African American Contributions - Preserving Black History One Story at a Time
African American Contributions - Preserving Black History One Story at a Time

William H. Barnes and James H. Harris - Medal of Honor Recipients, 1864

William H. Barnes - Artist's rendition of a civil war soldierSt. Mary's County produced two Union Civil War Congressional Medal of Honor winners, both awarded for their bravery in the battle of New Market Heights, Chaffin's Farm, near Fort Harrison, VA on September 29, 1864. They were two of fourteen Medal of Honor recipients awarded for their gallantry in that battle, and two of twenty-four U. S. Colored Troops Civil War soldiers to receive this highest honor.

William H. Barnes, a Private in Company C, 38th U.S. Colored Troops, according to official records was, "Among the first to enter the enemy's works, although wounded, and has a medal for his gallantry." The medal was presented on April 6, 1865. Barnes was born in St. Mary's County in 1830 or 1831 and enlisted in the U. S. Colored Troops in Ridge, Maryland on February 11, 1864. He is described in the records as "a 33-year-old farmer when he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He stood 5'11" tall." Barnes was promoted to Sergeant in January 1865, but never left the service alive. He died of tuberculosis at Indianola, Texas on Christmas Eve 1866 and is buried there.

SOURCES: Medal of Honor Recipients: 1863-1978, Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979, p. 25 Bearss,Edwin C., "Black Medals of Honor Received a New Market Heights, 29 September 1864." National park Service Memo in Richmond NBP files, 2 April 1979.

James H. Harris - Library of Congress PhotoJames H. Harris, Sergeant, Co. B, 38th U.S. Colored Troops, who also received the Medal of Honor for "Gallantry in the assault," in the battle of New Market Heights, entered the service at Great Mills, Maryland on February 14, 1864. He was born in St. Mary's County in 1828 and was a farmer before he joined the U.S. Army.

According to official records, Sgt. "Harris spent nine months in the hospital after being wounded at New Market Heights. He was mustered out of service on January 25, 1867 at Indianola, TX. Although no reason is given in his records, he left the army as a private. He spent his later years as a carpenter in Washington D.C., receiving an army pension of $12.00 a month at the time of his death on January 28, 1898. He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA (Section 27, Grave 985-H)." Harris was not presented the Medal of Honor until February 18, 1874. An order from Gen. Benjamin Butler, dated 11 October 1864, had this to say: "Sergeant Harris, Company B, Thirty-eighth U.S. Colored Troops, has a medal for gallant conduct in the assault of the 29th instant."

SOURCES: Medal of Honor Recipients: 1863-1978, Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979 p. 109 Raymond L. Collins, Medal of Honor Historical Society. (Mr. Collins obtained Harris' service and pension records from the National Archives in Washington, D.C.).
Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg. Alexandria, VA Time-Life books, 1986. p. 124.

A third soldier, coincidently also named William H. Barnes, is among the U.S. Colored Troops veterans known to be buried in St. Mary's County. According to local sources, Sgt. Barnes was born free near Leonardtown in 1845. Sgt Barnes died in 1936 and is buried in an unmarked grave in St. John's Roman Catholic Cemetery, which is located on St. John's Road in Hollywood, Maryland. These three soldiers were among the "…no less than 558 Negro soldiers from St. Mary's County who served in the various regiments. Of that total 125 perished from wounds or by diseases." (Hammett, History of St. Mary's County, Maryland, p.139)

Mary Somerville - Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions  

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