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Very little is known about the early years of Henry Johnson, who was obviously born into slavery on the 11th of June, 1850, in Boydton, Mecklenburg County Virginia.

We pick his history up later when he is recorded to be in Company D of the 9th Cavalry Regiment, stationed for a while at Camp Lewis, Colorado (there were four Companies of the 9th there at the time near present day Durango).

Company D, under the command of Captain

Francis Dodge, consisting of 35 men and two civilians, happened to be in camp in the Kremling (Troublesome Creek) Colorado area when they received an urgent Army dispatch to come post-haste to the aid of the beleaguered soldiers under the command of Major Thomas Tipton Thornburgh, commander of approximately 175 soldiers, who were under siege by the Ute Indians over near the White River Indian Agency near Milk Creek Colorado.

Earlier, when Major Thornburgh, a West Point graduate, who was stationed at Ft. Fred Steele, located near present day Rawlins, Wyoming, got word of trouble at the White River Agency on the west side of the Continental Divide, a destination of approximately 180 miles, he immediately set out on the 21st of September 1879, with a force consisting of Company E, 3rd Cavalry; D and F Companies, 5th Cavalry; and Company B from Thornburgh’s own 4th Infantry. The column had 175 men, 25 supply wagons and mules.


September 29th-- October 5th


When Major Thornburgh approached the area of Milk Creek on the northern edge of the reservation about 18 miles from the Agency, the Utes, already panicked over the approach of Thornburgh’s column, attacked him with over 2-300 warriors, mounted and afoot, with a variety of weapons.

Although the battle lasted over nearly a week, the real damage was done to Major Thornburgh’s column on that very afternoon when he was killed, along with all of his officers above the rank of Captain. Another 28 men were wounded and three-quarters of all the horses and mules in the column were eithe

r killed or wounded. The beleaguered soldiers immediately dug in behind the wagons and fallen animals for defense and sent one rider with a request for reinforcements

The trapped soldiers held out for several days until they were reinforced by Captain Francis Dodge’s Buffalo Soldiers of Company D, of the 9th Cavalry, when their column broke through the Indians lines on the evening of October 4th, with food and ammunition. While the entry of Dodge and his 35 Buffalo soldiers, bringing supplies and extra ammunition, was a tremendous morale boost, it did little to alleviate the precarious position all were in because the Utes immediately killed most of their horses as well.



Then the following day of the 5th, more reinforcements appeared when 20 officers and 234 men, all of the 5th Cavalry arrived, led by Colonel Wesley Merritt, who had made a forced march of 170 miles from Fort D. A. Russell.

The army lost 13 dead and 44 wounded, most of them in the first 24 hours. Eleven soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor. It was noted that the Ute Indians lost 19 killed and 7 missing.


“Perhaps the greatest support Capt. Dodge and his Troopers provided to the besieged soldiers upon their arrival to the fight at Milk Creek was in the person of Sgt. Henry Johnson. Upon the death of 1st Sgt. John Dolan, the White River Expedition lost its most senior non-commissioned officer. By steadfast courage

under fire, Sgt. Johnson rose to the occasion and became the defacto Sgt. Major to the besieged troopers.

During the siege, Henry Johnson served as Sergeant of the Guard, and it was in that capacity that he left his fortified rifle pit and went to the other pits to give necessary instructions to the members of the guard. As he dashed from pit to pit, he was exposed to the fire from the Indians who were very near and in easy range of him.

Johnson was also one of a party who formed a skirmish line by the order of Capt. Dodge and fought their way to the creek for water for the wounded and themselves.”




Sgt. Henry Johnson was awarded the

Medal of Honor at Fort Robinson on the 22nd of September 1890, for his actions during the Battle of Milk Creek against the Ute Indians from October2-5th, 1879, in Colorado.

His citation is as follows:

“Voluntarily left a fortified shelter and under heavy fire at close range made rounds of the fire pits to instruct the guards, fought his way to the creek and back to bring water for the wounded”.

Sergeant Henry Johnson died on the 31 of January, 1904 at the age of 54 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

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