Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Milton Holland - Promotion Denied

Men in the United States Colored Troops faced a plethora of obstacles. How they dealt with them all and still fought as well as they did is difficult to understand. It was bad enough that these men were required to fight in segregated regiments, sometimes with inferior weapons, and for part of the war, receiving inferior pay. To top it all off, gaining advancement beyond the rank of sergeant major was nearly impossible, despite the best of combat performances.

An excellent example of a promotion denied is that of Sgt. Major Milton Holland (pictured left). Holland was born enslaved in 1844 in Texas. His African American mother, Matilda, was owned by Spearman Holland, the brother of his white father, Bird Holland, as were Milton's two brothers, William and Johnson. Bird Holland purchased Milton and his brothers, freed them, and sent them to the free state of Ohio to learn a vocation at the Albany Manual Labor Academy in Athens County.

Bird Holland appears in the 1860 census as a forty-five year old clerk in Austin, Travis County, Texas. He was born in Tennessee and owned $500 in real estate and $10,000 in personal property. Holland is shown as owning a thirteen year old mulatto boy, likely another son.

Milton apparently learned the skill of shoe making because he is listed in the 1860 census in the household of John J. Shots, who was apparently a thirty-five year old white shoe and book maker. Milton is not listed as black or mulatto and was the only non-Shots in the household. He is listed as a sixteen year old and born in Texas.

Milton enlisted on June 22, 1863 in Athens, Ohio in Company C of the 5th  USCI. He had previously attempted to enlist in a white unit, but was denied admission due to being of mixed ancestry. His enlistment describes his complexion as "yellow." Milton was five feet, eight inches tall. He was mustered in at Camp Delaware. Milton earned the position of 1st Sergeant on July 23, 1863, was reduced to private on April 4, 1864, promoted to 1st Sergeant again on July 1, then to Sergeant Major on September 6, 1864, and finally reduced to 1st Sergeant on November 6.

During the desperate charge at New Market Heights on September 29, 1864, the 5th USCI, as part of Draper's Brigade, Paine's Division, attacked the position held by the Texas Brigade and took terrible casualties. Although wounded in the fight, Milton did not leave the field of combat and was later recognized for talking "command of Company C after all the officers had been killed or wounded and gallantly led it." For his courage, Milton received the Medal of Honor. Any white man would likely have received the opportunity of a commission to lieutenant or captain for a similar action, but Milton was denied because he was not fully white.

However, Milton's army limitations did not hold him back as a civilian after the war. In an environment without the rigid rules of of the military, Milton went on to graduate from Howard University, become an attorney, banker, and business man. He died in 1910 and was buried in Harmony, Maryland.

Milton's father, Bird Holland, who had been the Texas Secretary of State at the time of the state's secession, served as adjutant of the 22nd Texas Infantry and died fighting for the Confederacy on April 9, 1864 at the Battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana.

Image in the public domain.

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