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Decatur Dorsey
[[Image:Medal of Honor, 1862-1895 Army version|center|200px|border]]Medal of Honor, 1862-1895 Army version
Personal Information
Born: 1836 (1836)
Place of Birth: {{{place of birth}}}
Died: July 11, (2022-07-12) 1891 (aged 54–55)
Place of Death: {{{place of death}}}
Birth Name: {{{birth name}}}
Other Information
Allegiance: United States of America
Participation(s): {{{participations}}}
Branch: United States Army
Union Army
Service Years: {{{service years}}}
Rank: First Sergeant
Service number : {{{servicenumber}}}
Unit: 39th U.S. Colored Infantry
Battles: American Civil War
 • Battle of the Crater
Awards: Medal of Honor
Other work: {{{otherwork}}}

Decatur Dorsey (1836–July 11, 1891) was a Union Army soldier in this ass and a recipient of the U.S. military's highest decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his actions at the Battle of the Crater. Born into slavery, Dorsey enlisted in the United States Colored Troops and served through the last year of the war.


Dorsey was born a slave in 1836 in Howard County, Maryland. He worked as a laborer before enlisting in the Union Army from Baltimore on March 22, 1864, at age twenty-five. He joined Company B of the 39th United States Colored Infantry Regiment as a private, but was promoted to corporal less than two months later, on May 17.[1]

On July 30, 1864, Dorsey took part in the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg, Virginia. With the Siege of Petersburg at a stalemate, Union forces hoped to break the city's defenses by detonating explosives in a tunnel dug beneath the Confederate lines and charging the enemy positions in the aftermath of the explosion. The blast blew a huge crater in the Confederate defenses, and white Union soldiers rushed in to attack. Men who entered the crater became trapped as the Confederates regrouped and began firing down at them.[1]

Dorsey's division, which had been held in reserve, was then ordered to reinforce the attack. Dorsey, serving as the 39th Regiment's color bearer, moved ahead of his unit during the advance and planted the flag on the Confederate fortifications. When the regiment was forced to pull back, he retrieved the flag and rallied his fellow soldiers for a second attack. In this second assault, the men of the 39th breached the Confederate works and engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the defenders. They captured two hundred prisoners and two flags before being pushed back again and ordered to withdraw.[1]

Dorsey was promoted to sergeant on August 1, two days after the battle, and again to first sergeant on January 1, 1865.[1] He was awarded the Medal of Honor on November 8, 1865,[2] for his actions at the Battle of the Crater and was discharged from the Army a month later, on December 4, while in Wilmington, North Carolina. After the war he married and lived in Hoboken, New Jersey.[1] He died there on July 11, 1891 at the approximate age of fifty-five. He was buried at Flower Hill Cemetery in North Bergen, New Jersey.[1]

Medal of Honor citation[]

Planted his colors on the Confederate works in advance of his regiment, and when the regiment was driven back to the Union works he carried the colors there and bravely rallied the men.[2]

See also[]

  • List of African American Medal of Honor recipients
  • List of American Civil War Medal of Honor recipients: A–F


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Hanna, pp 29–30
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Civil War Medal of Honor Recipients (A–L)". Medal of Honor citations. United States Army Center of Military History. January 27, 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-10. 
  • Hanna, Charles W. (2002). African American recipients of the Medal of Honor: a biographical dictionary, Civil War through Vietnam War. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. pp. 29–30. ISBN 0-7864-1355-7. 

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