When he was growing up in the 1950s, David Carl would take his friends to a shaded cemetery at the edge of Cold Spring Harbor. There, he would point reverently to the grave of a Civil War soldier -- an enlistee who had fought with the Union Army's 26th U.S. Colored Infantry.
The soldier, David Carll, had been among a handful of black Cold Spring Harbor residents who mustered in after the Union Army ended its ban against black soldiers. Though his family says Carll was shot through the lung, he returned home after the war, bought a hilltop property in Oyster Bay, opened a business, raised a family, and lived until 1910.
It is not hard to understand why the soldier's life had been a source of great pride to Carl, 61, a former Nassau juvenile detention worker who grew up on the very same hilltop property, and who died May 28 of complications of multiple sclerosis.
That's because David Carll was Carl's great-grandfather.
"His heritage was everything to him," said Elliot "Butch" Garrison, 61, a lifelong friend of Carl's. " . . . He would take me up to the cemetery and you could stand right there and see it. It became a real, live experience because he had family stories to tell and pictures to show."
Long Island -- home to Walt Whitman and Teddy Roosevelt, launchpad for Lindbergh's first-ever trans-Atlantic solo flight, and the place where the landing craft that first took men to the moon was built -- has made its share of contributions to history.
But the contributions of Long Island's black Civil War soldiers are mostly unfamiliar, even among area Civil War re-enactors, said Joe Bilardello, of Manorville, a historian with the 67th NY Historical Association, which honors the contributions of New York's and Long Island's Civil War soldiers.
Carll was one of 37 black men among the 564 soldiers and sailors from Oyster Bay Town who served in the Civil War. He was a newly married 19-year-old laborer when he enlisted on Jan. 2, 1864.
After mustering on Rikers Island, the 26th Colored went south to Beaufort, S.C. The regiment fought several times during the late autumn of 1864, including at the battle of Honey Hill on Nov. 30, and at Devaux's Neck, Tillifinny Station and McKay's Point.
Carll, whose descendants include former Miss America Vanessa Williams, bought a coastal schooner and ran a hauling business. Carl's grandfather, who was born in 1910, passed along recollections of the old soldier. Having heard the stories from his grandfather, David Carl embraced the role of the family's oral historian, said Denice Sheppard, Carl's niece.
"He [Carl's grandfather] was 10 years old when Carll died, and remembered seeing him getting up every morning and going out in the yard to salute the flag," Sheppard said, while standing on property that has remained in the family since Carll purchased it with savings from his soldier's pay.
Garrison said his childhood friend had helped him understand facets of America's African-American history that remained mostly absent from school curriculums into the 1980s and beyond.
"When you were a young kid, you didn't know of black people in the Civil War," Garrison said. "You didn't hear about that part when you were in school. You thought their only role had been as slaves. But he would always take me to see his grave, and it would hit home that black people had really been soldiers, had made heroic contributions of their own."
Carl was buried at Pine Hollow Cemetery in Cold Spring Harbor, some two dozen feet from his great-grandfather's tombstone. He is survived by his wife, Brenda Carl, of Oyster Bay; daughters Brenda and Ashley and sons David and Brendan, of Oyster Bay; brothers Fran, of Islip, Fenton, of Babylon, and Percy, of Oyster Bay; and sisters Marchia Whitfield, of Oyster Bay and Barbara Evans, of Syosset.