Milton M. Holland, one of sixteen black soldiers to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Civil War, and the first African-American recipient from Texas, was born probably in Austin, on August 1, 1844. He was the slave and perhaps son of Bird Holland, who later became Texas secretary of state. Bird Holland freed Milton and his two brothers, James and William H. Holland, and sent them to school in Ohio during the late 1850s. Holland attended the Albany Enterprise Academy, a school operated by free African Americans.
Holland, too young to enlist into the United States Army at the start of the Civil War, worked as a shoemaker for the quartermaster department of the army until he was allowed to enlist. In June 1863 in Athens, Ohio, he joined the Fifth United States Colored Troops, commanded by Gen. 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. He rose to the rank of regimental sergeant major. All of the white commanding officers either were killed or wounded during the engagements at Chaffin’s Farm and New Market Heights, Virginia, between September 28 and 30, 1864. Holland assumed command and led the black troops in battle. He routed the enemy and led them to victory. For leading the charge, during which he was wounded, he received the Congressional Medal of Honor on April 6, 1865, for his bravery in Virginia. Holland was promoted to captain, but the War Department refused the commission on grounds of his race.
In January 1865 Holland patrolled the lowlands of North Carolina and 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. His father and former owner, Bird Holland, had been killed at the battle of Mansfield (see RED RIVER CAMPAIGN) in April 1864 while serving as a major in the Confederate Army.
After the war Milton Holland lived in Washington, D.C., where he worked in the Auditor Office of the United States government; he later became chief of collections for the Sixth District. He also established the Alpha Insurance Company, one of the first African-American-owned insurance companies, in Washington, D.C. Holland married Virginia W. Dickey. He died at the age of sixty-five of a heart attack on May 15, 1910, at his farm near Silver Springs, Maryland, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.