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.




Avg. Age


Double Recipient



The First

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 battle continued it became clear that a reward for meritorious action and service was needed. The Medal was officially adopted on July 12, 1862 and the first awards went to Soldiers who had already performed heroic deeds.

First Action: 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 2nd Lt. George N. Bascom and his men. His medal was not issued until 1894.

First Action: 1861

Pvt. Francis Edwin Brownell performs the first action for which a Medal of Honor was awarded during the Civil War. His medal was not issued until 1877.

To promote the efficiency of the Army.

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.


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9 Dec 1861

Iowa Senator James W. Grimes, chairman of the Senate Naval Committee, introduces S. No.82 in Congress to create a Medal of Honor to promote the efficiency of the Navy. (The Act to Promote the Efficiency of the Navy). Approved by Lincoln 21 Dec 1861.*Senate, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, Bill 82.)

17 Feb 1862

Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts introduced 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 reported on his resolution from February 1862, which in the interim had been amended. The resolution now called for presentation of medals to “enlisted men of the Army [not just privates] and voluntary forces who have [already] or may [in the future] distinguish themselves in battle during the present rebellion…” Officers were excluded under the original act and the Medal was temporary, created only for “the present rebellion,” meaning the Civil War. The original resolution specified that the medal would be awarded “for gallantry in action and other soldierlike qualities.” (Senate, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, Bill 82)

12 Jul 1862

Wilson’s resolution was 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 extended 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.

The Great Locomotive Chase: The First Medal of Honor

“Congress has by a recent law ordered medals to be prepared on this model, and your party shall have the first; they will be the first that have been given to private soldiers in this war.” —Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton

Though Irwin and Brownell had already completed actions that would be acknowledged for valor at a later date, the first medals were bestowed upon a group of Soldiers led by civilian James J. Andrews who volunteered to steal a train from the Confederates and destroy their supply lines. The group of 22 men were captured and imprisoned. Eight were tried and hanged as spies, some escaped and six were traded to the Union for southern captives. Pvt. Jacob Parrott was the first of “Andrew’s Raiders” to be presented the Medal of Honor on March 25, 1863. All of Andrew’s Raiders would receive the medal in time, excluding Andrews and another volunteer who were civilians. Those hanged were posthumously acknowledged, becoming the first of the nation’s gallant heroes to perish in their moment of honor.

Andrew’s Raiders Citation

One of the 19 of 22 men (including 2 civilians) who, by direction of Gen. Mitchell (or Buell), penetrated nearly 200 miles south into enemy territory and captured a railroad train at Big Shanty, Ga., in an attempt to destroy the bridges and track between Chattanooga and Atlanta.

Wilson W. Brown
Private, Co. F
21st Ohio Infantry

Robert Buffum
Private, Co. H
21st Ohio Inf.

Daniel A. Dorsey
Corporal, Co. H
33d Ohio Infantry

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.

*John A. Wilson
Private, Co.
21st Ohio Inf.

John Wollam
Private, Co. C
33rd Ohio Inf.

Mark Wood
Private, Co. C
21st Ohio Inf.

Andrew Murphy

*Perry (Philip) Shadrach

James Smith


*J.J. Andrews

*William Campbell

Note: *Hanged in Atlanta, GA as spies

Prior to 1897 Soldiers were able to nominate themselves for the Medal of Honor. Hundreds of nominations were presented to the War Department during and after the Civil War. The inundation led to confusion and at times misuse of the award. In 1897 President McKinley directed the Army to establish new policies to moderate the receipt of the award which inevitably led to the reassessment of over 1,000 Civil War awards. The formal review committee assembled in 1916 rescinded 911 awards given to Civil War Soldiers it what is known as “The Purge of 1917.”

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

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The 27th Maine

On June 29, 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 1917. The case of the 27th Maine drew the attention of many officials who sought to preserve the honor of the Medal of Honor. Secretary of War Stanton’s ambiguous order for an “appropriate medal of honor” to be issued would have guaranteed the Medal of Honor for any Soldier who volunteered to remain in the capital. A number once estimated to be closer to 50,000! Not only was there no battle and little heroism involved in this action, the men were only required to stay on duty an additional four days. The 1917 committee reviewing past issuance of the Medal of Honor determined the medals of the 27th Maine to be undeserved and rescinded them to preserve the sanctity of this prestigious award.

Lincoln's Guard

The four officers and 25 senior NCOs that guarded the body of President Lincoln after his assassination were given the Medal of Honor. Rescinded 1917.

Civilian Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon Dr. Mary E. Walker

1865 Civilian Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon Dr. Mary E. Walker is presented her Medal of Honor, becoming the only woman on the Honor Role. Rescinded 1917. Restored 1977. Dr. Mary E. Walker graduated from Syracuse Medical University in 1855 becoming one of the first female surgeons in the United States. During the Civil War Dr. Walker volunteered as a Combat Surgeon after being denied enlistment due to her sex. Undaunted by the Army’s dismissal Walker eventually became a Contract Assistant Surgeon of the 52nd Ohio Infantry, withstanding a stint as a prisoner of war as well as the battle front while maintaining her civilian status. After numerous petitions to President Johnson for a position in the Army, Johnson opted to present her with the Medal of Honor to recognize her for dedicated service on recommendation from both General Sherman and General Thomas. The award was rescinded in 1917 due to her civilian status, a decision Walker refused to acknowledge. She continued to wear the medal every day for the rest of her life, becoming an advocate for women’s rights, wearing pants and anti-smoking. Walker remains the subject of controversy; some believe that since she was a civilian she was ineligible for the award (just like all the other civilian surgeons at the time who may have exhibited great courage or valor but didn’t receive the award), and that the fact that it was presented to her is simply “political correctness”. Others argue that due to societal gender roles at the time, Walker was not given the military status she surely would have had had she been a man, and that her actions were at least as worthy as many of the others at the time who did receive the award. President Jimmy Carter restored her medal posthumously in 1977. She remains the only woman ever to have received the Medal of Honor.

The Flag 

Every regiment that marched onto the fields of battle across America was led by at least one flag that was purposely positioned in the center front of the regiment. The flags were the largest and most colorful objects on the field. Through the smoke and terror of battle they acted as a guide, a symbol, and a rallying point.

Explore how Medal of Honor RecipientsCAPTURED, DEFENDED, RALLIED around and ADVANCED with regimental flags throughout the United States .