How two Kentucky “Buffalo Soldiers” earned the Medal of Honor

Story by John Trowbridge, Kentucky National Guard Command Historian

In recognition of February as Black History Month kentuckyguard.com is publishing a series of articles honoring African-American men and women who are significant figures in Kentucky’s military history.  The following is one such story ….

civil war mohFRANKFORT, Ky. — The Medal of Honor was created during the American Civil War and is the highest military decoration presented by the United States government to a member of its armed forces. The recipient must have distinguished themselves at the risk of their own life above and beyond the call of duty in action against an enemy of the United States.

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Sgt. Brent Woods, Medal of Honor recipient, 1894.

During the Western Indian Wars of the mid to late eighteen hundreds, two Kentucky African Americans received the Medal of Honor for their actions in battle.

Brent Woods was born in 1855, in Pulaski County, Kentucky and joined the Army from Louisville, Kentucky.  By August 19, 1881, he was serving as a sergeant in Company B of the 9th United States Cavalry Regiment, (Buffalo Soldiers).  On that day he participated in an engagement in New Mexico where he “[s]aved the lives of his comrades and citizens of the detachment.” Thirteen years later, on July 12, 1894, Sgt. Woods was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the engagement. He eventually retired from the Army in 1902, and returned to Kentucky.  He died on March 31, 1906, and is buried in Mill Springs National Cemetery, Nancy, Kentucky.

Sgt. Woods’ citation reads: “… saved the lives of his comrades and citizens of the detachment.”

Thomas_Shaw_(MOH)

Medal of Honor Recipient Sgt. Thomas Shaw is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Thomas Shaw was born in 1846, in Covington, Kentucky, and joined the Army from Pike County, Missouri. On August 12, 1881, he was serving as a sergeant in Company K of the 9th United States Cavalry Regiment (Buffalo Soldiers). On that day he participated in an engagement at Carrizo Canyon in New Mexico. For his actions during the engagement, Shaw was awarded the Medal of Honor nine years later, on December 7, 1890.

Shaw died on June 23, 1895, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington County, Virginia.

Sgt. Shaw’s citation reads:Forced the enemy back after stubbornly holding his ground in an extremely exposed position and prevented the enemy’s superior numbers from surrounding his command.”

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