- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Bloodied but victorious, the small band of cavalry soldiers dragged themselves down New Mexico’s Mimbres Mountains in 1879 carrying their one dead and two wounded comrades as the rest of their Army company chased the hostile Indians, now in retreat.

The moment was short-lived. The weary squad of soldiers found themselves surrounded by Indians, ready to strike and massacre the lot of them.

Exactly what happened next is not entirely clear, but what is known is that Sgt. Thomas Boyne — a former slave from Prince George’s County, Maryland — distinguished himself with valor and gallantry to earn him the Medal of Honor.

Boyne is one of three Buffalo Soldiers from Maryland to receive the nation’s highest military accolade. The others: Augustus Walley was born in Reisterstown, and Clinton Greaves was born in Virginia but lived and worked in Prince George’s County.

Boyne’s story was thoroughly investigated by William Aleshire, a native of Bowie who published his findings in an encyclopedia-style biography titled “A Buffalo Soldier’s Story: Medal of Honor Recipient Sergeant Thomas Boyne and His Comrades, 1864-1889.”

“It was very obvious to me that research was needed about our native son,” Aleshire, who died in 2007, said in the prologue.

His widow, Clara Aleshire, said that despite her husband’s extensive research, he could not uncover details such as where exactly Boyne was born, who his parents were, when he got married, who his wife was or whether he had any descendants.

“We knew just based on the census how old he was, and he would always come back to Maryland and re-enlist. So we thought maybe there were family here, but we could never find them,” Mrs. Aleshire said.

Historical Army records show that Boyne was born in Prince George’s County in 1849 and in 1864 enlisted with the United States Colored Troops at Point Lookout, Maryland. His previous occupation was listed as “laborer.”

After the Civil War ended in 1865, Congress expanded the U.S. military’s peacetime force and consolidated the U.S. Colored Troops into six all-black units, which included four infantry and two cavalry. These men were sent west to protect the settlers of the frontier and often found themselves subjected to racism and violence from the very people they were assigned to defend.

They patrolled the “untamed, savage, rugged western territory,” Aleshire wrote, and quickly found themselves in confrontation with American Indians. The “Buffalo Soldiers” moniker is thought to have come from Indians who regarded the black men as being similar in appearance and strength to their most revered opponent: the buffalo.

“The fighting spirit of the Buffalo Solider, like the buffalo, effected damage in conflict to its foe, the Indian,” Aleshire wrote.

During this time in 1879, Boyne was a member of the 9th U.S. Cavalry in New Mexico and took part in campaigns to track down “hostile” Apache Chief Victorio. Boyne’s actions in those campaigns would earn him the Medal of Honor.

The first, according to Aleshire’s account, occurred in late May 1879. Lt. Henry Wright and his soldiers tracked down Chief Victorio and his “band of renegades” and managed to overtake their camp in the Mimbres Mountains of southern New Mexico and kill 16 Apaches.

“I was engaged in bringing in a wounded man with a few men and was surprised by the Indians,” Wright wrote in military records. “My horse was killed and corralled by the hostiles. Sergeant Boyne commanded a detachment sent to my assistance, formed and gallantly charged the Indians, driving them off.”

Aleshire wrote that he couldn’t find information on the specific circumstances surrounding Boyne’s actions that day, except for an account in Irvin H. Lee’s book “Negro Medal of Honor Men” regarding the events of May 29, 1879.

“He killed one of three warriors incapacitated and single-handedly captures a considerable number of the sixty horses and Mules taken,” Aleshire quoted from Lee’s book.

In 1881, nearing the end of his service, Boyne wrote to Wright asking for a recommendation for a certificate of merit in the interest of adding a few dollars to his salary.

Wright went a step further and asked Maj. Albert Morrow, who commanded Boyne in a separate campaign in the fall of 1879, to submit an additional recommendation. It was Morrow who pushed for the higher distinction of Medal of Honor.

“I have seen him repeatedly in action and in every instance he distinguished himself,” Morrow wrote. “I cannot speak too highly of his conduct. If any soldier ever deserved a Certificate of Merit or Medal of Honor, Sergeant Boyne does and I hope he may be so, rewarded.”

Thomas Boyne died on April 21, 1896. Located in Row J of the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery, headstone No. 5859 bears his details: Medal of Honor, Company C, 9th U.S. Cavalry, Indian Wars.

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