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Black Civil War luminaries from Virginia among potential new names for Forts Lee, A.P. Hill and Pickett

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Carney

Sgt. William Carney served in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment during the Civil War, enlisting in Company C in 1863. He became the first African American to receive the Medal of Honor.

African Americans from Virginia honored for their Civil War service to the Union are among 87 potential new names for nine federal military posts that now honor Confederates, including three in Virginia — Fort Lee, Fort A.P. Hill and Fort Pickett.

A federal commission said this week that it has reduced 34,000 submissions to 87 potential names, include those of nationally known military leaders such as Gens. Dwight D. Eisenhower, later the 34th president, George C. Marshall, Omar Bradley and Colin Powell, as well as Harriet Tubman, famed for spiriting enslaved people to freedom via the Underground Railroad.

The lesser-known military luminaries with Virginia ties include William Carney, who was born enslaved in Norfolk and became the first African American to receive the Medal of Honor. Carney, a soldier in the famed 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, received the honor for his heroism in saving the regiment’s American flag during the unsuccessful 1863 assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina.

Carney is among 10 honorees listed on the base of the Emancipation and Freedom monument on Brown’s Island in Richmond for his contributions to the fight against slavery.

Powhatan Beaty, who was born enslaved in Richmond, made his way to Ohio and served with the Union Army’s 5th United States Colored Infantry Regiment. He received the Medal of Honor for leading an attack during the 1864 Battle of Chaffin’s Farm in Henrico County after the Union officers were killed or wounded.

The list also includes Norfolk-born Alexander T. Augusta, who, during the Civil War, became the Army’s first African American surgeon. In 1863, he was named to lead the Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, becoming the first African American hospital administrator in U.S. history. Later, at Howard University, he became the nation’s first Black medical professor.

Amid the racial reckoning following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, the federal government — like Virginia and other states in the South — started processes to remove commemorations of Confederates.

The federal commission said that in considering new names for the nine bases, it is “focused on ensuring the names considered for military installations appropriately reflected the courage, values, sacrifices and diversity of our military men and women, with consideration given to the local or regional significance of names and their potential to inspire and motivate service members.”

In addition to the three Virginia bases, installations to be renamed include Fort Benning and Fort Gordon in Georgia; Fort Rucker in Alabama; Fort Polk in Louisiana; Fort Bragg in North Carolina; and Fort Hood in Texas.

The federal commission is to make its final recommendations by Oct. 1, with the secretary of defense to implement new names in 2024.

The list of 87 potential names includes others from Virginia who received the nation’s highest military honor.

  • Van Barfoot received the Medal of Honor for his heroism as an Army technical sergeant in Italy in 1944. Barfoot, originally from Mississippi, spent his retirement years in the Richmond area and died in Richmond in 2012.

(Barfoot drew national attention in 2009 for his fight to fly the American flag from a 21-foot flagpole in his Henrico County yard. His neighborhood association, which allowed flags to be flown on angled poles attached to houses, ordered it removed and threatened legal action. The association backed down following an outpouring of support for the decorated veteran.)

  • Ernest Dervishian of Richmond, then an Army technical sergeant, also received the Medal of Honor for his heroism in Italy in 1944.
  • Desmond Doss, a U.S. Army corporal and a combat medic from Lynchburg, was a Seventh-day Adventist and conscientious objector who received the Medal of Honor for saving the lives of dozens of infantrymen on Okinawa.
  • Jimmie W. Monteith, an Army first lieutenant who was born in Alleghany County but spent his formative years in Richmond, posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his heroism at Normandy on D-Day.
  • Frank D. Peregory, an Army technical sergeant born in Esmont in Albemarle County, posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his heroism in Normandy on June 8, 1944. He was killed fighting in the hedgerows six days later.
  • Ruppert Leon Sargent, an Army first lieutenant who was born in Hampton and graduated from Virginia State University, posthumously received the Medal of Honor for throwing himself on two enemy grenades in Vietnam in 1967, saving the lives of two other men.

George C. Marshall, U.S. Army chief of staff during World War II and a former secretary of state and secretary of defense, was born in Pennsylvania, but had strong ties to Virginia.

He graduated from Virginia Military Institute and lived in Loudoun County in Northern Virginia during his period of greatest renown, including the era of his Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II.

Fort Lee, built in 1917 in Prince George County, is named for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, who was born in Virginia at Stratford Hall.

Fort A.P. Hill, near Bowling Green, was built in 1941 and is named for the Confederate general from Culpeper who was shot and killed in Petersburg in 1865. Hill is buried in Richmond beneath one of the city’s last remaining Confederate statues.

Fort Pickett, near the town of Blackstone in Nottoway County, opened in 1942. It is named for Richmond-born Confederate Gen. George Pickett, best known for Pickett’s Charge, the failed assault on Union lines at Gettysburg.

Fort Lee and Fort Pickett played key roles as initial intake centers for refugees following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

acain@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6645

Twitter: @AndrewCainRTD

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