Guard Detachment, Co. B., 801st Pioneer Infantry Regiment, Photo Courtesy of Oshkosh Public Museum, Wisconsin.
By Kandie P. Adkinson
Charles William Estell, a member of Mercer County’s African American community, was born on February 18, 1889, in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. At this time, his parentage is unknown.
On the 1900 & 1910 Mercer County Census Reports, he was residing with his grandmother, Margaret Jones, and his half-brother, Luther Barkley, on Broadway Street in downtown Harrodsburg. He declared his occupation was a "day laborer doing odd jobs."
Between 1911 and 1916, Estell married Sarah Wilson Miller, the daughter of Thomas Miller & Alice Wilson. Both mother and daughter were laundresses. Estell assumed the role of father for Sarah's children by previous marriages. The oldest child was John D. Short, father of the late John D. Short, Jr., the late Bessie Short Easterling, and the late Frances Short, and grandfather of the late Elder John D. Short III, Mrs. Barbara Short Hudson of Lawrenceburg, Lolita Short, and Christopher Short, both of Harrodsburg. Other Estell step-children included Margaret Augustus & John Augustus. Charles & Sarah Estell had one daughter whose name has not been identified at this time. The couple would certainly be proud of their family's accomplishments past and present.
On April 30, 1917, Sarah Estell died of heart disease. Her newspaper obituary stated her funeral was one of the largest ever held in the black community. She is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery in Harrodsburg.
Less than two months later, on June 5, 1917, Charles William Estell registered with the Mercer County Local Board for Selective Service. He was destined to see military action in World War I. He stated he was employed by Walter Kelley in Keene, Kentucky. His marital status was "single" due to Sarah's death. He was described as being tall in stature, medium in build, with brown eyes and black hair.
Estell was assigned to Company C of the 801st Platoon in the Pioneer Infantry Regiment which was organized in June 1918 at Camp Zachary Taylor in Jefferson County, Kentucky.
In September 1918 the platoon was moved to Camp Merritt, New Jersey, for overseas deployment. The port of embarkation was Hoboken, New Jersey. They sailed for Europe aboard the steamship, the U.S.S. Manchuria.
While in France, the 801st Platoon of non-combatants was assigned to the 1st U.S. Army. Pioneer Regiments, comprised of African American soldiers, prepared the trenches and battlefields for combat; after the battles, they cleared the fields of the carnage and ordnance—spent and unspent.
In 1918 German troops were advancing toward Paris, France. Nearly 7800 U.S. Marines were lost in battles at Belleau Wood. American troops blocked an enemy offensive at Chateau Thierry and helped prevent the Germans from crossing the Marne River into Paris. On November 11, 1918, Germany and the Allied Forces negotiated the Armistice that ended the four-year war.
A few weeks earlier, on October 26, 1918, while he was clearing one of the trenches after the Battle of Chateau Thierry, CPL Charles Estell picked up a shell that had not yet detonated. Although most of his breast was torn away by the blast, he was still living when he arrived at the military hospital. He died on the operating table.
According to his obituary, Estell's parents and wife were already deceased; his closest surviving relatives were his half-brother and a little daughter living with her grandmother, Alice Wilson. The name of Charles & Sarah’s daughter has not yet been determined.
In February 1920 an “impressive memorial service” for Mercer men who lost their lives in the World War was held at the Opera House on Main Street in Harrodsburg. The program was sponsored by Douglas Laws Post of the American Legion with its commander, Capt. C. P. Price, presiding, and Mrs. J. Hal Grimes in charge of the music. Capt. Price read the names of the war dead and awarded memorial scrolls to their next of kin. Dr. H. G. Turner, pastor of the Methodist Church in Danville made the address. Charles W. Estell, Willis Burrus, Elijah Frye, & Oliver McAfee, all members of Mercer County’s African American community, were among the soldiers who were honored during the program.
The names of all twenty-two Mercer Countians who died in World War I are etched on the monument in front of the courthouse on Main Street.
Estell's body was returned to Harrodsburg from France in August 1921. The funeral was held at First Baptist Church by Rev. Smothers. Estell was interred in Maple Grove Cemetery with full military honors.
Alice Wilson died on February 14, 1923, of bronchial pneumonia. The whereabouts of CPL Estell’s daughter after her grandmother’s passing are unknown.
During the Maple Grove cemetery census, sponsored by the James Harrod Trust on April 10, 2010, the Trust determined Estell's grave marker was missing. With the kind cooperation of Mrs. Rosalyn Drury, sexton of Maple Grove Cemetery, the City of Harrodsburg, James Stinnett, Veterans of Foreign Wars (Bataan Memorial Post), Lee & Larry Sanders of Alexander & Royalty Funeral Home, the final resting place for Corporal Charles William Estell is now identified with a permanent marker in Section A near the fence line. The name of CPL Charles William Estell and his service to his country will not be forgotten.
On Sunday afternoon, May 29, 2022, at 3:00 p.m., the James Harrod Trust will honor CPL Charles William Estell with a grave marker dedication ceremony at Centennial Baptist Church in Harrodsburg. Descendants of CPL Estell will unveil an enlarged photo of the marker taken by Anna Armstrong. Rick Lee, military historian, will be the speaker, and music will be under the direction of Bro. Bobby Harris. The Kentucky National Guard will provide the Flag Color Guard assisted by SGT Albert Lee Taylor; there will be a static display of military equipment in West Lane Park near the church.
The James Harrod Trust will host a reception in the church fellowship hall after the program; they will be assisted by members of the Jane McAfee Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution. The public is cordially invited to attend.
Read the Harrodsburg Herald's Coverage of this event.