During the Civil War, he served as a Private in Company B of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first regiment in the United States made up entirely of enlisted men of color. Enlisted on 14 March 1863 from Oxford, Pennsylvania. He was about 26 years old, single and working as a farmer when he enlisted on 14 March 1863 in Oxford, Pennsylvania. He was wounded on 18 April 1865 at Boykins Mills, shot through his right hand. Mustered out 20 August 1865 with his regiment.
His brothers George and William Jay also served in Company B.
Of the Boykin's Mills action:
General Potter, demonstrating with his main body along Swift Creek in front, sent the Fifty-fourth, One Hundred and Second United States Colored Troops, and One Hundred and Seventh Ohio to attempt crossings down the stream to the right, under the guidance of a native. In this flanking movement Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper led the Fifty-fourth along the creek over ploughed fields bordering the wood of the swamp, with Company F, under Captain Bridge, skirmishing. From contrabands it was learned that the swamp was impassable nearer than Boykin's Mills, some two miles from the road. When in the vicinity of the mills, the enemy's scouts were seen falling back.
Leading from a small clearing, a road was found apparently running in the proper direction, and our skirmishers were again ordered forward. Just then Warren Morehouse, of Company E, who had been scouting in the woods to the left, came to Major Pope, saying, "Major, there's a lot of Rebs through there in a barn." The regiment was moving on; and deeming quick action essential, Major Pope faced the left company about and led it toward the point indicated through the woods; and as we approached, the enemy retired across the stream. This company was left at that point temporarily, and the major hastened to rejoin the regiment.
Captain Bridge pushed forward his skirmishers through the wood bordering the road until the mills were in view. It was found that the stream was there dammed by a dike, the water above it forming a pond. At each end of the dike were sluice-gates, controlling the water, which served to run a grist-mill at one extremity and a saw-mill at the other. The divided waters passed away in two streams, forming a sort of island; but the two branches united further on. The road discovered ran to the first stream, where the water, seven feet deep, was crossed by a bridge, which had been burned, only a stringer remaining, thence over the island to the second stream, where was a ford through water waist-deep. Some fifteen yards beyond the ford up a s slight ascent, the enemy held breastworks of cotton-bales. It was found that the dike and the road were one hundred and fifty yards apart on our side of the creek; but as the stream made a bend there, they met on the enemy's bank.
Captain Bridge's skirmishers, moving rapidly over the road, came to the ruined bridge. The leaders at once attempted to cross over the stringer, but received a volley which killed Corporal James P. Johnson, mortally wounded Corporal Andrew Miller, and wounded Sergeant Bennett and Privates Harding, Postley and Sylvia, all of Company F. Thus checked, Captain Bridge retired to cover of the ground, keeping up a return fire. Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper, seeing that the position was strong and well defended against an attack in front, determined to make a diversion a quarter of a mile farther down the stream, where a ford was reported to be. He therefore sent Acting Adjutant Whitney to Major Pope with instructions to take the left wing and essay the task under the guidance of an old white-headed negro.
As the left company was already detached, Major Pope took only Companies A, D, G and I, proceeding by a detour through the woods and swamps, with Company A under Lieutenant Stevens skirmishing; after pursuing a road fringed with heavy timber and underbrush, this force arrived near the point indicated. The enemy was there, for Major Pope and Lieutenant Stevens in crossing the wood-road dream several shots. To feel the strength of the opposing force opposite, Company A, which was in the brush along the bank of the creek, was directed to fire a volley. As if acting under the same impulse, at the very moment this order was executed, the enemy also fired a volley, one shot striking Lieutenant Stevens in the head, killing him instantly. He fell partially into the stream. It was a dangerous duty to remove him; but two men were selected from volunteers, who crawled forward, brought back his body. As the orders were to entail no unnecessary risk of life, word was sent to Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper of the situation. Captain Chipman with Company D relieved Company A on the skirmish line.
While awaiting the result of Major Pope's flanking movement, Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper caused a musketry fire to be kept up from about the mill and the bridge, which enfiladed the enemy's breastworks. He also cause the sluice-gates of the dam at the first stream to be broken to allow the water in the pond to flow off, that a crossing there might be facilitated should Major Pope's project not succeed. When word came of Major Pope's encounter, Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper sent a message to General Potter informing him that the stream could only be crossed with a considerable sacrifice; but that if a field-gun was sent him, the enemy might be driven out, or a charge covered. At the same time Major Pope was ordered to hold his position.
A gun having been brought, dispositions were made to charge over the log dike at the mill. Lieutenant Hallett with a force was directed to cross the dam to the island between the streams, and open a covering fire from there when all was ready. Then the gun having fired some half a dozen shells, the Fifty-fourth, led most gallantly by Lieutenant Reed, charged across the dike in single file, receiving the enemy's fire, but causing their precipitate retirement. In this charge Corporal William H. Brown, of Company K, always conspicuous for bravery, was the first enlisted man to gain the farther bank. We sustained the loss of Privates Scott, Freeman and Green, of Company H; also Johnson and [brothers Wesley and William] Jay, of Company B; and McCullar of Company K - all wounded.
This last fight of the Fifty-fourth, and also one of the very last of the war, was well managed by Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper, when less discretion would have resulted in a repulse and heavy loss. The charge was a plucky affair under exceptionally adverse conditions. Our total regimental loss that day was one officer killed, one enlisted man killed, one mortally wounded, and twelve wounded: a total of fifteen, the greatest number of casualties sustained by one regiment in any action during Potter's Raid.
He passed away in 1903 and is buried at Hosanna Meeting House Cemetery in Oxford, Pennsylvania.