Civil War Medal of Honor History

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Civil War Medal of Honor History

Civil War and the Medal of Honor: A History

It was established during the American Civil War, and Congress made the Medal of Honor a permanent decoration in 1863.

The first formal system for rewarding acts of individual gallantry by the nation's fighting men was established by General George Washington on August 7, 1782. Designed to recognize "any singularly meritorious action," the award consisted of a purple cloth heart. Records reflect that only three persons received the award: Sergeant Elijah Churchill, Sergeant William Brown, and Sergeant Daniel Bissel Jr.

The Badge of Military Merit, as it was called, fell into oblivion until 1932, when General Douglas MacArthur, then Army Chief of Staff, pressed for its revival. Officially reinstituted on February 22, 1932, the now familiar Purple Heart was at first an Army award, given to those who had been wounded in World War I or who possessed a Meritorious Service Citation Certificate. In 1943, the order was amended to include personnel of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Coverage was eventually extended to include all services and "any civilian national" wounded while serving with the Armed Forces.

Although the Badge of Military Merit fell into disuse after the Revolutionary War, the idea of a decoration for individual gallantry remained through the early 1800s. In 1847, after the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, a "certificate of merit" was established for any soldier who distinguished himself in action. No medal was awarded with the honor. After the Mexican-American War, the award was discontinued, which meant there was no military award with which to recognize the nation's fighting men.

(Related reading below.)
Adapted from Armed Forces Decorations and Awards, a publication of the American Forces Information Service.

Recommended Reading: Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty (Hardcover), by Peter Collier (Author), Nick Del Calzo (Photographer). Description: First published on Veteran’s Day 2003 to glowing reviews (“Powerful”—Seattle Post-Intelligencer), energetic cross-country events, and instant national bestseller status, Medal of Honor has now been revised, updated, and augmented into an even more important and newsworthy second edition. New features include. Continued below...

A multimedia DVD rich in historical footage and first-person reflections of these ultimate acts of courage

Full coverage of 22 additional Medal recipients by National Book Award nominee Peter Collier

Heart-rending new portraits by award-winning photographer Nick Del Calzo

Introductory essay by Victor Davis Hanson, military history scholar and author of A War Like No Other, The Western Way of War, and The Soul of Battle

The 116 living Medal of Honor recipients fought in conflicts from World War II to Vietnam, serving in every branch of the armed services, and here is their ultimate record—the only book sponsored and endorsed by the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation.

Since the Civil War more than 39 million men and women have answered the call to serve. Of those, 3,440 served with such uncommon valor and extraordinary courage that they were presented with the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award. Each of their heroic actions is as unique as the recipient. Journey with more than one hundred of America's living Medal of Honor recipients as they are honored and as their bravery is recounted by best-selling author Peter Collier. It is presented in duotone portraits by award-winning photographer Nick Del Calzo.

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Recommended Reading: Ordinary Heroes: A Tribute to Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients: Reflections of Freedom, Faith, Duty and the Heroic Possibilities of the Everyday Human Spirit (Hardcover). Description: This collection of moving black-and-white photographs of recipients of the Medal of Honor shows not the glory of war, but the underlying spirit and humanity of true heroism. Forty-eight portraits are combined with comments, observations, and statements from the recipients of America's highest military honor. Continued below... 

This compilation of words and pictures of men who served in the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps is both humbling and poignant. Their actions and lives vary as much as the conflicts (World War II, Korea, and Vietnam) and include a conscientious objector who never wielded a weapon and a man known as the "Last Eagle," as he was the last World War II pilot to retire. Each recipient's full official citation is included in the appendix.


Recommended Reading: Heroes: U.S. Army Medal of Honor Recipients (Hardcover). Description: The honored few...From the bloody fields of the Civil War to the global conflicts of the modern age, here are the stories of 100 Army Medal of Honor winners. Since its Revolution-era formation as the Continental Army, the United States Army has earned a hard-won reputation for duty, courage, and brotherhood. But there are those whose exploits in combat have set them apart, earning them the most sacred and honored citation there is-the Medal of Honor. Continued below... 

From the killing fields of the Civil War, through World Wars I and II, to the jungles of Vietnam and America's fight against terrorism around the world, this comprehensive book features detailed information on 100 Army Corps Medal of Honor recipients-including many lesser-known recipients-whose courage and sacrifice in the service of their country remain the foundations of the United States Army. Their achievements are chronicled in this complete and compelling memorial of those who have earned the right to be called "The Bravest of the Brave."


Recommended Reading: Beyond Glory: Medal of Honor Heroes in Their Own Words. Description: This New York Times best-selling account of battlefield courage celebrates the larger-than-life sacrifices of those awarded the nation's highest honor for valor in combat. Exclusive interviews with these twenty-four men—firsthand accounts of battlefield sacrifice from the greatest generation to Vietnam, along with before-and-after stories—form the core of this classic work. Continued below...

The recipients represent a cross-section as diverse as America itself—officers and enlisted men; African Americans, Hispanics, and Caucasians; men who went on to become famous (Daniel Inouye, James Stockdale, Bob Kerrey) and others who returned proudly to small towns. Beyond Glory, in the voices of these heroes, is a testament to the courage of the American nation. About the Author: Larry Smith is a veteran editor with the New York Times and Parade magazine, where he was managing editor. Eddie Adams is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer.


Recommended Reading: Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor. Description: "The Great Locomotive Chase has been the stuff of legend and the darling of Hollywood. Now we have a solid history of the Andrews Raid. Russell S. Bonds’ stirring account makes clear why the raid failed and what happened to the raiders."—James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom, winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Continued below...

On April 12, 1862 -- one year to the day after Confederate guns opened on Fort Sumter -- a tall, mysterious smuggler and self-appointed Union spy named James J. Andrews and nineteen infantry volunteers infiltrated north Georgia and stole a steam engine referred to as  the General. Racing northward at speeds approaching sixty miles an hour, cutting telegraph lines and destroying track along the way, Andrews planned to open East Tennessee to the Union army, cutting off men and materiel from the Confederate forces in Virginia. If they succeeded, Andrews and his raiders could change the course of the war. But the General’s young conductor, William A. Fuller, chased the stolen train first on foot, then by handcar, and finally aboard another engine, the Texas. He pursued the General until, running out of wood and water, Andrews and his men abandoned the doomed locomotive, ending the adventure that would soon be famous as The Great Locomotive Chase, but not the ordeal of the soldiers involved. In the days that followed, the "engine thieves" were hunted down and captured. Eight were tried and executed as spies, including Andrews. Eight others made a daring escape to freedom, including two assisted by a network of slaves and Union sympathizers. For their actions, before a personal audience with President Abraham Lincoln, six of the raiders became the first men in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor -- the nation's highest decoration for gallantry. Americans north and south, both at the time and ever since, have been astounded and fascinated by this daring raid. Until now, there has not been a complete history of the entire episode and the fates of all those involved. Based on eyewitness accounts, as well as correspondence, diaries, military records, newspaper reports, deposition testimony and other primary sources, Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor by Russell S. Bonds is a blend of meticulous research and compelling narrative that is destined to become the definitive history of "the boldest adventure of the war."

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