After years of dedication by a local volunteer group, the United States Colored Troops Memorial Monument will become a reality this year. The United Committee for Afro-American Contributions (UCAC) announced at their annual meeting on Saturday that ground will be broken next month and the monument will be unveiled and dedicated during this year’s Juneteenth celebration on June 16.
The monument will honor St. Mary’s County United States Colored Troops (UCST) Medal of Honor recipients Sgt. James H. Harris and Pvt. William H. Barnes. The monument will also honor a third Medal of Honor recipient from St. Mary’s County, recently uncovered through historic research. According to UCAC President Nathaniel Scroggins, Joseph Hayden, a white soldier from St. Inigoes who served on the USS Ticonderoga, will also be memorialized on the monument.
The monument is becoming a reality in part due to a Maryland General Assembly $150,000 bond bill with a $40,000 match from UCAC, according to Janice Walthour, who has spearheaded the fundraising effort. Walthour says twice that amount was raised by the organization, but some of it couldn’t be applied to the match.
St. Mary’s County has given UCAC authority to locate the memorial in Lancaster Park off Willows Road in Lexington Park and the memorial will become county property once constructed.
The Freedom Memorial across from Frank Knox Center on Route 235 was the first UCAC project after they were founded in 1994 by Elmer Brown. That is also the location of the annual Juneteenth celebration, although the event will have the UCST Memorial Monument dedication at Lancaster Park as this year’s special kickoff.
The UCST memorial is designed by nationally-recognized sculptor Gary Casteel. His work may be seen in collections of the National Park Service, state and local governments, and private enterprises. He has taken a personal interest in the project and the history of the colored troops.
According to the UCAC website, www.ucaconline.org James H. Harris entered the service at Great Mills, Maryland on February 14, 1864. He was born in St. Mary’s County in 1828 and was a farmer before he joined the U.S. Army. According to official records, Sgt. “Harris spent nine months in the hospital after being wounded at New Market Heights. He was mustered out of service on January 25, 1867 at Indianola, Texas. Although no reason is given in his records, he left the army as a private. He spent his later years as a carpenter in Washington D.C., receiving an army pension of $12.00 a month at the time of his death on January 28, 1898. He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia (Section 27, Grave 985-H).” Harris was not presented the Medal of Honor until February 18, 1874. An order from General Benjamin Butler, dated 11 October 1864, had this to say: “Sergeant Harris, Company B, Thirty-eighth U.S. Colored Troops, has a medal for gallant conduct in the assault of the 29th instant.”
The website also tells the story of Will