Belleville Historical Society celebrates Flag Day by honoring Dorsey

Photo Courtesy of Belleville Historical Society
Belleville Historical Society member Roger Barnes, a U.S. Army veteran, sets the colors at Sgt. Decatur Dorsey’s final resting place.

BELLEVILLE, NJ — On Flag Day, June 14, the Belleville Historical Society set a flag at the gravesite of Civil War Sgt. Decatur Dorsey, who served as the flag carrier for the 39th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment. 

Dorsey was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism at the Battle of the Crater in Virginia on July 30, 1864. Dorsey was the third black American soldier to be awarded the medal, this country’s highest military honor. 

Dorsey was born into slavery in Maryland, gaining his freedom after 20 years; he then enlisted in the Union Army. The regimental flag carrier was an especially dangerous position, a prime and easy target for the enemy. Despite intense enemy fire, Dorsey charged ahead of his regiment and was able to reach the top of the enemy position and plant the Union flag. His citation reads: “Planted his colors on the Confederate works in advance of his regiment, and when the regiment was driven back to the Union works he carried the colors there and bravely rallied the men.”

In 2018 the Belleville Historical Society located the gravesite of Dorsey at Flower Hill Cemetery in North Bergen. Dorsey had settled in Hoboken after the war, where he died in 1891 at age 51. In 2019 the Belleville Historical Society restored Dorsey’s white marble military marker as part of a program initiated by the late Belleville Councilman Kevin Kennedy to locate, clean and restore the gravesites of New Jersey’s Medal of Honor; seven gravesites have been restored as part of the initiative.