On this date 153 years ago, Col. Charles Paine’s United States Colored Troops division of the XVIII Corps attacked a fortified position at New Market Heights just southeast of Richmond. Coldly greeting the USCT attack was the famous Texas Brigade, under the command of Gen. John Gregg.
In the vicious fighting that evolved in the early morning hours attacking regiment after attacking regiment went forward only to get shot to pieces. Displays of courage by the black troops were common this day. Eventually fourteen men of color earned the Medal of Honor for their bravery at New Market Heights.
One of the recipients, James H. Bronson, the 1st Sergeant of Company D, 5th United States Colored Infantry was a barber before the war. Bronson’s citation states that he “Took command of his company, all the officers having been killed or wounded, and gallantly led it.”
Bronson was 25 years old when he enlisted on Independence Day, 1863, at Trumbull County, Ohio. His service records state he was born in Indiana County, Pennsylvania. He was five feet, nine inches tall, with grey eyes and “dark” hair. His complexion is listed as “mulatto.” He was promoted to 1st Sergeant on August 23, 1863. However, two months after the fight at New Market Heights he requested to be reduced to the ranks “in order to become a member of brass band of 5th U.S.C.T.” Bronson was mustered out of the service on September 20, 1865, at Carolina City, North Carolina.
I was not able to locate Bronson in the 1860 census, but did find him in the 1870 census. In that listing, Bronson still held the occupation of barber. He was 29 and living with his 20 year old wife Ellen, who was born in West Canada. Both are listed as mulatto. They resided at that time Columbiana County, Ohio in the Perry township. No values were listed for the Bronson’s real estate or personal property, but no values were for any of the individuals on their page. Interestingly, another mulatto barber, named Thomas Caldwell, lived only a few doors away from Bronson.
United States Colored Troops soldiers came from all walks of life. It did not much matter what they did before the war when it came to combat. On the field of battle men were only judged by what they did or did not do. Bronson and his comrades stood like men on September 29, 1864.
The painting “Three Medals of Honor” by Don Troiani actually depicts men in the 6th USCT who were awarded the Medal of Honor.