Born on September 16, 1869, in Hagerstown, Maryland, William Othello Wilson was an African-American corporal in the United States Army’s 9th Cavalry Regiment. He is noted for having received the Medal of Honor. Wilson was one of the best marksmen in his unit and quickly rose in rank to corporal.
Wilson’s unit was involved with patrol duties during the Ghost Dance War with the Sioux. The day after the Wounded Knee Massacre, with D Troop and a supply train of wagons surrounded by about fifty Sioux warriors in the early morning of December 30, 1890, Wilson volunteered to carry a message to the Indian agency of the Pine Ridge Reservation two miles away after the Indian scouts refused. After leaving the wagon circle, he was pursued by the warriors but outran them and alerted the other troops at the agency to rescue the stranded soldiers. He earned the Medal of Honor on December 30, 1891, for bravery in volunteering to successfully carry a message to the Pine Ridge Indian Agency in South Dakota.
The 9th cavalry remained at the Pine Ridge reservation until the end of March 1891, lodging in their tents. Just a few weeks before the 9th Cavalry left the Pine Ridge reservation, Wilson took an unauthorized trip to Chadron, Nebraska and was accused of desertion. Wilson denied the charge and said he was under the influence of alcohol, and also blamed the overwintering stress at the Pine Ridge reservation. He spent a week in the guardhouse of Fort Robinson before his comrades from the 9th Cavalry left their winter lodgings through a blizzard to reach a barracks.
In 1893, during a trip to represent his regiment in an annual marksmanship contest in Nebraska, he did not return to his regiment. He kept his Springfield carbine and Colt revolver and the Army did not pursue him.
Wilson was the only black soldier to earn a Medal of Honor after desertion. Wilson was also the last black soldier to earn the Medal of Honor for heroism on American soil.
Wilson returned to civilian life in Maryland, working as an upholsterer, a cook, and a carpenter; he married and had seven children. Wilson died on January 18, 1928, and is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery, Washington County, Maryland.
In February 2003, Wilson’s only surviving daughter, Anna V. Jones, donated her father’s medal to the then-new Maryland African American Museum Corporation.
Text courtesy of Wikipedia
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