David R. Craig Park in Havre de Grace will look different later this year as a monument to Harford County’s only Medal of Honor recipient will be built there.
The monument will commemorate Sgt. Alfred B. Hilton, a Black soldier who fought for the Union in the Civil War. His legacy will be set in stone — literally — later this year with the construction of a monument in his honor.
Friday, state and local officials gathered to give residents a view of the site overlooking the water where the monument will be placed and pay tribute to Hilton’s legacy. Originally, the monument had been planned for Millard Tydings Memorial Park, but buried utility lines made the site unworkable, and there was not appropriate space for it, so Havre de Grace agreed to dedicate a part of David R. Craig Park to the memorial.
County Councilman Curtis Beulah, chair of the Alfred B. Hilton Foundation and whose council district includes Havre de Grace, thanked everyone who made the monument’s construction possible and said Hilton’s story is one that should be told.
“It brings people together and it is just a great story,” Beulah said, “so it is time to let everybody know about Harford County’s history.”
According to the foundation, Hilton was born in the Hopewell area of Harford County, now Level, around 1842 to Harriet and Isaac Hilton, free citizens who had formerly been enslaved in the county.
Hilton enlisted with the 4th Regiment United States Colored Troops in 1863, and was made a color bearer in 1864, tasked with carrying the national flag into battle.
On Sept. 29, 1864, Hilton and his regiment advanced ahead of Union troops against entrenched Confederate defenses at Chapin’s Farm outside Richmond, Virginia — a critical engagement during the war, according to the foundation. Hilton was wounded but continued the advance, picking up the regimental standard from another fallen soldier and carrying both the national and regimental flags forward until he was unable to go further.
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Before he fell, he passed the flags to others in his regiment and said “Boys, save the colors!” He died of his wounds in a segregated hospital in Hampton Roads, Virginia, on Oct. 21, 1864, and is now buried in the Hampton National Cemetery, according to the foundation. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, becoming one of 16 Black soldiers in the Union Army to earn it, and the only native Harford Countian to receive that honor.
According to the Library of Congress, approximately 180,000 Black Americans had joined the fight by the end of the Civil War, despite rampant discrimination and earning lower wages than their white counterparts. It is estimated that a third of all the African-Americans who enlisted died.
Some of those historical details were recounted Friday by Havre de Grace Mayor William T. Martin, who said the city will be proud to host the monument and the flag that flies there will be lit “the most beautiful flag in the city of Havre de Grace” in honor of Hilton.
“It is not unhuman to give your life for someone you love, but there is an amazing, noble quality within someone when you give your life for an idea,” he said. “We all pray that his actions and his deeds and this beautiful monument that will be behind this soon will remind everyone of what it means to be an American.”
Joi Hilton, a member of Hilton’s family, said she was pleased about the monument and looks forward to its completion. Word passed down through her family of Alfred Hilton’s deeds, but she did not know some of the details until the family connected with a historian and started digging.
“I never thought something like this would happen,” she said.
Earlier this year, a Civil War-themed playground opened in Alfred B. Hilton Memorial Park off of Gravel Hill Road, in the area just west of Havre de Grace where Hilton grew up and his descendants still own property. The bridge at the intersection of Route 22 and Interstate 95 was also designated as the Alfred B. Hilton Memorial Bridge in 2017 after Del. Mary Ann Lisanti introduced the legislation in the General Assembly, and the American Legion’s Post 55 in Bel Air is also named for Hilton.