Milton Murray Holland was a Union Army soldier during the American Civil War and a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor for his action in the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm. Murray was born on August 1, 1844 in Austin, Texas, the son of Bird Holland, a white slave owner, and Holland’s slave whose name is unknown. In the 1850s, Bird freed Milton and two of his brothers, James and William H. Holland, and sent them to Albany, Ohio, to receive their education at the Albany Manual Labor Academy, a school operated by free African Americans.
When the Civil War started in 1861, Holland, who was 16, tried to enlist in the Union Army but was rejected due to his race. Meanwhile he worked as a shoemaker for the Quartermaster Department of the Army. In June 1863 Holland joined the Fifth United States Colored Troops, in Athens, Ohio, commanded by General Benjamin F. Butler. He fought in the battle of the Crater in the Petersburg campaign in Virginia during 1864 and at Fort Fisher, North Carolina in January 1865.
Enlisting as a private, Holland rose to a rank of regimental sergeant major. When all the white commanding officers of his regiment were either killed or wounded during the engagements at Chaffin’s Farm near New Market Heights, Virginia, between September 28 and 30, 1864, Holland assumed command and defeated the Confederates. For leading the charge, during which he was wounded, he received the Congressional Medal of Honor on April 6, 1865. Holland was also promoted to captain, but the War Department refused the commission on grounds of his race. In January 1865, Holland and other members of his unit patrolled the lowlands of North Carolina where they killed or captured Confederate guerilla fighters and freed slaves in accordance with the Emancipation Proclamation.
Holland was mustered out of the Army at Carolina City, North Carolina, on September 20, 1865. Ironically, his father and former owner, Bird Holland, had been killed at the battle of Mansfield in Louisiana in April 1864 while serving as a major in the Confederate Army. About a month after his discharge from the Army, Holland married Virginia W. Dickey in Columbus, Ohio on October 24, 1865. Holland resumed his job as a shoemaker and according to his pension records, resided in Columbus and Albany, Ohio between October 1865 and June 1869.
In 1870, Holland’s friend, noted abolitionist and future Virginia Congressman John Mercer Langston, helped him obtain a clerkship in the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. at a salary of $1,200. Future President Rutherford B. Hayes and his former commander, General Benjamin F. Butler, both recommended him for the post. While working in the U.S. Treasury Department, Holland studied law at Howard University and graduated in 1872. He was one of the first black attorneys in the nation to be admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. He later served as Chief of Division in the U.S. Auditor’s Office at a salary of $2,000 per year. There he oversaw the accounts of the War Department and the West Point Military Academy.
Holland, an active Republican politician, left the civil service in 1887 and open a law office in Washington, D.C. He later became president of the Capital Savings Bank and secretary and general manager of Industrial Building and Savings Company, two black-owned financial institutions. Holland was also the founder and first president of the Alpha Life Insurance Company, which when incorporated in 1892 was one of the first black-owned insurance companies in the nation.
By 1902, Holland and his wife, Virginia, had retired to Silver Spring, Maryland, where they resided until his death at the age of 65 on May 15, 1910 from a heart attack. Holland was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.