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Petersburg Medals of Honor: Thought Only of Saving the Flag




Sergeant-Major, 4th U. S. Colored Troops.

The attack upon the rebel works at New Market Heights, Va., September 29, 1864, one of the most stubborn in the history of the war, was delivered by the Fourth [U. S. Colored Troops] and Sixth U. S. Colored Troops, who lost more than half their men in that bloody charge. An account of the occurrence is given by Sergeant-Major Christian A. Fleetwood of the Fourth U. S. Colored Troops, as follows:

“Our regiment lined up for the charge with eleven officers and 350 enlisted men. There was but one field officer with us, Major A[ugustus]. S. Boernstein, who was in command. Our adjutant, George Allen, supervised the right, and I, as sergeant-major, the left. When the charge was started our color-guard was complete. Only one of the twelve came off that field on his own feet. Most of the others are there still. Early in the rush one of the sergeants went down, a bullet cutting his flag-staff in two and passing through his body. The other sergeant, Alfred B. Hilton, of Company H, a magnificent specimen of manhood, over six feet tall and splendidly proportioned, caught up the other flag and pressed forward with them both.

“It was a deadly hailstorm of bullets, sweeping men down as hailstones sweep the leaves from the trees, and it was not long before he also went down, shot through the leg. As he fell he held up the flags and shouted: ‘Boys, save the colors! ‘

“Before they could touch the ground, Corporal Charles Veal, of Company D, had seized the blue flag, and I the American flag, which had been presented to us by the patriotic women of our home in Baltimore.


First Sergeant. Co. F, Sixth U. S. Colored Troops.
Born In Indiana Co., Pa., April 7, 1846.

“It was very evident that there was too much work cut out for our regiments. Strong earthworks, protected in front by two lines of abatis and one line of palisades, and in the rear by a lot of men who proved that they knew how to shoot and largely outnumbered us. We struggled through the two lines of abatis, a few getting through the palisades, but it was sheer madness, and those of us who were able had to get out as best we could. Reaching the line of our reserves and no commissioned officer being in sight, I rallied the survivors around the flag, rounding up at first eighty-five men and three commissioned officers. During the day about thirty more men came along — all that was left.

“I have never been able to understand how Veal and I lived under such a hail of bullets, unless it was because we were both such little fellows. I think I weighed then about 125 pounds and Veal about the same. We did not get a scratch. A bullet passed between my legs, cutting my bootleg, trousers and even my stocking, without breaking the skin.”

The brave sergeant-major and his no less brave comrades, Sergeant Alfred B. Hilton, of Company H, and Corporal Charles Veal, of Company D, were awarded the Medal of Honor.

At the same battle First Sergeant Alexander Kelly, of Company F, Sixth U. S. Colored Troops, also distinguished himself and was awarded with the medal for saving the flag of his regiment after the color-bearer and most of the company had been either killed or wounded.


Read about even more Medal of Honor winners at the Siege of Petersburg:


  1. Beyer, Walter F. and Keydel, Oscar F. Deeds of Valor: How America’s Heroes Won the Medal of Honor…, Volume 1 (The Perrien – Keydel  Company: 1901), pp. 434-435
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