November 4, 2013 at 10:21 am

Historical Marker Honors Former Slave Who Raised Civil War Regiment

A historical marker will be dedicated at the Athens County Fairgrounds to commemorate the location where 150 years ago Milton Holland raised Company C of the 5th United States Colored Infantry regiment. The ceremony will take place at 2 p.m., on Veterans Day, which is Monday, Nov. 11.

The keynote speaker for the dedication will be Bennie McRae of Trotwood, Ohio. McRae is a nationally known expert on African American military history.  The emcee will be Douglas McCabe of the Ohio University Archives who has done extensive research on Milton Holland. Dr. Brian Schoen, Associate Professor of History at Ohio University, will read a proclamation issued by the governor and make brief remarks. Ada Adams, a local African American historian, will also speak.

Milton Holland

Milton Holland

A highlight of the dedication ceremony will be the presence of African American re-enactors, who portray the 5th United States Colored Infantry, as well as local reenactors from Townsend Camp 108 and Cadot-Blessing Camp 126 of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Anthony Gibbs of Canal Winchester will reenact as Holland. Clark Morgan of Toledo will be reenacting as John Mercer Langston, a civilian who was instrumental in helping Holland with his organizational efforts. Langston was later the first dean of the law school at Howard University, from which Holland was one of the first graduates.

Other reenactors will include Fred Smith, also of the Toledo area, who will recite Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s poem, “The Colored Soldiers,” and nationally known living history actor, Michael Crutcher, who will portray black abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

Holland, who was born a slave in Texas, came to the Athens County community of Albany with two of his brothers prior to the Civil War. There he learned the trade of shoemaker. When the war broke out, Holland at first accompanied Athens Messenger Publisher Nelson Van Vorhes, colonel of the 92nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, as his personal aide. Then in 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and authorized the recruitment of African American regiments, Holland started a recruitment camp at the Athens County Fairgrounds. There he recruited what became Company C of the 5th United States Colored Infantry.

Holland eventually became regimental sergeant major, the highest enlisted rank. As a result of his rallying the regiment at the Battle of New Market Heights (Chaffin’s Farm) on Sept. 29, 1864 – after all the white officers had been either killed or wounded – Holland was presented with the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1865. He was thus one of the first American Americans to receive that award.

Also, after New Market Heights, Holland was given a battlefield promotion to captain that was later overturned by the War Department on the basis of his color. Rep. Steve Stivers has recently introduced a bill in Congress to posthumously restore that commission.

The Holland marker is sponsored by the Townsend 108 SUVCW camp with funding coming primarily from the Athens Foundation.

The text on the marker will read:

Milton M. Holland

Born a slave in Texas on August 1, 1844, Holland was brought to the integrated Albany Manual Labor University in 1851 by his father and owner where he learned the trade of shoemaker. He acted as a servant to Colonel Nelson Van Vorhes from 1861-1863. In the summer of 1863 he formed Company C of Athens County men for the 5th United States Colored Infantry here at this fairgrounds and eventually attained the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major. As a result of his rallying the regiment at the Battle of New Market Heights on September 29, 1864, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Butler Medal and a battlefield commission to Captain, the latter denied by the War Department on the basis of his color.

Holland returned to the Athens area for a brief period after the war. He then lived in Columbus for three years and married Virginia Dickey of that city before residing in the Washington, D.C., area for the rest of his life. He served in several positions at the U.S. Treasury Department, earned a law degree from Howard University in 1872 and worked in various capacities for the Ohio Republican Party. He was also a member of the Washington Emigrant Aid Society, worked on numerous civil rights issues, served on the local school board and helped form several of the first black-owned area businesses. These included the Capitol Savings Bank, the Industrial Building and Savings Company and the Alpha Insurance Company. He died May 15, 1910, in Silver Spring, MD, at the age of 66. He is buried with honor in the Arlington National Cemetery.

Sponsoring agencies include the Athens Foundation and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Townsend Camp 108.



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