The 4th U.S. Colored Troops’ Sergeant Major Christian Fleetwood won the Medal of Honor award due to his heroic performances on the battlefield at Chaffin Farm. He was honored on 29 September 1864 and became the first black soldier to receive the prize. The Medal of Honor was established in 1862 by President Lincoln. Essentially, the Medal of Honor was given to Fleetwood for seizing the colors following the shooting of two color bearers and leading them decently in the entire fight. At the time, the award was mainly given to white despite the tens of thousands of African American militaries involving in the Civil War. Fleetwood’s Medal of Honor award symbolized his defense for the American flag.
It is evident that the Civil War offered free blacks with an exceptional opportunity in the U.S. and even saw them win prestigious price like the Medal of Honor. The award exposed the potential in the African American regiments who had joined the army. These blacks served under the U.S. Colored Troops. According to Basara (2019), Fleetwood was assigned to the U.S. colored troops, the USCT, and earned promotion to the regimental sergeant major, the highest rank in the Army at the time. Fleetwood demonstrated the highest standards of leadership and bravery during the Chaffin’s Farm skirmish, which made him a unique character from other soldiers. At the Chaffin’s Farm battle, color bearers were being shot indiscriminately and the soldiers were largely unaware of the whereabouts of their commanders. The brave sergeant rescued the colors and led them to safety. The award was symbolic in the history of black troops since it was the most prestigious in the military ranks during the Civil War.
Fleetwood’s journey to the Medal of Honor award entailed numerous on-field activities and heroics. Most of his activities in the Civil War unfolded under the umbrella of the 4th Colored Troops, implying that the Medal of Honor was largely due to the organization and understanding of the troops. The award was won based on rapid and extensive battlefield activities, chief among them is saving the lives of other black troops. Fleetwood’s honor was also based on his intelligence and creativity, which ensured he was able to handle large volumes of paperwork. The award winner mainly had to brave assaults, shootings as well as constant battles, especially the Point Lookout camp. Here, health and hygiene standards was also a big problem. Fleetwood’s major role was to formulate the camp’s duty rosters and details of work while also maintaining order among his troops, roles he successfully accomplished.
Additionally, Fleetwood had more work at the battlefield, particularly with the 4th U.S. Colored Troops shifting to the Peninsula. Here, the troops took part in the botched trials of Major General Benjamin Butler that were aimed at breaking the Confederate lines between Petersburg and Richmond (Clifford, 2017). During this time of confusion when Potomac’s army was unsuccessfully attempting to conquer Richmond via numerous deadly battles, Fleetwood and his soldiers adapted into the procedures. The ability to adapt quickly to the prevailing circumstances ensured that Fleetwood settled for success in the end. As the war progressed, he gained more courage and experience. It also implies that the Fleetwood’s Medal of Honor award was a prize for persistence and enormous heroics. While the award is exemplary in many perspectives, Fleetwood’s young age (23 years) when he won the honor is extraordinary.
The numerous explosions outside Petersburg formed a crater, which the Union troops used. Nevertheless, the soldiers entered the crater without exploiting the opening in the enemy lines. Fleetwood was always concerned about the involvement of black regiments in the battles leading to loss of numerous Union life. His main worry was that the reputation of the whole U.S. Colored Troops would be damaged from poor performances of one regiment. Poor performances among the black troops were as a result of improper planning and lack of good leadership. While Fleetwood’s achievements in the Civil War was evident throughout the entire conflict, it is his contributions at the battle at Chaffin Farm that is most exemplary. Fleetwood and the 4th U.S. Colored Infantry took part in the Chaffin’s Farm fight. According to Clifford (2017), the battle was extremely brutal with approximately 5, 000 casualties reported. He attracted attention by braving bad conditions to ascertain the safety and security of disciplined colors. Here, he endangers his life to defend the American flag.
During the war, the Union, as well as the Confederate commanders, mainly used the battlefield strategy, which was inspired politically and militarily. In the fighting, Jominian fighting theory was largely used as soldiers and statesmen were aware of it, which helped leaders in fighting their skirmishes (Rean, 2008). According to Jomini theory, Fleetwood’s Medal of Honor was as a result of the mechanics and art his battle approach. Fleetwood mainly focused on the artistic aspect of military tactic as opposed to the scientific feature. Military Management and leadership on the battlefield depends on the operation of the troops. The award was largely won on a united front. Generally, numerous strategies were employed during the Civil War with troops and commanders shifting from one approach to another.
Essentially, Fleetwood’s unmatched performance and heroics during the Civil War, especially at the Chaffin Farm battle proved significant in the competition for the Medal of Honor award. His bravery, leadership skills, and heroics on the battlefield were noticeable and ensured that he received the award. In American Army history, Fleetwood’s Medal of Honor award presentation remains the most understated. Therefore, Fleetwood made history as the only colored troop to rise through the ranks and receive the award, thanks to his classic leadership skills and bravery.
- Basara, M. (2019). Christian Fleetwood an unsung Civil War hero. Retrieved from: https://www.wbaltv.com/article/christian-fleetwood-unsung-civil-war-hero-black-history-month/26144376
- Clifford, J., H. (2017). Sergeant Major Christian Fleetwood. Historical Army Foundation. Retrieved from: https://armyhistory.org/sergeant-major-christian-fleetwood/
- Rean, D., T. (2008). Shifting Strategies: Military Theory in the American Civil War. MilitaryHistoryOnline.com. Retrieved from: https://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/civilwar/articles/militarytheory.aspx