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Steven J. Niven

blacksmith and politician, was born a slave in Hardin County, Tennessee. It is unknown whether he was still living there in April 1862, during the battle of Shiloh, one of the bloodiest of the Civil War. By 15 September 1863 he was living in Little Rock, Arkansas, more than 250 miles west of his birthplace. On that day, five days after Little Rock fell to the Union army, Gillam enlisted in Company I, Second Regiment, Arkansas Infantry, which was later renamed Company I, Fifty-fourth Regiment, U.S. Colored Infantry. Since he immediately assumed the rank of sergeant, he probably knew how to read and write (noncommissioned officers in the Union army were expected to be able to read orders and file reports). After serving for three years, primarily in Arkansas and Kansas, he left the army in 1866, having reached the rank of first sergeant.

Gillam settled in ...