NASHVILLE, Tenn.—A new groundbreaking book on the role of African American soldiers during the civil war could forever change the way you view U.S. history. The book, Uncommon Valor: The Story of Race, Patriotism, and Glory in the Final Battles of the Civil War (Wiley, $25.95), tells the riveting story of the battle of New Market Heights.
This battle is arguably the single most important in African American military history. More Black soldiers won the Congressional Medal of Honor for this battle than in any other single day of combat in an American war.
But for more than 140 years the Civil War story of the Black farmers, laborers and tradesmen who risked their lives on a killing field in Virginia remained largely untold. And while the battles of Atlanta, Bull Run and Gettysburg would be memorialized in history books and in the minds of Americans, few have heard of New Market Heights.
In Uncommon Valor, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Melvin Claxton and formerinvestigative reporter Mark Puls tell for the first time this tale of war, heroism and liberation. Using personal diaries, letters and other firsthand accounts, the authors follow Christian Fleetwood, a 23-year-old free Black man living in Baltimore, Md., who, a few days after Gettysburg, made the momentous and patriotic decision to enlist. ManyotherAfrican Americans, some free and some slaves, made the same decision, willingly risking their lives to save a nation and win freedom for their race.
Uncommon Valor brilliantly describes how Sgt. Fleetwood and his fellow "colored" troops were torn between the righteousness of their cause and the daily reminders of their second-class status, until they finally had a chance to prove themselves at the Battle of NewMarketHeights. Fleetwood and 13 of his comrades were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for outstanding bravery in that battle.
Claxton and Puls not only tell the story of New Market Heights, but also examine its impact on the passage of the 1874 Civil Rights Act, which was voided almost immediately by the U.S. Supreme Court. That court decision, the authors point out, paved the way for nearly a century of Jim Crow laws in the South.