James H. Harris

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James H. Harris
James H Harris.jpg
Sergeant James H. Harris
Born 1828
Saint Mary's County, Maryland
Died January 28, 1898 (aged 69–70)
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington County, Virginia
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1864–1867
Rank Sergeant
Unit 38th United States Colored Troops regiment
Battles/wars American Civil War
 • Battle of Chaffin's Farm
Awards Medal of Honor

James H. Harris (1828–January 28, 1898) was an African American Union Army soldier during the American Civil War. He earned the America's highest military decoration—the Medal of Honor—for his actions at the Battle of Chaffin's Farm.


Born in Saint Mary's County, Maryland, Harris worked as a farmer before joining the U.S. Army from Great Mills at age 36. He enlisted on February 14, 1864, as a private in Company B of the 38th United States Colored Troops regiment. He was promoted to corporal five months later, on July 25, and to sergeant two months after that, on September 10.[1]

At the Battle of Chaffin's Farm, on September 29, 1864, Harris' regiment was among a division of black troops assigned to attack the center of the Confederate defenses at New Market Heights. The defenses consisted of two lines of abatis and one line of palisades manned by Brigadier General John Gregg's Texas Brigade. The attack was met with intense Confederate fire; over fifty percent of the black troops were killed, captured, or wounded. The initial attack stalled at the abatis, but when a renewed effort began, Harris and two other men of the 38th USCT, Private William H. Barnes and Sergeant Edward Ratcliff, ran at the head of the assault. Being the first to breach the defenses, the three soldiers engaged the Confederates in hand-to-hand combat. They were soon joined by the remainder of their division, and the Confederate force was routed.[1]

Over nine years later, on February 18, 1874, he was issued the Medal of Honor for "[g]allantry in the assault" at Chaffin's Farm.[2] Harris died at the approximate age of 69 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia.[1]

Medal of Honor citation[edit]

Rank and organization: Sergeant, Company B, 38th U.S. Colored Troops. Place and date: At New Market Heights, Va., September 29, 1864. Entered service at:------. Birth: St. Marys County, Md. Date of issue: February 18, 1874.[2]


Gallantry in the assault.[2]

United States Colored Troops Memorial Statue[edit]

James H. Harris is specifically honored and memorialized by the United States Colored Troops Memorial Statue in Lexington Park, Maryland (in St. Mary's County, where he grew up and also worked as a farmer). The informational kiosk at the memorial mentions him specifically.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Hanna, Charles W. (2002). African American Recipients of the Medal of Honor. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. pp. 35–36. ISBN 0-7864-1355-7. 
  2. ^ a b c "Civil War Medal of Honor recipients - (A-L)". United States Army Center of Military History. August 6, 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-12. 

External links[edit]