February 19, 1890 Isaiah Mays received the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, for his actions during an engagement with robbers.
Mays was born enslaved on February 16, 1858 in Carters Bridge, Virginia. By May 11, 1889, he was serving as a corporal in Company B of the 24th Infantry Regiment.
His citation reads, “Gallantry in the fight between Paymaster Wham’s escort and robbers. Mays walked and crawled 2 miles to a ranch for help.” Mays left the army in 1893, and in 1922 applied for a federal pension, but was denied. He died penniless on May 2, 1925 and his grave was marked with only a small stone etched with a number. In 2001, the marker was replaced with an official United States Department of Veterans Affairs headstone. In March, 2009, his remains were disinterred, cremated, and placed in an urn. On May 29, 2009, the urn was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.