More than 150 years have passed since Havre de Grace, Maryland native Sgt. Alfred B. Hilton carried the U.S. colors into battle during the Civil War. For his bravery in drawing attention away from his comrades during the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm/Market Heights, near Richmond, Virginia in 1864, Hilton was posthumously awarded the military’s most prestigious award for valor, making him Harford County Maryland’s only recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
On Nov. 9, the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Maryland Transportation Authority, or MDTA, led a dedication of the MD 22 bridge spanning I-95 in Aberdeen to Civil War Sgt. Alfred B. Hilton during a dedication ceremony at Alfred B. Hilton Park in Havre de Grace.
Born and raised in the Gravel Hill area of Havre de Grace, Hilton was a flag bearer in Company H, 4th U.S. Colored Troops who was mortally wounded while carrying the national standard and the regimental colors during the, Sept. 29, 1864 battle. Hilton was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in April 1865.
Aberdeen Proving Ground Senior Commander Maj. Gen. Randy Taylor led the contingent of military personnel who attended the ceremony. Guest speakers included Kevin Reigrut, MTA executive director; James Ports Jr., deputy secretary, MDOT; Harford County Councilman Curtis Beulah, chairman of the Sgt. Hilton Memorial Committee; and Hilton family spokesperson Peter Byrd who was joined by family members from as far away as Georgia. Guests included Maryland State Senator Bob Cassilly and Maryland Delegate Mary Ann Lisanti. Two honor guards, the Harford County Sheriff’s Department, which posted the colors, and the MDTA, also were in attendance.
Reigrut said the service of Sgt. Hilton was a “shining example of government service.”
“It was in recognizing his sacrifice that we gather today to honor and celebrate his life,” he said.
Ports added that he was honored to recognize “a true American hero.”
“Would you pick up a flag, knowing you might be the next target,” he asked listeners. “This is a man whose sacrifice will ever be immortalized for generations to come.”
Ports thanked Lisanti, the Harford County Council and Bel Air American Legion Post 55 for their efforts in gaining recognition for Hilton.
“It was an honor to be a part of this moment in history,” added Beulah.
Allen commended the men and women of Campaign 42, a local group that promotes and documents the African-American history of Harford County, and said the recognition most impacts youth growing up today.
“Thank you all for this endeavor to place honor where it belongs,” he said.
Reigrut presented Hilton family spokesperson Peter Byrd with a replica of the sign marker that was unveiled at the bridge by maintenance workers at the conclusion of the ceremony.
Byrd, who grew up playing as a child in the Gravel Hill area, said the family still gathers there for family reunions. He thanked all who played a role in achieving recognition for something the family has always known.
“Now everyone knows,” he said. “This is a great thing for our family, for Harford County, and for the state of Maryland.”
Sgt. Alfred B. Hilton
Alfred B. Hilton was born about 1837 and grew up on his father’s farm in the free black community of Gravel Hill in Havre de Grace. He was one of emancipated slaves Isaac and Harriet Hilton’s 14 children. When the U.S. Army started recruiting free blacks and slaves, after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in January 1963, Hilton and his brothers , Aaron and Henry, enlisted in the 4th U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) in Havre de Grace In August 1863.
Of the more than 200 Harford County men who joined the USCT, 26 served in that regiment. Appointed Color Sergeant, Hilton carried the U.S. flag through several engagements around Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia, from June to September, 1864.
On Sept. 29, 1864, Hilton carried the American flag – referred to then as the ‘national standard’ – into battle during the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm/New Market Heights, east of Richmond. When the regimental color bearer was wounded, Hilton recovered that flag and carried both until he was severely wounded. He died Oct. 21 at the U.S. General Hospital at Fort Monroe and is buried at Hampton National Cemetery.
Hilton is one of 16 African-American Union Army Soldiers who received the Medal of Honor for their service during the Civil War and the only service member from Harford County. According to the U.S. Army Center of Military History website at https://history.army.mil/index.html, the posthumous citation, issued April 6, 1865, reads: “When the regimental color bearer fell, this soldier seized the color and carried it forward, together with the national standard until disabled at the enemy’s inner line.”