July 24, 2009

William Henry Barnes

   William Henry Barnes, African-American Union Army soldier and recipient of the Medal of Honor, was born and raised in St. Mary's County Maryland in either 1840 or 1845. He worked as a free tenant farmer before enlisting in the Army from Norfolk, Virginia, on February 11, 1864 as a private into Company C of the 38th United States Colored Infantry Regiment. His enlistment papers record his age as 23, implying a birth year of 1840 or 1841, but other sources give his birth as 1845.

   At the Battle of Chaffin's Farm, on September 29, 1864, Barnes' 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. Barnes was awarded the Medal of Honor for being "[a]mong the first to enter the enemy's works; although wounded." His medal was issued six months after the battle, on April 6, 1865, and he was promoted to Sergeant another three months later, on July 1, 1865.

   He remained in the Army after the war, traveling to Texas with his regiment. He died of tuberculosis at an Army hospital in Indianola on December 24, 1866 and buried there in the town cemetery. Within a few years, his grave, as well as many others, was destroyed by a series of storms, so a marker in his memory was placed in San Antonio National Cemetery.

Among the first to enter the enemy's works; although wounded.

29° 25.276, -098° 28.022

Section MA
San Antonio National Cemetery
San Antonio

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