The battlefield recount of Christian Fleetwood and his heroic actions which led to his Medal of Honor.
For perspective, history notes 180,000 black men fought for their freedom in the Civil War. Of those 180,000, roughly 40,000 gave their lives. And, among them, there were 25 who received the Medal of Honor.
Twenty-five Black Men Received the Medal of Honor During the Civil War, Fleetwood is One of Those 25
Christian Abraham Fleetwood is one of those men and this is his story…
Christian Abraham Fleetwood was born July 21, 1840 in Baltimore, Maryland, to Charles and Anna Marie Fleetwood, both free persons of color. He received an excellent early education thanks to the efforts of a wealthy sugar merchant, John Brune. Brune and his wife employed Christian’s father as a steward and his wife treated Christian like her son. Fleetwood continued his studies with an organization that promoted the immigration of free blacks to homeland areas. In 1860, Fleetwood graduated from Ashmun Institute in Oxford, Pennsylvania and he went into publishing with a group of other men. Together, they founded the Lyceum Observer in Baltimore, a publication that was among the first African American newspapers in the South.
Fleetwood enlisted in the 4th Regiment United States Colored Infantry in August, 1863. Because of his advanced education, he received immediate promotion to the rank of Sergeant Major in that same month. His regiment, assigned to the 3rd Division, saw service with the 10th, 18th, and 25th Army Corps in campaigns in North Carolina and Virginia. Most of the action of the regiment was in the Richmond-Petersburg campaign. He took part in the Second Battle of Petersburg in June 1864 and the infamous Battle of the Crater just a month later in July 1864.
On September 29, 1864, the 3rd Division, including Fleetwood’s regiment, participated in the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm on the outskirts of the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Ordered to charge the Confederate fortifications, Fleetwood led the left flank. With the forward charge, one of the color bearers went down. Sergeant Alfred Hilton, already carrying a flag, grabbed the fallen colors and continued to carry both flags to rally the regiment and lead them. But, Hilton was then wounded. Before either of his two flags could hit the ground, Fleetwood and another soldier, Charles Veale, ran forward to catch the flags. Heavy confederate fire continued, but Fleetwood persisted in carrying the colors. When his regiment was forced to fall back, Fleetwood brandished the flag and rallied his small group of men to continue the fight.
Medals of Honor
For their actions during the battle, Fleetwood, Hilton, and Veale were each issued the Medal of Honor just over six months later, on April 6, 1865. Fleetwood’s official Medal of Honor citation reads simply: “Seized the colors, after 2 color bearers had been shot down, and bore them nobly through the fight.”
Additionally, Fleetwood was further honored when every officer of the 4th Regiment sent a petition to the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, requesting Fleetwood be commissioned an officer. Stanton did not recommend the appointment, but the efforts of the officers was noted. Fleetwood continued his service to America as a Sergeant Major and was honorably discharged on May 4, 1866.
After the War
Following the war, Fleetwood served in several government positions in the Freedmen’s Bank and War Department in Washington, D.C. He also organized a battalion of D.C. National Guardsmen, which he commanded as a Major. He went on to also organize the Colored High School Cadet Corps of the District of Columbia, which established excellence in service standards for African American soldiers.
Fleetwood’s Final Years
In Fleetwood’s later years, he served as a choirmaster for four churches in the D.C. area, finally getting to enjoy music, a passion of his. Christian Abraham Fleetwood, a decorated soldier, editor and musician, died on September 28, 1914, at the age of 74 nearly 50 years to the day he was awarded the Medal of Honor. His medal is now part of the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
“Seized the colors, after 2 color bearers had been shot down, and bore them nobly through the fight.”
Sources: https://www.stevenson.edu/academics/undergraduate-programs/history/blog-news-events/christian-fleetwood-and-now-for-the-rest-of-the-story. http://loc.gov/exhibits/civil-war-in-america/biographies/christian-fleetwood.html. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/fleetwood-christian-abraham-1840-1914/. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/biographies/christian-fleetwood. https://www.stevenson.edu/academics/undergraduate-programs/history/blog-news-events/christian-fleetwood-and-now-for-the-rest-of-the-story.