This is the medal given to nearly two hundred black soldiers in General Butler’s Army of the James. Inscribed in Latin “Ferro Iis Libertas Perveniet” means “Freedom will be theirs by the sword.” General Butler began the war as a Democrat and a political appointee. While his generalship was mediocre at best, he developed into a Radical Republican. Much of his change is attributed to the influence the actions of the black troops under his command. After the war as a member of congress he sponsored the most far-reaching anti-racist legislation of the Reconstruction era; the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (Ku Klux Klan Act) and, with Republican Senator Charles Sumner, the Civil Rights Act of 1875. The latter was over-turned with the collapse of Reconstruction.
The black regiments in the Army of the James included the 7th, 8th, 9th, 45th, 4th, 6th, 5th, 36th, 89th, 1st, 22nd and 37th U.S.C.T. and fought with distinction at Fort Harrison, Chaffin’s Farms (where 14 Colored Troops won the medal of honor), New Market Heights and on this day, October 7th, in 1864 on Darby Town Road. Many hundred fell and thousands were wounded in the bitter campaign below Richmond in the waning days of the war. For Colored Troops no quarter was received and little given. The 5th United States Colored Troops was raised in Ohio early in the process of black recruitment, of the 550 members of the 5th that went to battle at Chaffin’s Farm 146 years ago this week, 85 were killed and 248 wounded, in addition to 9 officers wounded.
Above is one of those 5th USCT warriors who received the Medal of Honor at Chaffin’s Farm, Powhatan Beatty of Cincinnati, Ohio (my home town). He took command of his company after all the officers were killed or wounded leading them in the day’s fierce combat. After the war he returned to Cincinnati where he lived at Serman Avenue and McNeal Street in Norwood. Originally from Richmond, Virginia where he would return to fight to overthrow the system from which he once fled, this freedom fighter was a cabinetmaker, janitor, a porter on a steamboat and a semi-professional actor and playwright who once appeared before Frederick Douglass. A working class hero of black liberation. Freedom will be theirs by the sword, indeed.