5th Massachusetts Cavalry (Colored)

OVERVIEW: Organized at Camp Meigs, Readville. 1st Battalion moved to Washington, D. C., May 5-8, 1864. At Camp Stoneman, Giesboro Point, Md., May 8-12. Dismounted and moved to Camp Casey, near Fort Albany, May 12. 2nd Battalion moved to Washington May 6-8, and to Camp Casey May 9. 3rd Battalion moved to Washington May 8-10, and to Camp Casey May 11. Regiment moved to Fortress Monroe, Va., thence to City Point, Va., May 13-16. Attached to Rand's Provisional Brigade, 18th Army Corps, Dept. of Virginia and North Carolina, May, 1864. Hinks' Colored Division, 18th Army Corps, to June, 1864. 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 18th Army Corps, to July, 1864. Point Lookout, Md., District of St. Mary's, 22nd Army Corps, to March, 1865. Unattached, 25th Army Corps, Dept. of Virginia, to June, 1865. Dept. of Texas to October, 1865.

SERVICE: Duty at City Point, Va., as Infantry till June 16, 1864. Before Petersburg June 16-19. Siege of Petersburg June 16-28. Moved to Point Lookout, Md., June 30, and duty there guarding prisoners till March, 1865. Ordered to the field and duty near Richmond, March; near Petersburg, April; near City Point, May, and at Camp Lincoln till June 16. Ordered to Texas and duty at Clarksville till October. Mustered out October 31, 1865.

Regiment lost during service 7 Enlisted men killed and 116 Enlisted men by disease. Total 123.

"The Colored Soldiers"

And their deeds shall find a record, 

In the registry of fame;  

For their blood has cleansed completely

Every blot of slavery's shame.

So all honor and all glory

To these noble Sons of Ham--

To the gallant colored soldiers,

Who fought for Uncle Sam!

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)  - son of 5th Massachusetts Cavalry veteran

Baylor's Farm June 15, 1864

On June 15th, a detachment of the 5th Massachusetts and other regiments assaulted Confederate soldiers at Baylor’s Farm, northeast of Petersburg, Virginia. One cavalryman from the regiment reported,

“We kept on, while the shell, grape and canister came around us cruelly. Our Major and Col. Russell were wounded, and several men fell—to advance seemed almost impossible; but we rallied, and, after a terrible charge, amidst pieces of barbarous iron, solid shot and shell, we drove the desperate greybacks from their fortifications, and gave three cheers for our victory.”

Another trooper recalled,

“The soldiers of the Fifth cavalry proved themselves to be men of nerve, taking things as coolly as veterans.. . .[they] displayed a high degree of courage, such as was well worthy of imitation.” 

The following article recalls that, during the fighting at Petersburg, Virginia, the men charged into battle with the cries of "Remember Fort Pillow" and they "carried the fortifications at Spring Hill."

Capture of Richmond April 1865

Early on the morning of April 3, 1865, a terrific explosion from the direction of Richmond awoke the cavalrymen. “It seemed almost to cause the earth beneath our feet to quake, we could not at the time form any conjecture what it was,” recalled one private in the regiment. “At half past seven a.m., the bugle sounded the well-known call for boots and saddles. After receiving orders to mount we were drawn up in line where Col. Chas. Francis Adams Jr., the commanding officer, made known our destination, by telling us that this day would likely seal the fate of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, and that he wanted every man to do his duty as a soldier in defence of his country’s rights, and at all hazards not suffer the colors we had so bravely defended on former occasions to be disgraced by any act of cowardice. He hoped that every man of us would be able to eat his dinner that day at 12 o’clock in the rebel capitol.”

Another soldier recalled that they “proceeded towards Richmond for about four miles, when we dismounted to fight on foot. We waited about half an hour, and as heavy cannonading was going on in front and skirmishing on our right we again mounted, and the balance of the distance to Richmond we went on a gallop. …We passed infantry, artillery and some cavalry, and entered Richmond, the first mounted men in the city, which was entirely evacuated by the Confederate army.” He added, “Going through the city we passed thousands of citizens, colored and white, who cheered and cheered us as we rode in triumph along the streets.” The fleeing Confederates buried several torpedoes, or mines, as booby traps, but the “contrabands” that watched them plant the devices informed the black cavalrymen where they were hidden."

National Tribune (Washington, DC) September 27, 1883, page 2

William Holmes served in the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, (Colored) Company A.  Unlike many of the men profiled on this #SlavesToSoldiers website, Holmes was not born in Williamson County. However, following the war, he moved here, married and raised a family, and died here.  He was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He enlisted in the Regiment after they had been organized in Massachusetts and were heading to the Virginia battlefield. On May 12, 1864, in Washington, DC 50 men - including William Holmes - enlisted in the 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry. 

Following the War and muster out in Texas, William Holmes made his way to Williamson County. It is not clear why - did he have family here? Had he met other soldiers from Williamson County during the War and decided to move with them? Regardless of the motivation, it is known that on Christmas Eve 1868, 23-year-old William Holmes married 31-year-old Mary Poyner at the house of Charles Crockett (an African American man) in "Petersburg" (now called Arrington).  Mary was the daughter of local artisan Dick Poyner. Within a few months of their marriage the couple moved from the Arrington area to Pinewood Road near Leiper's Fork. The couple farmed and had three sons together, William Jr, Robert and Kemp.  

In 1903, William Holmes requested a pension.  He said he was a farmer but that he couldn't walk well and couldn't push a plow.  He was granted an $8/month disability pension on the basis of senility instead of physical disability however - the doctor noted that he was "senile, far beyond that which would be expected of one of his stated age." 

On June 10, 1906 William Holmes died.  His gravesite had not been located. A brick paver in his honor was sponsored by Jamie Gilreath Watson. You can read a longer summary of William Holmes' life and service here.

Fun Facts: Notable Members of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry