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Army Sgt. Maj. Christian Fleetwood, Medal of Honor recipient. Library of Congress

Baltimore, Maryland. (May 24, 2023): An angry mob surrounded the soldiers as they paraded down main street on September 17, 1863. Towns people cursed and spat at these newly minted American troops, members of the 1,000-strong 4th United States Colored Infantry Regiment.

This was the reception Black troops received in those days, even those willing to fight and die for the Union. Into this whirlwind stepped Christian Fleetwood, a Baltimore native and the son of a butler to a wealthy sugar baron. The baron’s wife saw to his education, and like few Black men of the time, he learned to read and write. Fleetwood attained a formal education and had a bright future in the sugar business when the Civil War broke out.

It was late September 1863 when Fleetwood joined the 4th U.S. Colored Infantry and, due to his advanced education, was promoted to the highest rank available to colored men, the enlisted rank of Sergeant Major. Despite the rude reception they received, the troops of the 4th Infantry fought valiantly in a series of engagements to eject the Confederates from Virginia. Sergeant Major Fleetwood received his Medal of Honor for actions during the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, Virginia, on September 29, 1864.

The battle was particularly brutal and decidedly lopsided as the Union suffered over 4,000 casualties. During intense fighting to topple a Confederate outpost, two Color Bearers were shot down while charging the enemy ramparts. According to witness accounts after the battle, Fleetwood raced to retrieve the colors under withering fire and never allowed the American flag to touch the ground. His actions inspired others in the unit to continue the charge which eventually dislodged the enemy. Fleetwood’s name was among a dozen sent to higher headquarters extolling their courageous performance in the battle.

Seven months later, while in the hospital suffering from typhoid fever, Fleetwood received his Medal of Honor. The award was not presented in a White House ceremony by the President of the United States while surrounded by family and admirers. No, Christian Fleetwood received his Medal Of Honor in the mail.