36th U.S. COLORED INFANTRY MEDAL of HONOR WINNERS
Private James Gardiner
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Corporal Miles James
See: Naval Medal of Honor
Visit NPS Battle of Chaffin's Farm Site
PRIVATE JAMES GARDINER
COMPANY I, 36st U.S. COLORED TROOPS
James Daniel Gardner was born on September 16, 1839, at Gloucester, Gloucester County, Virginia. On September 15, 1863, he enlisted under the name of James Gardiner, in Company I, 36st U.S. Colored Troops, at Yorktown, York County, Virginia. At the time of his enlistment Gardiner stated that his occupation was that of an oysterman.
Private Gardiner earned the Medal of Honor on September 29, 1864, at the battle of Chaffin's Farm / New Market Heights. The attack on the Rebel works at New Market Heights was one of the most stubborn of the war, with the bulk of the fighting being done by black troops, who sustained more than 50% casualties in the determined charge. The black troops had been asked to take a strong position protected in the front by two lines of abatis and one line of palisades, and in the rear of which was a lot of men who knew how to shoot. The Texans of Gregg's Brigade poured out a deadly hailstorm of bullets which swept the leaves from the trees and cut down the Black soldiers by the score.
As the initial attack stalled at the abatis in front of the Confederate works, Colonel Draper tried to get the men to continue the charge but his orders could not be heard over the roar of the battle. All along the lines, White officers were being shot down. Lieutenant Colonel Shirtliff, commander of the 5th U.S.C.T., was mortally wounded. At this critical point in the battle, Black soldiers rose from the ranks to replace the White officers who had been killed or wounded. Sergeant Milton Holland, a 20 year-old from Austin, Texas, took command of Company C, Richmond born, Sergeant Powhatan Beaty, a former slave, took command of Company G, Sergeant James Bronson, a Virginia born 19-year-old from Pennsylvania, led Company D, Sergeant Robert Pimm, an Ohio farmer, led Company I.
Inspired by the courage and example of such men as Holland, Beaty, Bronson and Pimm, the Black soldiers surged forward and took the Rebel works. The first to enter the works were Sergeant James H. Harris, Sergeant Edward Ratcliff and Private William H. Barnes of the 38th U.S.C.T. and Private James Gardiner of the 36th U.S.C.T. Sergeant Gardiner demonstrated his courage by rushing in advance of his brigade, he shot a Rebel officer who was on the parapet rallying his men, then charging into the works he ran the same officer through with a bayonet. His men followed him into the Rebel works where they met the enemy face to face, and Black men with arms of iron fought Southern White solders hand to hand with desperate valor. In the end, it was those who held the philosophy that Black men were inferior and fit only to be the slaves of other men that were driven from the field.
The day after the battle, Private Gardner was promoted to sergeant. His military service records at the National Archives in Washington D.C., show that he was reduced in rank from sergeant to private on July 13, 1865. He was placed in confinement at Brazos Santiago, Texas on March 29, 1866. Private Gardner was mustered out of the service at Brazos Santiago, Texas, on September 20, 1866.
James Daniel Gardner died on September 29, 1905, at Clark's Summit, Pennsylvania. He is buried at Calvary Crest Cemetery, Ottumwa, Iowa.
CORPORAL MILES JAMES
COMPANY C, 36th U.S. COLORED TROOPS
Miles James was born in 1829 at Princess Anne County, Virginia. Prior to his enlistment, James stated that his occupation was that of a farmer. He enlisted in Company C, 36th U.S. Colored Troops at Portsmouth, Virginia.
Corporal James earned the Medal of Honor on September 29, 1864, at the battle of Chaffin's Farm / New Market Heights. For further details of the action see The Battle of New Market Heights. Corporal James' citation reads as follows: Having had his arm mutilated, making immediate amputation necessary, he loaded and discharged his piece with one hand and urged his men forward; this within 30 yards of the enemy works.
Although seriously wounded, having lost his left arm, Sergeant James did not want to be sent home. His people were not yet free and his job was not yet done. He sent a letter to General A. G. Draper requesting he be allowed to stay in the army. General Draper wrote the following letter, which is now in Miles James' service records in the National Archives in Washington D.C.
“Sergeant Miles James, Co. B, 36th U.S.C.T. writes me from your hospital to urge that he be permitted to remain in the service. He lost his left arm in the charge upon New Market Heights, September 29, 1864. If it be possible, I would most respectfully urge that his request be granted. He was made a Sergeant and awarded a silver medal by Major General Benjamin Butler, for gallant conduct. He is one of the bravest men I ever saw; and is in every respect a model soldier. He is worth more with a single arm, than half a dozen ordinary men. Being a Sergeant he will have very little occasion as a file closer to use a musket. He could be a Sergeant of my Provost-Guard, and could do filly duty in many ways. If consistent with your views of duty, I would be greatly obliged if you can make it convenient for him to return to his Regiment.”
General Draper's request was granted and Sergeant James was returned to duty with a Sergeant's sword rather than a musket. He served until October 13, 1865, when he was discharged for disability.
Miles James died on August 28, 1871. He is buried at an unknown cemetery in Norfolk County, Virginia.
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