Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Black History Month Personality Spotlight: Sgt. James H. Harris, 38th USCI, Medal of Honor Recipient

We Remember: Sgt. James H. Harris, Medal of Honor, Co. B, 38th USCI; born 1828, died January 28, 1898

Thirty-six years old at the time of his enlistment, James H. Harris was the oldest of the Medal of Honor recipients from the Battle of New Market Heights. He joined the 38th United States Colored Infantry on Valentine’s Day, 1864, in his native St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Harris received appointment to corporal in the summer of 1864, and then promotion to sergeant on September 10.

At the September 29, 1864, Battle of New Market Heights, Sgt. Harris’ bravery stood out and he received recognition for displaying “gallantry in the assault.” As a non-commissioned officer, Harris led his company forward, which helped the African American Third Division break the Confederate line, which forced the Southerners to retreat.  Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler mentioned Harris in his October 11 special message to the Army of the James, bestowing a commendation (Butler) medal “for gallant conduct in the assault of the 29th instant.”

In the battle, Sgt. Harris received a wound that required treatment and a period of recuperation at Balfour Hospital at Portsmouth, Virginia, however, he returned to duty on November 1. Serving in Texas after the Civil War, Harris and the 38th faced many health challenges. Reduced to the rank of private in the summer of 1865, Harris continued to serve faithfully until the regiment mustered out in January 1867. 

Harris returned to Maryland after his service and received the Medal of Honor on February 18, 1874. Harris passed away on January 28, 1898. He rests in a soldier's grave in Arlington National Cemetery. We remember! 

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