Carroll County Times

Church holds presentation on African-American contributions to the Civil War

From left, Wayne Willis, Richard Dorsey, the Rev. Don Levroney and visiting minister the Rev. George Murphy gather in a circle with the congregation at Fairview United Methodist Church in Taylorsville at the conclusion of a service Sunday. Murphy, of Bethesda United Methodist Church, spoke about six African-American men from Maryland who were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their service in the Civil War.

TAYLORSVILLE - George Murphy wanted to make one thing clear to the congregation at Fairview United Methodist Church Sunday: Every month should honor black history.

Murphy, lay leader of the Bethesda United Methodist Church, gave a presentation at Fairview Sunday in which he told the stories of the six African-American servicemen from Maryland who received the Congressional Medal of Honor following the Civil War. Murphy was invited by the Taylorsville church to speak about the topic in light of Black History Month.

"This is a month we talk more directly about the past," said Murphy, who has studied Maryland history for years and has given lectures at many events. "Every month of the year is black history month."

The audience of the predominately African-American church applauded Murphy, 65, after he made the comments.

In his presentation, Murphy said many African-American men from Maryland fought in the Civil War, and their bravery was important to the Union victory.

Of those to win the Medal of Honor, Decatur Dorsey was the most local to Carroll County, he said.

Dorsey was born a slave in what is today Howard County and worked for the Dorseys, a wealthy land baron family who owned extensive property. Dorsey was later freed and joined Baltimore's 39th U.S. Colored Infantry.

Dorsey received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg, Va., July 30, 1864. During that battle, generals decided to blow up a mine underneath the Confederate works, leaving a massive crater in the ground.

Union troops later stormed the area but fell into the large pit; many were trapped in the crater and were slaughtered by Confederate troops.

Dorsey's regiment, along with the 7th Regiment Infantry U.S. Colored Infantry, was ordered to help save the men and hopefully take some territory around Petersburg.

Dorsey, who was the "color bearer" of his regiment, went ahead of his fellow troops and planted a Union flag in Confederate territory.

"He saw a field, as big as a football field, covered with mud and blood and bodies. He charged across that field, ahead of 1,000 men, planted his flag on the hill where there [were] still intact defenses of the Confederacy, went back to that regiment, pointed out that spot and they charged," Murphy said.

Murphy said that the charge Dorsey led was successful, bringing in two battle flags and 200 Confederate prisoners. Still, the Confederacy would eventually force the Union armies to retreat that day, he said.

"Decatur Dorsey saved the reputation of the Union Army," Murphy said. "The plans of generals often go astray, but in war, one thing counts: courage."

Murphy also recounted the stories of Alfred B. Hilton, Christian Fleetwood, Charles Veal, James H. Harris and William H. Brown - all African-Americans from Maryland who received the Medal of Honor following the Civil War.

"These six men are typical of the men who came from this area, these plantations, north and south of here, who ... returned the call of the great emancipator, Abraham Lincoln," Murphy said.

Members of the church said they were glad to learn more about local African-Americans who made significant contributions to history.

Don Levroney, pastor of Fairview, said he thought Murphy's presentation was excellent and taught him a lot about the role of blacks during the Civil War.

"I never knew black history the way I heard it today - about the Civil War and how African-Americans played a part," Levroney said.

Church member Sally Greene, 79, said the presentation spoke to her because many of her family members served in the military.

"I come from an Army family, so it was really interesting," Greene said.

Greene said she felt that African-American troops are often not given much credit for their actions during the Civil War.

After his presentation, Murphy said that because African-Americans have played such a vital role in shaping America, it is impossible to view history accurately without acknowledging their contributions.

"There is no way to write history instead of to include them," Murphy said.