Colored Troops Before Richmond

Object Number: 
2011.23
Date: 
1864-1865
Medium: 
Silver
Dimensions: 
Diameter: 1 9/16 in. (40mm)
Description: 
Obverse: "FERRO IIS LIBERTAS PERVENIET" [freedom will be theirs by the sword] on a scroll above scene of two soldiers charging a Confederate bastion to the right. "U.S. COLORED TROOPS." in exergue. BUTLER DEL. and PAQUET. F. below vignette. Reverse: Wreath of oak leaves separating legends "DISTINGUISHED FOR COURAGE and CAMPAIGN BEFORE RICHMOND 1864." Medal pierced at top.
Gallery Label: 
The "Colored Troops Before Richmond" medal was struck in 1865 to honor the bravery of black troops in the Union Army during the Civil War. The medal was commissioned by the flamboyant Major General Benjamin F. Butler, known as "Beast" Butler. Butler commanded black troops who fought courageously in the attack on New Market Heights outside Richmond, Virginia on September 28-29, 1864. He was so impressed with the exceptional bravery of his black regiments that he had a medal struck in their honor. Butler engaged Anthony Paquet, the assistant Mint engraver, to prepare the dies after his own design. The steel dies were completed in the spring of 1865, and the Philadelphia Mint struck 197 silver and 11 bronze medals. The finished silver medals were sent to the Boston firm of Bigelow and Kennard, where a ribbon and hanger were attached. Butler paid for the medals and awarded many of them in person. Butler recalled the medal in his 1892 autobiography: "I had the fullest reports made to me of the acts of individual bravery of colored men on that occasion, and I had done for the negro soldiers, by my own order, what the government has never done for its white soldiers-I had a medal struck of like size, weight, quality, fabrication, and intrinsic value with those which Queen Victoria gave to her distinguished private soldiers of the Crimea . . . These I gave by my own hand, save where the recipient was in a distant hospital wounded, and by the commander of the colored corps after it was removed from my command, and I record with pride that in that single action there were so many deserving that it called for a presentation of nearly two hundred. Since the war I have been fully rewarded by seeing the beaming eye of many a colored comrade as he drew his medal from the innermost recesses of its concealment to show me."
Bibliography: 
Holzer, Harold and The New-York Historical Society. "The Civil War in 50 Objects." New York: Viking, 2013.
Credit Line: 
Gift of J. Ellis Phyfe
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group