Carrying the Colors: The Life and Legacy of Medal of Honor Recipient Andrew Jackson Smith

November 19, 2020
Carrying the Colors: The Life and Legacy of Medal of Honor Recipient Andrew Jackson Smith

An Escaped Slave who Fought for the Union and Whose WartimeHeroism was Finally Recognized with the Nation's Highest Honor forMilitary ValorIn 1862, Andrew “Andy” Jackson Smith, son of a white landownerand enslaved woman, es­caped to Union troops operating in Kentucky,made his way to the North, and volunteered for the 55thMassachusetts, one of the newly formed African American regiments.The regiment was deployed to South Carolina, and during a desperateassault on a Confederate battery, the color bearer was killed.Before the flag was lost, Smith quickly retrieved it and underheavy fire held the colors steady while the decimated regimentwithdrew. The regiment’s commanding officer pro­moted Smith tocolor sergeant and wrote him a commendation for both saving theregimental flag and bravery under fire. Honorably discharged, Smithreturned to Kentucky, where over the course of the next forty yearshe invested in land. In the early twentieth century, Burt G.Wilder, medical officer of the 55th, contacted Smith about hisexperiences for a book he was writing. During their correspondence,Wilder realized Smith was eligible for the nation’s highest award.In 1916, Wilder applied to the army, but his request for Smith’smedal was denied due to the “absence of records.” At Smith’s deathin 1932, his daughter Caruth received a box of his papers revealingthe extent of her father’s heroism. Her nephew took up the causeand through long and painstaking research located the lost records.With the help of historians, local politicians, and others, AndrewJackson Smith received his long overdue Medal of Honor in 2001.In Carrying the Colors: The Life and Legacy of Medal of HonorRecipient Andrew Jackson Smith, the riveting journey from slaveryto a White House ceremony is revealed, with the indomitable spiritof Smith—slave, soldier, landowner, father—mirrored by the doggedpursuit of his grandson and his allies in the quest to discover thetruth about an American who dedicated his life to the service ofhis community and country.