Bruce Anderson, a black man, was born on June 19, 1845 in the town of Mexico, NY, which is located about an hour’s drive north of Syracuse, near the southern shore of Lake Ontario. By the time the Civil War broke out, Anderson had moved east and was living with a white family in Gloversville, most likely working on the family’s farm. Then in August of 1864, he enlisted in the 142nd New York Infantry Group K, one of the few mixed-race regiments in existence in the Union Army at the time.
On Christmas Day in 1864, Anderson’s regiment landed just north of Fort Fisher, NC, a heavily fortified position protecting the key southern port of Wilmington, NC. It was the last major coastal stronghold still held by the Confederate Army. The 142nd was supposed to have joined in on the first attack on the Fort but the battle was called off shortly after it had commenced and Group K was brought back. Three weeks later, Anderson’s regiment was made part of the brigade led by Brigadier General Newton Curtis, which was to lead the second attack on the Fort.
Curtis asked for 12 volunteers who were to attempt a mad dash over open ground and under withering fire from 600 enemy riflemen to the large wooden pole fence that served as the Fort’s first line of defense. Then using only axes, those 12 men were to create holes in that fence so that the rest of the brigade could break through at various points. Anderson was not one of the first twelve to volunteer but when he realized a friend of his from Gloversville, who had a wife and two children had done so, he insisted he be allowed to take his place.
The 12 men miraculously succeeded at their mission but ten of them were killed in the process. Anderson was one of the two survivors. Major General Adelbert Ames, the Union commander of the successful second assault on the Fort, prepared a report recommending all twelve men be awarded the Medal of Honor. Somehow, his report was then misplaced.
After the War, Anderson moved to Illinois for a short time, but census data verified he was back in New York, living in Johnstown by 1870 with his first wife and three children. He then divorced his first wife, moved to Amsterdam, NY married a women named Julia James and fathered four more children. He worked as a servant for the family then living at 317 Guy Park Avenue and listed that address as his residence. In 1914, he hired a lawyer to petition for the Medal of Honor he had never received. The Army’s Adjutant General opened up an investigation and on December 28, 1914, he was awarded this country’s highest military honor.
Anderson died in Amsterdam on August 22, 1922 at the age of 77 and is buried here, in Green Hill Cemetery.