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About Christian Abraham Fleetwood, SGM (USA)
Christian Abraham Fleetwood (July 21, 1840–September 28, 1914), was a non-commissioned officer in the United States Army, an editor, a musician, and a government official. He received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the American Civil War.
Early life and family
Fleetwood was born in Baltimore on July 21, 1840, the son of Charles and Anna Maria Fleetwood, both free persons of color. He received his early education in the home of a wealthy sugar merchant, John C. Brunes, and his wife, the latter treating him like her son. He continued his education in the office of the secretary of the Maryland Colonization Society, went briefly to Liberia and Sierra Leone, and graduated in 1860 from Ashmun Institute (later Lincoln University) in Oxford, Pennsylvania. He and others published briefly the Lyceum Observer in Baltimore, said to be the first African American newspaper in the upper South.
With his wife Sara Iredell, whom he married on November 16, 1869, he led an active social life. Fleetwood was acquainted with most of the prominent African Americans of the period. They frequently visited his residence, and presented him with a testimonial in 1889.
When the American Civil War disrupted trade with Liberia, Fleetwood enlisted into Company G of the 4th Regiment United States Colored Infantry, Union Army, in August 1863. Due to his educated background, Fleetwood was given the rank of Sergeant upon enlistment and was promoted to Sergeant Major days later, on August 19. His regiment, assigned to the 3rd Division, saw service with the 10th, 18th, and 25th Army Corps in campaigns in North Carolina and Virginia.
On September 29, 1864, the 3rd Division, including Fleetwood's regiment, participated in the Battle of Chaffin's Farm on the outskirts of the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. During the 4th Regiment's charge on the enemy fortifications, Fleetwood supervised the unit's left flank. Among the charging soldiers was Sergeant Alfred B. Hilton, the bearer of two flags, one of which had been seized from a wounded sergeant. When Hilton himself was wounded, Fleetwood and another soldier, Charles Veale, each grabbed a flag from him before the colors could touch the ground. Now carrying the American flag, Fleetwood continued forward under heavy fire until it became clear that the unit could not penetrate the enemy defenses. Retreating back to the reserve line, he used the flag to rally a small group of men and continue the fight. For their actions during the battle, Fleetwood, Hilton, and Veale were each issued the Medal of Honor just over six months later, on April 6, 1865. Fleetwood's official Medal of Honor citation reads simply: "Seized the colors, after 2 color bearers had been shot down, and bore them nobly through the fight. The medal is now part of the collection of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
Although every officer of the regiment sent a petition for him to be commissioned an officer, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton did not recommend appointment. Fleetwood was honorably discharged from the Army on May 4, 1866.
After the war, Fleetwood worked as a bookkeeper in Columbus, Ohio, until 1867, and in several minor government positions in the Freedmen's Bank and War Department, Washington, D.C. He also organized a battalion of D.C. National Guardsmen and, in the 1880s, Washington, D.C.'s, Colored High School Cadet Corps.
Fleetwood never returned to active duty with any military organization. However, many residents of the District of Columbia recommended that he be appointed as the Commander of the 50th U.S. Colored Volunteer Infantry during the Spanish-American War. This request was not seriously considered by the War Department, and the participation of colored soldiers from the District of Columbia was similarly disregarded. It is not known whether Fleetwood's short stature and physical ailments reduced his chances for consideration. His army records state that he was five feet, four and one half inches tall. These records also state that he applied in 1891 for a pension because of "total" deafness in his left ear, the result of "gunshot concussion," and "severe" deafness in his right ear, the result of catarrh contracted while in the army. His application also stated that these ailments prevented him from speaking or singing in public.
For a number of years he served as choirmaster of the 15th Street Presbyterian Church, St. Luke's and St. Mary's Protestant Episcopal Churches, as well as the Berean Baptist Church. Supported by the community, including the wives of former presidents (Lucy Webb Hayes and Frances Folsom Cleveland), his musical presentations were extremely successful.
Death and legacy
He died suddenly of heart failure in Washington, D.C. on September 28, 1914, at age 74. Funeral services were held at St. Luke's Episcopal Church. Interment was in Harmony Cemetery, Washington, D.C., the First Separate Battalion of D.C. National Guards serving as escort. Among the honorary pallbearers were such prominent Washingtonians as Arthur Brooks, Daniel Murray, Whitefield McKinlay, and Judge Robert H. Terrell. The participation by the National Guard, and by Arthur Brooks in particular, was an appropriate recognition of the most significant aspects of Fleetwood's career.
Medal of Honor citation
Rank and organization: Sergeant Major, 4th U.S. Colored Troops, Place and date: At Chapins Farm, Va., September 29, 1864. Entered service at: ------. Birth: Baltimore, Md. Date of issue: April 6, 1865.
Seized the colors, after 2 color bearers had been shot down, and bore them nobly through the fight