ECW is please to welcome Tim Talbott
On September 29, 1864, during the fighting at the Battle of New Market Heights, as Corporal Miles James of Company B, 36th United States Colored Infantry maneuvered through abatis and approached the Confederate earthworks, he received a severe wound to the left upper arm. Somehow, amid the deadly fire, James was able to gather up enough physical strength, courage, and determination to stand his ground and continue to load and fire his rifle with only the use of his right arm while cheering on his charging comrades. Corp. James endured a field amputation, and after recovering, he was able to gain special permission to remain with his regiment until he finally received a disability discharge on October 13, 1865—over a year after his wounding. Unfortunately, James died in 1871 due to complications from his New Market Heights wound.
I learned about Corp. Miles James, and dozens of the other USCTs—African American enlisted men and non-commissioned officers and their white officers—while preparing for a tour of the Battle of New Market Heights back in the fall of 2017. While scouting out the ground, I was amazed that currently the only efforts toward interpreting this significant battle are a Virginia state highway marker along Route 5 and a Civil War Trails wayside sign in Henrico County’s adjacent Four Mile Creek Park.
In the weeks and months following what turned out to be a successful tour, the lack of commemorative acknowledgement and educational information provided for the public to learn about the courage and sacrifice displayed at New Market Heights by the Third Division of the XVIII Corps continued to bother me. It seemed a shame that this void had remained for so long. After all, this battle marked perhaps the greatest African American military accomplishment in our nation’s history. It was at New Market Heights where 14 black soldiers and two white officers earned the Medal of Honor.
In the summer of 2018, I joined my friend and former colleague Jimmy Price for lunch to discuss what we might do to correct the situation at New Market Heights. Jimmy published The Battle of New Market Heights: Freedom Will Be Theirs By the Sword in 2011, and thus was the ideal partner to start this initiative. We sowed the seeds of what eventually became the Battle of New Market Heights Memorial and Education Association (BNMHMEA) at that lunch meeting.
Things got off to a slow start due to our inexperience with such a project, but eventually, with encouragement and some networking with knowledgeable friends, the organization obtained its certification through the Virginia State Corporation Commission in November 2019. Soon thereafter the organization drafted by-laws and organized a board of directors. BNMHMEA held its first board meeting in late February 2020. Fortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed down the organization’s momentum. A website and Facebook page were set up this past summer to help support and promote the organization’s mission. New content is constantly being added to the website to help visitors better understand the battle and to learn about the soldiers who fought there.
The organization’s next exciting yet challenging step is tackling the memorial aspect of its mission. During the initial formation of BNMHMEA we sought and gained permission from Henrico County Parks and Recreation to place a commemorative monument in Four Mile Creek Park. At present, with the core battlefield not interpreted or open to public visitation, the Four Mile Creek Park location is the best option for the monument’s placement. The park receives a significant amount of traffic from being adjacent to I-295, and along the Virginia Capital Trail, a paved bicycling and walking trail that runs between Richmond and Williamsburg. The monument’s placement at Four Mile Creek Park will help generate greater awareness of the battle’s location and hopefully spur interest among those who view it to learn more about the courageous actions of the USCTs who fought there.
Much work is on the horizon for BNMHMEA; a commemorative monument design needs developed, an artist located and commissioned to sculpt the work, and funds raised for its completion. All of this will require a significant amount of help. If you would like to support the organization’s efforts, consider becoming a member or a giving a kind donation through the website. You can also help by sharing BNMHMEA with friends and family through word of mouth and through social media. Together we can create the awareness and give long overdue recognition to the brave USCT soldiers who sacrificed so much at New Market Heights to end slavery, prove themselves worthy of citizenship and equality, and maintain the union of the states.