Congressional Medal of Honor history

The

U.S. Congressional

Medal of Honor

history

Below is a history of the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor – the history and timeline of the Medal of Honor only for the Civil War era.

Their are some awesome websites dealing with the history of the MOH. Two are detailed information on the MOH and two are listings.

US Gen Web Project – Roots Web

US Army Center of Military History

NY Gen Web – Roots Web

The Congressional Medal of Honor Society

For more information regarding the MOH, please contact those sites listed.


On December 9, 1861 Iowa Senator James W. Grimes introduced S. No. 82 in the United States Senate, a bill designed to “promote the efficiency of the Navy” by authorizing the production and distribution of   “medals of honor”. On December 21st the bill was passed, authorizing 200 such medals be produced “which shall be bestowed upon such petty officers, seamen, landsmen and marines as shall distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action and other seamanlike qualities during the present war (Civil War).” President Lincoln signed the bill and the (Navy) Medal of Honor was born.

Two months later on February 17, 1862 Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson introduced a similar bill, this one to authorize “the President to distribute medals to privates in the Army of the United States who shall distinguish themselves in battle.” Over the following months wording changed slightly as the bill made its way through Congress. When President Abraham Lincoln signed S.J.R. No. 82 on July 12, 1862, the Army Medal of Honor was born. It read in part:

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby, authorized to cause two thousand “medals of honor” to be prepared with suitable emblematic devices, and to direct that the same 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, during the present insurrection (Civil War).

With this simple and rather obscure act Congress created a unique award that would achieve prominence in American history like few others. The table below will acquaint you with a chronological time line of key events in the history of the Medal of Honor.

MAR CH 3, 1847 Congress authorizes a “certificate of merit” be presented by the President when a “private soldier distinguishes himself in the service”, along with additional pay of $2 per month.
FEB 13, 1861 Army Assistant Surgeon Bernard J.D. Irwin rescues the 60 soldiers of 2d Lt. George Bascom’s unit at Apache Pass, AZ. Though the Medal of Honor had not yet been proposed in Congress (and actually wouldn’t even be presented to Irwin until 1894, it was the First heroic act for which the Medal of Honor would be awarded).
MAY 24, 1861 In Alexandria, VA Army Private Francis Edwin Brownell performs the first action of the Civil War to merit the Medal of Honor
JUN 26, 1861 Aboard the U.S.S. Pawnee, John Williams courage despite his wounds, his refusal to leave any man behind, and his love for the flag became the first act by a member of the U.S. Navy to merit the Medal of Honor.
JUL 21, 1861 Eleven soldiers at the Battle of Bull Run perform actions that eventually will make them recipients of the Medal of Honor. The number includes Dr. Mary Walker who was involved in three major battles and became the ONLY woman to get the Medal.
In all, 25 soldiers and 5 sailors would perform Medal of Honor actions in the months from Bernard Irwin’s first heroic act to the establishment of the Navy Medal in December.
DEC 9, 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.
DEC 21, 1861 President Abraham Lincoln approves the Congressional action to provide for 200 Navy Medals of Honor.
FEB 17, 1862 Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson introduces a bill in Congress to provide for an Army Medal of Honor for “privates in the Army of the United States who shall distinguish themselves in battle.”
APR 12, 1862 Civilian spy James J. Andrews and 19 volunteers begin their “Great Locomotive Chase” behind enemy lines in Georgia.
MAY 12, 1862 At Drewry’s Bluff, VA aboard the U.S.S. Galena, Corporal John Mackie became the first Marine to earn the Medal of Honor. When he received the award aboard the U.S.S. Seminole on 10 July 1863 he became the first Marine to also receive the award.
JUN 18, 1862 Seven of Andrew’s Raiders are hanged as spies in Atlanta. Four of them will eventually be awarded Medals of Honor…the first to die in their moment of heroism.
JUL 12, 1862 President Lincoln approves the legislation authorizing 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.” Already 88 soldiers have performed heroic actions that will be ultimately awarded Medals of Honor.
SEP 17, 1862 Twenty U.S. Army soldiers perform heroic acts at Antietam that would eventually become recognized by Medal of Honor presentations.
DEC 13, 1862 At Fredericksburg, VA, Nineteen soldiers perform Medal of Honor actions.
MARCH 3,1863 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.)
MAR 25, 1863 Secretary of War Edwin Stanton presents the first Medals of Honor to six of the surviving members of Andrew’s Raiders. They are the first Medals ever presented.
APRIL 3, 1863 The Navy presents its first Medals of Honor to 41 sailors, 17 of them for actions in the attacks at Forts Jackson and St. Philip (24 Apr 1862).
May 22, 1863 Ninety-six soldiers perform Medal of Honor actions at Vicksburg, Mississippi….the highest one day total in the Medals entire history. In all, 120 Medals of Honor were earned at Vicksburg.
JUN 30, 1863 Approximately 300 of the 864 members of the 27th Maine agree to remain to guard Washington, DC after their enlistment had expired. In return Secretary of War Edwin Stanton submitted the entire group of volunteers for Medals of Honor. A typographical error resulted in all 864 of the 27th Maine’s soldiers being awarded Medals of Honor for their extra 4 days of service. (All were revoked in the purge of 1917).
JULY 1, 1863 Four days of battle at Gettysburg added 58 Medals of Honor to the war total.
JULY 18, 1863 At Fort Wagner, SC the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry faced their first major test of combat. Former slave William Harvey Carney became the first African-American to earn the Medal of Honor.
AUG 5, 1864 Ninety-eight service members received Medals of Honor for actions this day at Mobile Bay, Alabama. The total included 90 sailors and 8 Marines.
APRIL 2, 1865 Fifty-two soldiers earn Medals of Honor at Petersburg, VA.
APRIL 6, 1865 Fifty-six soldiers earn Medals of Honor at Deatonsville (Sailor’s Creek), VA. Among them on this day was 2d Lt. Thomas Custer (yes, he was the brother of the famous General Custer) who earned his SECOND Medal of Honor, becoming the ONLY ARMY MAN in the Civil War to receive TWO.
APRIL 11, 1865 General Lee surrenders at Appomattox Courthouse and the Civil War ends.
APRIL 19, 1865 In the week following Lee’s surrender 8 more Medals of Honor were earned, 7 of them at Columbus, GA. The 9th and last Medal of Honor of the Civil War was earned on April 19th at Greensboro, NC by Charles Malone Betts.
May 12, 1865 In Nebraska Army Private Frank W. Lohnes becomes the first official Medal of Honor recipient of the Indian Campaigns, his action preceded only by Bernard Irwin’s 4 years earlier. His award is presented just two months after his action.
NOV 11, 1865 Rather than grant Dr. Mary Walker’s request for a commission in the U.S. Army, President Johnson orders that she be given the Medal of Honor. (The award was revoked in the purge of 1917, then restored in 1977).
DEC 31, 1865 680 of the eventual 1520 total Medals awarded for Civil War actions (not counting those of the 27th Maine), have been presented. From 1866 to 1890 a total of 105 more will be awarded. From 1890 to 1899 more Medals will be awarded for Civil War action than were awarded during the war…a total of 683 in the last decade of the century.
1865 – 1891 During the period from the end of the Civil War to New Years Day, 1891 all but two of the 242 Medals of Honor awarded for the Indian Campaigns were earned. The exceptions were the earlier award to Irwin, and the last action which occurred on 5 OCT 1898.

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