Updated Mon, Nov 4, 2013 2:04 pm
An historical marker will be dedicated at the Athens County Fairgrounds to commemorate the location where 150 years ago Milton Holland raised Company C of the 5th United States Colored Infantry regiment. The ceremony will take place at 2 p.m., Nov. 11.
The keynote speaker for the dedication will be Bennie McRae of Trotwood, Ohio. McRae is a nationally known expert on African American military history. The emcee will be Douglas McCabe of the Ohio University Archives who has done extensive research on Milton Holland. Brian Schoen, associate professor of history at Ohio University, will read a proclamation issued by the governor and make brief remarks. Ada Adams, a local African American historian, will also speak.
A highlight of the dedication ceremony will be the presence of African American re-enactors, who portray the 5th United States Colored Infantry, as well as local reenactors from Townsend Camp 108 and Cadot-Blessing Camp 126 of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Anthony Gibbs of Canal Winchester will reenact as Holland. Clark Morgan of Toledo will be reenacting as John Mercer Langston, a civilian who was instrumental in helping Holland with his organizational efforts. Langston was later the first dean of the law school at Howard University, from which Holland was one of the first graduates.
Other reenactors will include Fred Smith, also of the Toledo area, who will recite Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s poem, “The Colored Soldiers,” and nationally known living history actor, Michael Crutcher, who will portray black abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
Holland, who was born a slave in Texas, came to the Athens County community of Albany with two of his brothers prior to the Civil War. There he learned the trade of shoemaker. When the war broke out, Holland at first accompanied Athens Messenger Publisher Nelson Van Vorhes, colonel of the 92nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, as his personal aide. Then in 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and authorized the recruitment of African American regiments, Holland started a recruitment camp at the Athens County Fairgrounds. There he recruited what became Company C of the 5th United States Colored Infantry.
Holland eventually became regimental sergeant major, the highest enlisted rank. As a result of his rallying the regiment at the Battle of New Market Heights (Chaffin’s Farm) on Sept. 29, 1864 – after all the white officers had been either killed or wounded – Holland was presented with the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1865. He was thus one of the first American Americans to receive that award.
Also, after New Market Heights, Holland was given a battlefield promotion to captain that was later overturned by the War Department on the basis of his color. Rep. Steve Stivers has recently introduced a bill in Congress to posthumously restore that commission.
The Holland marker is sponsored by the Townsend 108 SUVCW camp with funding coming primarily from the Athens Foundation.