Fourteen African-American soldiers received the Medal of Honor for heroic conduct at the Battle of New Market Heights, which occurred on September 29, 1864 as part of a major assault against Richmond's defenses. This number represents 14 of the 15 African-American soldiers who were awarded the medal during the Civil War. There were 1,522 Medals of Honor awarded to white and black members of the armed forces in total, but only 25 were awarded to African Americans (including seven sailors of the Union Navy, fifteen soldiers of the United States Colored Troops, and three soldiers of other Army units).
The men who fought at New Market Heights were in the Army of the James, a force of 35,000 men in the XVIII and X corps and a cavalry division, entrenched in and around Williamsburg, Virginia. They were commanded by the politically well-connected Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler. This army boasted the largest contingent of black troops of any Union force, a division led by Brigadier General Charles Paine. In September 1864, General Butler proposed a plan designed to draw Lee's attention and force him to redeploy troops north of the James, allowing the Army of the Potomac to launch a coordinated attack against the South Side Railroad, a critical supply line into Petersburg. The USCT regiments detailed from the XVIII Corps were to spearhead the attack. A series of misfortunes struck the unit (mostly as a result of piecemeal engagements) and Paine's division suffered some 800 casualties in just over an hour.
The fourteen African-American men awarded the Medal of Honor at the Battle of New Market Heights include: William H. Barnes (a 33-year old farmer who was cited for being "among the first to enter the enemy's works, although wounded."); Powhatan Beaty (a 24-year old farmer who "took command of his company, all the officers having been killed or wounded, and gallantly led it"); James Bronson (a 25-year old barber who "took command of his company, all the officers having been killed or wounded, and gallantly led it"); Christian Fleetwood (a 23-year old clerk who "seized the colors, after two color bearers had been shot down, and bore them nobly through the fight."); James Gardiner (a 19-year-old oysterman, who "Rushed in advance of his brigade, shot a rebel officer who was on the parapet rallying his men, and then ran him through with his bayonet."); James H. Harris (born in 1828, and cited for "gallantry in the assault."); Thomas R. Hawkins (cited for " rescue of regimental colors."); Alfred B. Hilton (a 21-year old farmer who, "when the regimental color bearer fell, this soldier seized the color and carried it forward, together with the national standard, until disabled at the enemy's inner line."); Milton M. Holland (an 18-year old shoemaker who "took command of Company C, after all the officers had been killed or wounded, and gallantly led it."); Miles James who, "having had his arm mutilated, making immediate amputation necessary, loaded and discharged his piece with one hand and urged his men forward; this within 30 yards of the enemy's works."); Alexander Kelly (a 23-year old coal miner who "gallantly seized the colors, which had fallen near the enemy's lines of abatis, raised them and rallied the men at a time of confusion and in a place of the greatest danger."); Robert A. Pinn (a 20-year old farmer who "took command of his company after all the officers had been killed or wounded and gallantly led it in battle."); Edward Ratcliff (a 29-year old laborer who "commanded and gallantly led his company after the commanding had been killed; was the first enlisted man to enter the enemy's works."); and Charles Veal (a 25-year old fireman who "seized the national colors, after 2 color bearers had been shot down close to the enemy's works, and bore them through the remainder of the battle.").
Note: the ages given above correspond to the soldiers' age upon enlistment.
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