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Medal of Honor awarded to 14 US Colored Troops for their valor at the Battle of New Market Heights

 

THE BATTLE OF NEW MARKET HEIGHTS


    If you liked the story of Glory portrayed in the Hollywood movie, you will love the true story of the Battle of New Market Heights in the Civil War. Due to this battle, people can celebrate that in the heart of the confederacy, Richmond, large numbers of African Americans fought and won a major battle for our freedom.

    At 5:30 am on 29 September 1864, General Benjamin F. Butler commanded 13,000 Union forces into battle just outside Richmond.  His troops consisted primarily of 14 US Colored Troop regiments. This pivotal Civil War battle against 1,800 seasoned Confederate troops would either significantly delay the war's end or quicken it, thereby saving or costing a lot more lives and time in slavery. The Union's objectives were to weaken the Confederate strongholds of Richmond and Petersburg. The Black infantry, cavalry and artillery consisted of newly escaped slaves eager to show their gratitude for emancipation and free Blacks.

    Given the disparity in numbers favoring the Union, one would anticipate a route by Union forces, but on a foggy morning three lines of wooden entanglements were set to delay and expose Union soldiers and weaken their visual communication, while cannon artillery on Signal Hill protected the flank of Confederate marksmen waiting in rifle pits. Results from the initial engagement were predictable.  Confederate marksmen picked off Union soldiers like ducks in the row.

    Fortunately, the fog lifted and many Confederate officers fell dead or were wounded. A number of Confederates also had to pull back to protect nearby Fort Harrison. In made-for-Hollywood fashion, five valorous African American officers led the battle onward. Corporal James Miles of Company B, having had his arm mutilated and then amputated within 30 yards of the enemy, loaded and fired his gun with one hand and led his men forward to victory. Confederate troops at New Market Heights surrendered to the US Colored Troops by 8am.  Later on 29 September 1864, Confederates surrendered Fort Harrison as well -- now that's Glory!

    Despite heavy losses, 850 Union soldiers died compared to only 50 Confederate soldiers, Corporal Miles and 13 other Blacks were recognized with the Medal of Honor. Furthermore, the Congressional Medal of Honor was only awarded to 16 Black infantry and 7 sailors in the entire Civil War. To better appreciate the magnitude of these specific awards, note that many historians now state that up to 1/3rd of Union forces were African Americans at the Civil War's end.

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