Selfless ServiceThomas Shaw was born in Covington, Kentucky, in 1846. Like many other African Americans at the time, Shaw was born into slavery and would eventually become a slave himself. He entered the U.S. Army sometime during the Civil War when he walked away from his master and went straight into a Union Army recruiting center. Based on descriptions from the time, Shaw possessed an imposing physique but presented himself in such a manner that there was no mistaking he was a dignified, professional soldier.
Shaw would become a staple in Company K of the 9th Cavalry and by 1881, he rose to the rank of Sergeant. During the summer of 1881, Company K would find themselves in pursuit of renegade Apache Indians who were on the run after terrorizing settlers and ranchers in central New Mexico. On August 12th, 1881, Company K would catch up with the Apaches they were pursuing near Carizzo Canyon, not far from Sabinal. Shortly after engaging the enemy, the troopers discovered that they were significantly outnumbered by at least two to one. During the fierce fighting that ensued, Shaw wound up in an advanced position trying to defend the company. Despite overwhelming enemy numbers and intense fighting, he stubbornly held his position until the attacking enemy retreated. Because of Thomas Shaw’s tenacious fighting and heroic defense of his men, Company K was able to escape with minimal casualties. (Shaw was not the only Company K Trooper to fight so valiantly that day as Sgt. George Jordan also exhibited extraordinary heroism during combat as he would be awarded the Medal of Honor afterwards too). Unfortunately, Shaw would have to wait nine more years after the battle to receive the award that he so clearly deserved. The citation for his 1890 Medal of Honor reads as follows: “Forced the enemy back after stubbornly holding his ground in an extremely exposed position and prevented the enemy's superior numbers from surrounding his command.”
Sergeant Thomas Shaw would continue his military service until leaving the Army at Fort Myer, Virginia shortly after being awarded his Medal of Honor in 1890. He resided in Virginia until his death on June 23rd, 1895. Sgt. Shaw was laid to rest alongside the thousands of other heroes in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia. His grave can be found in section 27, grave 952-B.