Phillip Pleasant “Ples” Whiteley


Phillip Pleasant “Ples” Whiteley
Portrait courtesy of Rosemary McDaniel

Phillip Pleasant (or “Ples”) Whiteley is the only known Cemetery resident who joined the Union Army during the Civil War by escaping from slavery. He is one of only three known African American Union veterans buried in Old City Cemetery. He has a remarkable personal story.

Whiteley was born in Bedford County, Virginia, around 1845. He was a slave on the plantation of Hopkins A. Whiteley. During the Battle of Lynchburg (June 17–18, 1864) he escaped to the Union forces commanded by Gen. David Hunter. He followed the army in their retreat from Lynchburg and eventually made his way to Boston, Massachusetts, where he joined the newly organized 43rd Regiment of “United States Colored Troops” in July, 1864.

In a 1911 pension deposition he wrote:

In June 1864 I ran away from my master…joined Union army, went to Charleston, W.Va., and from there to Boston, Mass., where I enlisted in Co. B, 43rd U.S.C.T. about July 22, 1864, and about Sept. 1864, went with regiment to Petersburg, Va., where command remained, until about June 1865, when went to Brownsville, Tex. by steamer. Mustered out in Texas and there by steamer to Philadelphia, Pa., where finally mustered out. Took train from New York to Philadelphia, Pa. [probably should be Phila. to NY]

When I enlisted I gave my name as Philip Pleasant. My slave name was Pleasant Whitely. I took the name Philip from my uncle, who was named Philip Thompson. Since the war I have been known and called Pleasant Whitely. My sister Julia Whitely (maiden name) is the wife of E. B. Branch and is now living at 1406 4th Street, Lynchburg, Va.

MSS 11820. Special Collections, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.

Note “1 Negro Pleasant age 19” written in pencil below “H. A. Whitely”
Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va., MSS 11820

Whiteley returned to Lynchburg in the 1870’s, where his sister Julia had married and started a family. In 1876 he purchased property on Floyd Street, only one block from the Old City Cemetery. He worked for over 50 years as a laborer, coachman, butler, and gardener for the prominent Garland and Almond families of Lynchburg.

Years after the war, in a pension request, Whiteley wrote, “My disability is such as it disables me from hard labor. It does exist all the time, slightly in the summer, and warm weather, but suffers very much in the winter [his emphasis], with my side, which contracted while in the service of the United States, in or about the first of March year of 1865. I have been taken medicine, internals, and treated with waring (sic) Plasters* on my side. […] I suffers mightily in the winter and spring with my side. I have violent attacks at times in the winter and spring. […] My captain struck me with his sword and ask me what was the matter while I was on drill.”

* Medicated or protective dressings 

Whiteley retired to 407 Floyd Street, where he died on April 10, 1937, of uraemia (kidney disease) at about age 92. A government-issued white marble headstone marks his grave, along with a special “G.A.R.” [Grand Army of the Republic] bronze star.


Photo by Ted Delaney

Are you a descendant of Pleasant Whiteley? Do you have a picture of him or his family? Can you add anything else to his biography? If so, we want to talk to you! Please contact us by calling (434) 847-1465 or e-mailing

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