attacked by pro-confederate sympathizers. When the mob saw Biddle, they started shouting "Nigger in uniform." He was subsequently knocked down and hit in the head with a piece of brick -- a wound so deep bone was exposed. He was not the only man to be attacked that day, and perhaps not even the first, but he was the first to be wounded sufficiently to shed blood.
When they finally reached Washington, and were with being personally greeted and given a handshake from the President, Lincoln stopped at Biddle and suggested he seek medical help. The former slave refused -- saying he didn't want to leave his company.
After serving their 90-day service the Washington Artillerists returned to Pottsville, but while many of the company then reenlisted for three-year terms, Biddle did not. Understandable. He was 65, and still suffering from the severe head wound.
At first he survived by doing odd jobs around Pottsville, but he lived the latter part of his life destitute, indirectly begging for money by reminding people of his service to the country.
When he died in 1876, the members of the Washington Artillerists and a couple of other companies that made up The First Defenders not only paid for his funeral, but also led a huge procession from his home to the "colored" burial ground. They also paid for his tombstone, which read:
"In Memory of Nicholas Biddle, Died August 2, 1876. His was the Proud Distinction of Shedding the First Blood in the Late War for the Union, Being Wounded while Marching through Baltimore with the First Volunteers from Schuylkill County. 18 April 1861. Erected by his Friends in Pottsville."