The first recipient of the Medal of Honor who was born in Texas was Milton M. Holland. The nation’s highest military honor (originally called the Congressional Medal of Honor) was instituted at the beginning of the Civil War to recognize the heroic actions of Union soldiers in that struggle.
Holland was born in Panola County in August 1844 (some sources say Austin). Along with two brothers, he was sent to school in Athens County, Ohio, before the Civil War by his owner, Bird Holland.
When the Civil War broke out, he worked as a civilian for the quartermaster corps until blacks were allowed to join the army in 1863. The young man raised a company of African-Americans in Athens, and the group was mustered into the 5th Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops. Holland attained the rank of sergeant-major, the highest rank open to blacks at the time.
When the officers of his unit were either killed or wounded in an advance on Richmond, Virginia, on Sept. 29, 1864, Holland assumed command and led a courageous charge that allowed a white military unit to return to the Union line. The actions of Holland and his regiment earned the highest praise from Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
Holland was presented with his Medal of Honor on April, 6, 1865. His citation states: “Took command of Company C, after all the officers had been killed or wounded, and gallantly led it.” In all, 23 black soldiers and sailors won the Medal of Honor during the Civil War. Because Holland entered the Union army in Ohio, his military service and heroism are credited to that state in U.S. military records.
Holland did not return to Texas after the war, migrating instead to Washington, D.C. In the 1890s, he founded the Alpha Insurance Company in Washington, D.C., one of the first black-owned insurance companies in the nation. He died in 1910 in Silver Springs, Maryland.
Milton’s brother, William, did return to Texas and taught for a time in Austin. A staunch Republican, William Holland served in the 15th Legislature, where he authored legislation creating Prairie View Normal, the first college for blacks in Texas and now Prairie View A&M University.
Sources: Texas Almanac 1994–1995 and the Richmond Battlefield website, National Park Service; www.nps.gov/rich/historyculture/holland.htm.
— From the Texas Almanac 2012–2013.