The Civil War Connections Blog

Medal of Honor

Prior to the start of the Civil War, there was no medal to recognize the outstanding efforts and bravery of the members of the armed forces. It was first introduced as a bill within the Senate by Iowa Senator James W. Grimes, in December 1861. This first bill focused on a medal just for members of the US Navy and Marines who had shown exceptional bravery and courage during the Civil War. Two months later, in February 1862, Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson introduced a bill which would provide the Army with a similar award.[1]

 

U.S. Army Medal of Honor with neck band, 1944. Accessed through the Library of Congress online.

U.S. Army Medal of Honor with neck band, 1944. Accessed through the Library of Congress online.

 

There are specific guidelines for receiving the Medal of Honor that were established in 1963. To be eligible to receive it, potential recipients must have been: “Engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States, engaged in a military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or, while serving with friendly forces engaged in armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.”[2] Originally, only enlisted men were eligible to receive the Medal of Honor, but that was expanded to include officers as well in 1863. Actions deemed worthy of receiving the Medal of Honor have to be approved through a variety of levels of command.

 

Robert Burns Brown (1844-1916), an Ohio native who fought in the Civil War and received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Accessed through the Library of Congress online.

Robert Burns Brown (1844-1916), an Ohio native who fought in the Civil War and received the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1889 for his bravery in the Indian War Campaigns. Accessed through the Library of Congress online.

 

Throughout the Civil War, there were a variety of Army and Navy armed forces that commit acts of bravery that are deemed worthy of receiving the newly created Medal of Honor. In March 1863, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton presents the first ever Medals of Honor to six members of Andrew’s Raiders, who had earned the Medals after seven of their fellow members, had been hung as spies in Atlanta. A month later, the Navy also presents its first Medals of Honor to 41 soldiers. The only woman to ever receive the Medal of Honor was Mary Walker, who received it following the Battle of Bull Run in 1861. Similarly, William Carney was the first African American to receive the award, and received it for his actions in 1863, at Fort Wagner, South Carolina.[3]

 

Benjamin Franklin Tracy (1830-1915), a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism during the Civil War who served as Secretary of the Navy (1889-1893). Accessed through the Library of Congress online.

Benjamin Franklin Tracy (1830-1915), a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism during the Civil War who served as Secretary of the Navy (1889-1893). Accessed through the Library of Congress online.

 

In total, there have been 3,460 recipients of the Medal of Honor, and 1,522 of those recipients were from the Civil War. 19 people have received the Medal of Honor twice since it was created; four of those were also from the Civil War. Out of those 3,460 recipients, only 80 are still living, 54 from the Vietnam War, 11 from the Korean War, 11 from World War II, and 4 from the War in Afghanistan. The most recent recipient, Staff Sergeant Clinton L. Romesha received his Medal of Honor, February 11th, 2013, for his service and bravery in Operation Enduring Freedom. If you get teary eyed like I do about events such as these (or even the honoring of troops at professional sporting events), then you can see more about Staff Sgt. Romesha and photos of him receiving the Medal of Honor from President Obama HERE.


[1] “History of the Medal of Honor,” The Official Homepage of the United States Army, Accessed March 26, 2013. http://www.army.mil/medalofhonor/history.html

[2] “Frequently Asked Questions,” Congressional Medal of Honor Society, Accessed March 26, 2013. http://www.cmohs.org/medal-faq.php

[3] “History of the Medal of Honor,” The Official Homepage of the United States Army.