1861-1865: CIVIL WAR


Social, economic, and political tension building in Southern states against Washington led to the secession of South Carolina in December of 1860 after the election of President Lincoln. The Confederate States of America were established in February of 1861 in Montgomery, Alabama.




Average Age


Double Recipient



The Medal of Honor

Over 2,400 U.S. Army Soldiers have been awarded the Medal of Honor. Almost half of these were earned in the Civil War. At the onset of the Civil War Congress had yet to formally establish the Medal of Honor. As fighting continued it became clear that a reward for meritorious action and service was needed. The Medal was officially adopted on 12 July 1862 and the first awards went to Soldiers who had already performed heroic deeds.

The Medal of Honor, 1862

First Action

Asst. Surgeon Bernard J.D. Irwin

First Civil War Action

Pvt. Francis Edwin Brownell

First Medal

Pvt. Jacob Parrott

Assistant Surgeon Bernard J.D. Irwin

On 13 February 1861 Assistant Surgeon Bernard J.D. Irwin performed the first action for which a Medal of Honor was awarded when he voluntarily took command, attacked, and defeated hostile Indians while rescuing Second Lieutenant George N. Bascom and his men. His medal was not issued until 1894.

Voluntarily took command of troops and attacked and defeated hostile Indians he met on the way. Surgeon Irwin volunteered to go to the rescue of 2d Lt. George N. Bascom, 7th Infantry, who with 60 men was trapped by Chiricahua Apaches under Cochise. Irwin and 14 men, not having horses began the 100-mile march riding mules. After fighting and capturing Indians, recovering stolen horses and cattle, he reached Bascom’s column and help break his siege.

Private Francis Edwin Brownell

On 24 May 1861 Private Francis Edwin Brownell performed the first action for which a Medal of Honor was awarded during the Civil War. Brownell’s commander, Colonel Ellsworth, captured a Confederate flag flying from the Marshall House Inn in Alexandria, Virginia. Ellsworth was killed by the angry innkeeper upon his exit. Brownell avenged Ellworth’s death and killed the innkeeper. His medal was not issued until 1877.

Killed the murderer of Colonel Ellsworth at the Marshall House Alexandria, Va.

1862: The Great Locomotive Chase

The first medals were bestowed upon a group of Soldiers who volunteered to steal a Confederate train and destroy enemy supply lines. Of the 24-man raiding party led by civilian James J. Andrews, one abandoned the mission, eight were tried and hanged as spies, eight escaped from prison, and six were traded to the Union for southern captives.

Private Jacob Parrott was the first of “Andrew’s Raiders” to be presented the Medal on 25 March 1863. Nineteen of the Raiders would be similarly recognized, including four of the hanged men, becoming America’s first Soldiers to receive posthumous acknowledgement of gallantry during battle.

Andrew's Raiders

William Bensinger, Private, 21st Ohio Inf.
Wilson W. Brown, Private, Co. F, 21st Ohio Inf.
Robert Buffum, Private, Co. H, 21st Ohio Inf.
Daniel A. Dorsey, Corporal, Co. H, 33d Ohio Inf.
Martin J. Hawkins, Corporal, Co. A, 33rd Ohio Inf.
William J. Knight, Private, Co. E, 21st Ohio Inf.
Elihu H. Mason, Sergeant, Co. K, 21st Ohio Inf.
Jacob Parrott, Private, Co. K, 33rd Ohio Inf.
William Pittinger, Sergeant Major, 21st Ohio Inf.
John R. Porter, Private, Co. G, 21st Ohio Inf.
William H. Reddick, Corporal, Co. B, 33rd Ohio Inf.

*Samuel Robertson, Private, Co. G, 33rd Ohio Inf.
*Marian A. Ross, Sergeant Major, 2nd Ohio Inf.
*John M. Scott, Sergeant, Co. F, 21st Ohio Inf.
*Samuel Slavens, Private, Co. E, 33rd Ohio Inf.
*^ George D. Wilson, Co. B, 2nd Ohio Inf.
John A. Wilson, Private, Co. C, 21st Ohio Inf.
John Wollam, Private, Co. C, 33rd Ohio Inf.
Mark Wood, Private, Co. C, 21st Ohio Inf.
*^ Charles P. “Phillip” Shadrach, Co. K, 2nd Ohio Inf.
James (Ovid) Smith, Private, 2nd Ohio Inf.
^Samuel Llewellyn, Co. F, 10th Ohio Inf.


*^James J. Andrews
*^William H. Campbell


*Hanged in Atlanta, GA as spies
^Member of Andrew’s Raiders that did not receive the Medal

Establishing the Medal of Honor

In early 1861 Colonel Edward D. Townsend, Assistant Adjunct General of the Army, proposed the creation of a Medal of Honor “to promote the efficiency of the Army,” to General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, Secretary of War Simon Cameron, and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs Henry Wilson.


Henry Wilson of Massachusetts
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs

Two months after the Navy’s approval of a Medal of Honor, Senator Wilson introduced a resolution that provided for the awarding of an Army Medal of Honor on 17 February 1862.


Abraham Lincoln
President of the United States of America

President Lincoln signed Senate Joint Resolution No. 82 into law as 12 Statute 623-624 on 14 July 1862, creating what would be the Army’s only military decoration until 1918.


Winfield Scott
General-in-chief of the Army

General Scott opposed the adoption of medals and decorations for the U.S. Army, a tradition he considered a European monarchy’s mark of privilege and affectation. Scott resigned 1 November 1861.

The Acts and Legislation that Established the Medal of Honor, 1861-1863

9 Dec 1861

"Iowa Senator James W. Grimes, chairman of the Senate Naval Committee, introduces Senate Bill No. 82 in Congress to create a Medal of Honor to promote the efficiency of the Navy. Approved by Lincoln 21 Dec 1861."

17 Feb 1862

"Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts introduces a resolution for the creation of an Army Medal of Honor to be presented to Privates of the Army of the United States who distinguished themselves in battle."

13 May 1862

"Senator Wilson’s amended resolution now calls for presentation of medals to “[all] enlisted men of the Army and voluntary forces who have or may distinguish themselves in battle during the present rebellion.” Officers were excluded and the Medal was temporary, created only for the Civil War. The original resolution specified that the Medal would be awarded “for gallantry in action and other Soldier-like qualities.”

12 Jul 1862

"Wilson’s resolution is approved by President Lincoln who authorizes the preparation of 2,000 Medals of Honor to "be presented, in the name of the Congress, to such Non-Commissioned Officers and Privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other Soldier-like qualities."

3 Mar 1863

"The Act of 3 March 1863 extends the presentations of the Army Medal of Honor to Officers, as well as Non-Commissioned Officers and Privates. (The Navy medal continued to be reserved for enlisted personnel only.)"

25 Mar 1863

"Secretary of War Edwin Stanton presents the first Medals of Honor."



“We had become desperately enraged, thinking not of life, but of how to regain the broad stripes of bunting under which we had marched.”

—Second Lieutenant Charles Tanner Medal of Honor Recipient

The battle along Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland was the bloodiest single-day conflict in Civil War history. Twenty Medals of Honor were awarded—eight for capturing or saving a regimental battle flag. Over the course of the War, hundreds of Medals were bestowed for capturing, defending, rally with, or advancing a company’s colors.

  •  Regimental flags or “colors” were symbols of regional allegiances used to direct maneuvers and guide troops on the battlefield.

  •  Soldiers who carried the flags were called color bearers.

  •  The loss of these coveted symbols was a disgrace to the regiment.

  •  Capturing an opponent’s flag was considered a great triumph.

  •  The flags were often made by the wives and mothers of the Soldiers they represented and over time came to bear the hand stitched names of various battles they were carried in.

700 Civil War Soldiers applied for the Medal of Honor after 1890

911 awards were rescinded or officially reversed in The Purge of 1917

Prior to 1897 Soldiers were able to nominate themselves for the Medal of Honor. Hundreds of nominations were made during and after the Civil War. The resulting confusion drove President McKinley to direct the Army to revise policies governing the distribution of the Medal. Over 1000 awards underwent formal review. Ultimately, 911 Medals given to Civil War and Indian War Soldiers were rescinded in what is known as the Purge of 1917.


Reunion of the 27th Maine Infantry, Arundel Grange Hall in Arundel, ME ca. 1905

On 29 June 1863 Secretary of War Edwin Stanton directed that all 864 Soldiers of the 27th Maine Regiment be given the Medal of Honor for volunteering to extend their service in Washington while the remaining force moved to reinforce the Army at Gettysburg. Rescinded in 1917.



President Abraham Lincoln's railroad funeral car photographed by S.M. Fassett in 1865

Four officers and 25 senior Non-Commissioned Officers that guarded the body of President Lincoln after his assassination were given the Medal of Honor. Rescinded in 1917.



Dr. Mary Edwards Walker (1832-1919)

Civilian Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon Dr. Mary E. Walker was presented the Medal of Honor in 1865, becoming the only woman on the Honor Roll. Rescinded in 1917; restored in 1977.


Explore how Medal of Honor Recipients CAPTURED, DEFENDED, RALLIED around, and ADVANCED with U.S. Army flags.

The 27th Maine


Reunion of the 27th Maine Infantry, Arundel Grange Hall in Arundel, Maine circa. 1905.


Confederate General Robert E. Lee was leading his Army to the Battle of Gettysburg—a route dangerously close to the Union Capitol in Washington, D.C.

The enlistment of the regiments guarding the Capitol was about to expire.


Fearing attack, The War Department asked Soldiers to volunteer past their term and defend the Capitol.

Three hundred of the 874 Soldiers in the 27th Maine regiment answered the call.

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton requested for the names of the Soldiers who had volunteered so that they may be awarded an “appropriate medal of honor.”


The case of the 27th Maine drew the scrutiny of officials who sought to preserve the sanctity of the Medal of Honor. Not only was there no battle in the Capitol, the men remained on duty for only four extra days. Additionally, of the 864 men who received the Medal only 300 actually stayed on post. The 1917 committee concluded the Medals of the 27th Maine to be undeserved.


Before 1897 there were few rules that moderated the receipt of the Medal. It was also the only option for officials who wished to acknowledge individual Soldiers. In this case Secretary Stanton’s order for an “appropriate medal of honor” was ambiguous. Did he really mean for all Soldiers who remained in Washington to receive the Medal of Honor? That would have guaranteed a Medal for any Soldier who volunteered to remain in Washington—a number estimated to be closer to 50,000!

Lincoln's Guard


President Abraham Lincoln's railroad funeral car photographed by S.M. Fassett in 1865.


President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on 15 April 1865.


A group of 29 pallbearers were selected from the U.S. Army to guard the President’s body as it was transported to his hometown, Springfield, Illinois, for burial. The President’s body lay in state inside a special funereal car; the procession made numerous stops along the way. The 29 Soldiers who composed Lincoln’s Guard were awarded the Medal of Honor to acknowledge their service.


During the Purge of 1917, it was determined that the Lincoln’s Guard Medals were undeserved. They were rescinded to preserve the significance of this esteemed decoration.


The Medal of Honor is meant to honor Soldiers who demonstrate gallantry under fire. The men who guarded the body of President Lincoln, though noble, were not in combat.

Dr. Mary E. Walker


Dr. Mary Edwards Walker (1832-1919).


During the Civil War Dr. Mary E. Walker petitioned for enlistment in the U.S. Army but was denied due to her gender. Dedicated to the cause, Walker volunteered as a civilian combat surgeon working on the front lines. She participated in many battles and was in one instance taken prisoner of war.


After Walker’s repeated petitions to be upgraded to military status, President Andrew Johnson instead opted to present her with the Medal of Honor in recognition of her service.


The Medal was rescinded in 1917 due to her civilian status, a decision Walker refused to acknowledge. She wore the Medal every day for the rest of her life. President Jimmy Carter restored her medal posthumously in 1977. She remains the only woman ever to have received the Medal of Honor.


Walker’s commendation remains mired in controversy. Numerous surgeons of the era were not recognized by the Army due to their civilian status, save for Mary Walker. The controversy has led some to consider Walker’s medal as a “politically correct” gesture on account of her gender. Others argue that had she been a man, she would have been permitted to enlist and her valorous actions duly recognized. In the years following the war, Mary Walker remained dedicated to health care and became a prominent advocate for women’s rights.