1861-1865: CIVIL WAR
STATE OF THE UNION
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.
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.
Asst. Surgeon Bernard J.D. Irwin
First Civil War Action
Pvt. Francis Edwin Brownell
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
CIVIL WAR MEDALS
DEFENDING THE FLAG AT ANTIETAM 17 SEPTEMBER 1862
“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.
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.More
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.More
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.More