Stow armory with 1st Sgt Robert Pinn super imposed

Photos from Ohio Army National Guard Historical Collections & Library of Congress

First Sgt. Robert Pinn (1843-1911), Company I, 5th United States Colored Troops, earned the Medal of Honor during the Battle of New Market Heights, Va. on Sept. 29, 1864. A native of Stark County, he was the first Black Soldier to have an armory or readiness center named after him in the state, in the early 1970s, when the new Ohio Army National Guard Armory in Stow was opened.

Stow armory named for U.S. Colored Troops hero during Civil War

Story by Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Mann, Ohio Army National Guard Historian

Robert A. Pinn was like many Ohioans who left their home and families behind between 1861 and 1865 to serve in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He would return a hero. He was one of only four Black Americans from Ohio to receive the Medal of Honor.

In 1861, Pinn departed his family farm in Stark County to enlist in the Army but was blocked from joining due to his race. He instead joined the 19th Ohio Volunteer Infantry as a civilian worker and served with the regiment in that role during the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862. After President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, Ohio began to take steps to form Black regiments and Gov. David Tod directed the organization of the all-Black 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry that summer.

Pinn enlisted that September and was quickly appointed a sergeant in Company I due to his experience with the 19th Ohio. The War Department soon redesignated the 127th Ohio as the 5th United States Colored Troops (USCT) and sent them to Virginia. The following year, Pinn was promoted to first sergeant and on Sept. 29, 1864, the 5th USCT took part in the Battle of New Market Heights near Richmond. When nearly all the officers in the regiment had been killed or wounded, Pinn and three other noncommissioned officers of the regiment took command of their respective companies and ensured the Union attack was carried out. All four men were awarded the Medal of Honor.

Although he suffered three bullet wounds that day, Pinn remained with the regiment for the rest of the war and was mustered out of the Army on Sept. 20, 1865. He returned to Stark County and studied at Oberlin College. He then taught school in Illinois and South Carolina before returning to study law at Oberlin and was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1879, becoming the first Black lawyer in Stark County. His distinguished career as an attorney led to his appointment as a pensions and claims agent for the U.S. Pension Bureau. He was active in the Republican Party and served as a delegate to the 1891 Ohio convention that nominated fellow Civil War veteran William McKinley for governor. Pinn died in 1911 at the age of 67 and was buried in the Massillon City Cemetery.

In 1972 it was announced that a new $1 million armory would be built on Allen Road in Stow to replace the aging armory in downtown Akron. Before the land was even secured by the department, Maj. Gen. Dana Stewart, then-Ohio adjutant general, announced that the new facility would be named the First Sgt. Robert Pinn Armory. It is the first armory or readiness center in the state to be named after a Black Soldier. Today, it is home to the headquarters for the 1st Battalion, 145th Armored Regiment and some of its subordinate units.

Photos from Ohio Army National Guard Historical Collections & Library of Congress