Decatur Dorsey (1836–July 11, 1891) was a Union Army soldier in the American Civil War and a recipient of the U.S. military’s highest decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his actions at the Battle of the Crater. Born into slavery, Dorsey enlisted in the United States Colored Troops and served through the last year of the war
BiographyDorsey was born a slave in 1836 in Howard County, Maryland. He worked as a laborer before enlisting in the Union Army from Baltimore on March 22, 1864, at age twenty-five. He joined Company B of the 39th United States Colored Infantry Regiment as a private, but was promoted to corporal less than two months later, on May 17.
On July 30, 1864, Dorsey took part in the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg, Virginia. With the Siege of Petersburg at a stalemate, Union forces hoped to break the city’s defenses by detonating explosives in a tunnel dug beneath the Confederate lines and charging the enemy positions in the aftermath of the explosion. The blast blew a huge crater in the Confederate defenses, and white Union soldiers rushed in to attack. Men who entered the crater became trapped as the Confederates regrouped and began firing down at them.
Dorsey’s division, which had been held in reserve, was then ordered to reinforce the attack. Dorsey, serving as the 39th Regiment’s color bearer, moved ahead of his unit during the advance and planted the flag on the Confederate fortifications. When the regiment was forced to pull back, he retrieved the flag and rallied his fellow soldiers for a second attack. In this second assault, the men of the 39th breached the Confederate works and engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the defenders. They captured two hundred prisoners and two flags before being pushed back again and ordered to withdraw.
Dorsey was promoted to sergeant on August 1, two days after the battle, and again to first sergeant on January 1, 1865. He was awarded the Medal of Honor on November 8, 1865, for his actions at the Battle of the Crater and was discharged from the Army a month later, on December 4, while in Wilmington, North Carolina. After the war he married and lived in Hoboken, New Jersey. He died there on July 11, 1891 at the approximate age of fifty-five. He was buried at Flower Hill Cemetery in North Bergen, New Jersey.[
Powhatan Beaty (October 8, 1837 – December 6, 1916) was an African American soldier and actor. During the American Civil War, he served in the Union Army’s 5th United States Colored Infantry Regiment throughout the Richmond–Petersburg Campaign. He received America’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, for taking command of his company at the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm after all officers had been killed and/or wounded.
Following the war, he became an orator and actor, appearing in amateur theater productions in his home of Cincinnati, Ohio. His most well-known stage performance was an 1884 appearance at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., opposite Henrietta Vinton Davis.
Beaty was born into slavery on October 8, 1837 in Richmond, Virginia. He moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1849, where he received an education. He gained his freedom sometime on or before April 19, 1861; the exact date is unknown and may have been before his move to Ohio. While in school, he developed an interest in theater and made his public acting debut at a school concert. After leaving school, he was apprenticed to a black cabinet maker and eventually worked as a turner. He continued to study acting privately and received training in the field from several coaches, including James E. Murdock, a retired professional stage actor from Philadelphia.
A year after the outbreak of the Civil War, with the decisive Confederate victory at the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky, on August 30, 1862, rumors of an impending Confederate attack on Cincinnati began to circulate. Richmond was one hundred miles to the south of Cincinnati, and no organized Union troops lay between the two cities. An attack by Confederate Colonel John Hunt Morgan, who had led his cavalry on a raid behind Union lines in Kentucky the previous month, was also feared. On September 2, the men of Cincinnati were organized into work units to build fortifications around the city.
Although Cincinnati’s African Americans were initially pressed into service at bayonet point, after the appointment of William Dickson as commander of the black troops their treatment improved significantly. Dickson promised that they would be treated fairly and kept together as a distinct unit, to be called the Black Brigade. He then allowed them to return home to prepare for military service, with orders to report the next morning for duty. About four hundred men were released that day, September 4, and the next morning about seven hundred reported for duty. Among those men was Beaty, who served in Company Number 1 of the Brigade’s 3rd Regiment. Despite the danger of Confederate attack, the unarmed unit was assigned to build defenses near the Licking River in Kentucky, far in advance of the Union lines. For the next fifteen days, they cleared forests, constructed forts, magazines and roads, and dug trenches and rifle pits. The brigade was disbanded on September 20, the threat of attack having receded.
 United States Colored Troops service
A portion of the 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, later re-designated the 5th USCT, in Delaware, OhioBy June 1863, Ohio had not yet fielded an African American combat unit, but Ohio blacks were being recruited for service in the regiments of other states. Beaty enlisted from Cincinnati on June 7, 1863 for a three-year term of service in the Union Army; he was among a group of men recruited for a Massachusetts regiment. He joined as a private but was promoted to sergeant only two days later. He was placed in charge of a squad of forty-seven other recruits and ordered to report to Columbus, Ohio, from where they would be sent to Boston. Upon arriving in Columbus on June 15, however, they learned that the Massachusetts regiments were full and unable to accept their service. The Governor of Ohio, David Tod, immediately requested permission from the Department of War to form an Ohio regiment of African Americans. Permission was granted, and on June 17, Beaty and his squad became the first members of the 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, later re-designated the 5th United States Colored Troops. After three months of recruitment and organization in Camp Delaware, on the Olentangy River outside of Delaware, Ohio, the unit set out for Virginia.
By the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm on September 29, 1864, Beaty had risen to the rank of first sergeant in Company G. His 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 and was turned back after reaching a line of abatis. During the retreat, Company G’s color bearer was killed; Beaty returned through about 600 yards of enemy fire to retrieve the flag and return it to the company lines. The regiment had suffered severe casualties in the failed charge. Of Company G’s eight officers and eighty-three enlisted men who entered the battle, only sixteen enlisted men, including Beaty, survived the attack unwounded. With no officers remaining, Beaty took command of the company and led it through a second charge at the Confederate lines. The second attack successfully drove the Confederates from their fortified positions, at the cost of three more men from Company G. By the end of the battle, over fifty percent of the black division had been killed, captured, or wounded. For his actions, Beaty was commended on the battlefield by General Benjamin Butler and seven months later, on April 6, 1865, awarded the Medal of Honor.
Beaty continued to distinguish himself in the 5th Regiment’s further engagements. His actions during the Battle of Fair Oaks & Darbytown Road in October 1864 earned him a mention in the general orders to the Army of the Potomac. The regimental commander, Colonel Giles Shurtleff, twice recommended him for a promotion to commissioned officer. Nothing came of Colonel Shurtleff’s requests, however Beaty did receive a brevet promotion to lieutenant. By the time he was mustered out of the Army he had participated in thirteen battles and numerous skirmishes.
 Post-war lifeAfter the war, Beaty returned to Cincinnati and raised his family. His son, A. Lee Beaty, became an Ohio state legislator and an assistant U.S. District Attorney for southern Ohio. He resumed his career as a turner and pursued amateur acting and public speaking engagements. He gave public readings for charitable causes and became a well-known elocutionist among the African American community of Cincinnati. Through the 1870s he acted in local theaters and directed music and drama exhibitions in the city. He wrote a play about a rich southern planter entitled Delmar, or Scenes in Southland, which was performed in January 1881 with himself in the lead role. Set in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Massachusetts, the work covered the end of slavery and transition to freedom for blacks from 1860 to 1875. The privately-run play was well received, but Beaty did not engage in self-promotion and it never moved into public theaters.
Henrietta Vinton DavisIn January 1884, Beaty was working as an assistant engineer at the Cincinnati water works when Henrietta Vinton Davis, a prominent African American actress, came to perform in the city. Together, he and Davis put on a large musical and dramatic festival in Melodeon Hall which proved to be very successful. Included in the show were productions of Ingomar, the Barbarian and Robert Montgomery Bird’s The Gladiator, in which Beaty took the role of Spartacus. The culmination of the festival was a performance of selected scenes from Macbeth, with Beaty playing the title role and Davis as Lady Macbeth. Newspapers in both the black and white communities of Cincinnati praised the performances of the two actors, with the Commercial stating that Beaty “threw himself into his part with masterly energy and power”.
The successful festival led to Beaty being invited to play as a principal actor in a Washington, D.C., Shakespearean production organized by Davis. A company including Davis, Beaty, and amateur actors from the D.C. area performed Richard III almost in entirety, three scenes from Macbeth, and one scene from Ingomar, the Barbarian. Davis, the premier black Shakespearean actress of the time, was the star of the show and Beaty played opposite her as Macbeth, King Henry VI, and Ingomar. The May 7, 1884 production was played in Ford’s Opera House to a full house of more than 1,100 people; among them was Frederick Douglass. There was some heckling during the play, primarily from some of the white attendees, however a reviewer from The Washington Post reported that “the earnestness and intelligence of several of the leading performers were such as to command the respect of those most disposed to find cause for laughter in everything that was said or done”. Washington newspapers praised the principal actors, but noted that the inexperience of some of the supporting cast was evident. Reviewers for African American newspapers were especially pleased to see such a production in an important venue like Ford’s Theater. The New York Globe wrote of the performance “[t]hus leap by leap the colored man and woman encroach upon the ground so long held sacred by their white brother and sister
Beaty continued to tour with Davis and performed a show in Philadelphia before returning to Cincinnati. He helped form his city’s Literary and Dramatic Club and, in 1888, became the organization’s drama director. He lived out the rest of his life in Cincinnati and died at age seventy-nine on December 6, 1916; he was buried at Union Baptist Cemetery
John Robert Fox (May 18, 1915–December 26, 1944) was killed in action when he deliberately called for artillery fire on his own position, after his position was overrun, in order to defeat a German attack in the vicinity of Sommocolonia, northern Italy during World War II. He posthumously received the Medal of Honor in 1997, for willingly sacrificing his life.
Fox was born in Cincinnati, Ohio May 18, 1915, and attended Wilberforce University, graduating with an ROTC commission of second lieutenant in 1940. He was 29 years old when he called artillery fire on his own position the day after Christmas in 1944, for which he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1982. More than fifty years after his death, Fox was awarded the Medal of Honor. He is buried in Colebrook Cemetery in Whitman, Massachusetts.
In the early 1990s it was determined that African-American soldiers were denied consideration for the Medal of Honor solely due to their race. After a review, seven African-American soldiers had their Medals upgraded in January, 1997 to the Medal of Honor; First Lieutenant Fox was one of the seven.
The 92nd Infantry Division (colored), known as the Buffalo Soldiers, was a segregated African American division that fought in World War II. First Lieutenant John R. Fox was of the 366th Infantry Regiment when he made the ultimate sacrifice in order to defeat the enemy and save the lives of his fellow soldiers. In December 1944, Fox was part of a small forward observer party that volunteered to stay behind in the Italian village of Sommocolonia, in the Serchio River Valley. American forces had been forced to withdraw from the village after it had been overrun by the enemy. From his position on the second floor of a house, Fox directed defensive artillery fire.
The enemy was in the streets and attacking in strength, greatly outnumbering the small group of American soldiers. Fox radioed in to have the artillery fire adjusted closer to his position, then radioed again to have the shelling moved even closer. The soldier receiving the message was stunned, for that would bring the deadly fire right on top of Fox’s position; there was no way he would survive. When Fox was told this, he replied, “Fire it.” This shelling delayed the enemy advance until other units could reorganize to repel the attack.
His action permitted U.S. forces, who had been forced to withdraw, to organize a counterattack and regain control of the village. After the units had retaken the village, they found Fox’s body along with the bodies of about one hundred enemy soldiers.
After the war the citizens of Sommocolonia, Italy erected a monument to nine men who were killed during the artillery barrage – eight Italian soldiers, and Lieutenant Fox.
In 2005, the toy company Hasbro introduced a 12-inch action figure “commemorating Lt. John R. Fox as part of its G.I. Joe Medal-of-Honor series.”
Medal of Honor citation
For his “gallant and courageous actions, at the supreme sacrifice of his own life,” Fox was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. His widow, the former Arlene Marrow of Brockton, Massachusetts, received his medal from President Bill Clinton in a White House ceremony on January 13, 1997. On that day, Clinton also awarded the medal to six other previously neglected African American World War II veterans, including Vernon Baker, who was the only one living when awarded.
For extraordinary heroism against an armed enemy in the vicinity of Sommocolonia, Italy on 26 December 1944, while serving as a member of Cannon Company, 366th Infantry Regiment, 92d Infantry Division. During the preceding few weeks, Lieutenant Fox served with the 598th Field Artillery Battalion as a forward observer. On Christmas night, enemy soldiers gradually infiltrated the town of Sommocolonia in civilian clothes, and by early morning the town was largely in hostile hands. Commencing with a heavy barrage of enemy artillery at 0400 hours on 26 December 1944, an organized attack by uniformed German units began. Being greatly outnumbered, most of the United States Infantry forces were forced to withdraw from the town, but Lieutenant Fox and some other members of his observer party voluntarily remained on the second floor of a house to direct defensive artillery fire. At 0800 hours, Lieutenant Fox reported that the Germans were in the streets and attacking in strength. He then called for defensive artillery fire to slow the enemy advance. As the Germans continued to press the attack towards the area that Lieutenant Fox occupied, he adjusted the artillery fire closer to his position. Finally he was warned that the next adjustment would bring the deadly artillery right on top of his position. After acknowledging the danger, Lieutenant Fox insisted that the last adjustment be fired as this was the only way to defeat the attacking soldiers. Later, when a counterattack retook the position from the Germans, Lieutenant Fox’s body was found with the bodies of approximately 100 German soldiers. Lieutenant Fox’s gallant and courageous actions, at the supreme sacrifice of his own life, contributed greatly to delaying the enemy advance until other infantry and artillery units could reorganize to repel the attack. His extraordinary valorous actions were in keeping with the most cherished traditions of military service, and reflect the utmost credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army