While it can be said that almost every Soldier and American is aware of the Congressional Medal of Honor and the honor that it bestows on those who have earned it, quite the opposite can be said about the knowledge of the history behind this prestigious award. While its history is very vast and detailed, I have provided a summarized version here for your personal knowledge and enjoyment.
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”.
December 21, 1861, 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.
February 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).
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.
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
July 12, 1862, the Army Medal of Honor was born and signed by who else, but Abraham Lincoln. The bill measure read:
“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).”
FINAL THOUGHTS: There is much more history to the Medal of Honor than what I have provided, but it is still, I think, important to understand how this prestigious award came to be. From the early days of the Civil War, originally reserved for Navy seaman, to the present day warrior who rises above and beyond the call of duty for his fellow brother in arms. To those who have earned this merit I am in awe and inspired. I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief history of the Medal of Honor. Do you have any particular Medal of Honor stories that you would like to share? Please do so in the comments area below. Thank you.
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