As I reviewed the official Medal of Honor citations for the 14 African American enlisted men and non-commissioned officers who received that distinction at the Battle of New Market Heights, I noticed that several were similarly worded. For example, 1st Sgt. James H. Bronson’s of Company D, 5th USCI reads: “Took command of his company, all the officers having been killed or wounded, and gallantly led it.” 1st Sgt. Robert Pinn’s of Company I, 5th USCI reads, ” Took command of his company after all the officers had been killed or wounded and gallantly led it in battle.” Sgt. Maj. Milton Holland’s of Company C, 5th USCI, “Took command of Company C, after all the officers had been killed or wounded, and gallantly led it.” Sgt. Maj. Edward Ratcliff’s, Company C, 38th USCI states, “Commanded and gallantly led his company after the commanding officer had been killed; was first enlisted man to enter the enemy’s works.”
Knowing that each company usually had three white officers (captain, 1st lieutenant, and 2nd lieutenant), and that there were normally ten companies in a regiment, that likely made for an extremely high rate of casualties among the white officers leading the five primary regiments (4th, 5th, 6th, 36th, and 38th USCI) in the attack at New Market Heights on September 29, 1864. Interested in seeing if my hypothesis held true, I first looked into the regiment that provided the easiest accessible information.
The book, Strike the Blow for Freedom: The 6th United States Colored Infantry in the Civil War by James M. Paradis includes an appendix that contains a roster of the officers and men in each company of the regiment. Going through each company and corroborating it with service records on Fold3.com I was able to compile the list below. The casualty results were quite startling.
Maj. Harvey J. Covell – wounded in arm, later discharged for disability
Capt. Robert Beath – wounded, left leg amputated
Capt. Charles V. York – killed
1st Lt. Nathaniel Hubbard – wounded, left thigh and scrotum
2nd Lt. Frederick Meyer – killed
1st Lt. Enoch Jackman – wounded, left hand
1st Lt. John Johnson – wounded, arm
2nd Lt. Eber Pratt – mortally wounded, amputation of right thigh
Capt. George Sheldon – killed
1st Lt. and Adjutant Nathan Edgerton, wounded, hand (pictured above)
1st Lt. LaFayette Landon – mortally wounded, left thigh
2nd Lt. William McEvoy – mortally wounded, blood poisoning after ex section of left elbow
Assuming that the three regimental field officers and all three officers from each company were present and on the field, that would make for 33 officers. For the 6th USCI, of those 33, 12 were killed or wounded at the Battle of New Market Heights, making a 36% casualty rate, or about one out of every three. The white officers of the 6th USCI certainly paid a high price along with the black enlisted men and non-commissioned officers on that desperate late September day.
I will see if I find similar results with the other four primary assault regiments and share them in future posts.
Image, “Three Medals of Honor” by Don Troiani, Historical Artist