Dr. Mary E. Walker Only female Medal of Honor awardee
Her Medal of Honor citation begins simply "Rank and organization: Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon (civilian)..." and goes on to list her accomplishments while assisting Union and Confederate casualties. Who was the only woman and only civilian to be recognized for her achievement on the field of battle with a Medal of Honor?
Mary Edwards Walker grew up in rural New York and graduated from Syracuse Medical College in 1855. At this time women were often considered little more than property. One Congregational minister of the era wrote "The power of woman is in her dependence..."
Ms. Walker set up office in Rome, New York, marrying a fellow student, one Albert Miller, but throughout her 13 years of marriage she was known as Mary Walker, foregoing the tradition of assuming her husband's name.
The Medal of Honor citation lists her work at First Bull Run, although at the time she was a nurse since the Army would not hire female doctors. Her Georgia connection begins at the battle of Chickamauga, September_19, 1863 thru September_20, 1863, where she served in an Army hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee, at which time she was a "volunteer surgeon". Finally appointed replacement surgeon to the 52nd Ohio Infantry Regiment by General George Thomas, her commanding officer Col. Dan McCook (of the "Fighting McCooks") was grateful to have her, a feeling not shared by some of his subordinates.
On a number of occasions Dr. Walker would cross enemy lines to assist Georgians whose lives had been destroyed by The Civil War. Following the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, women and children in northwest Georgia frequently lived in swamps and low ground near water, sometimes sick or near death. Dr. Walker would treat these victims with supplies taken from Federal stores.
On April_10, 1864, dressed in full uniform, she accidentally walked into a group of Rebel soldiers just south of the Georgia-Tennessee border. Their commanding officer, General Daniel Harvey Hill, ordered her sent to Richmond as a prisoner. She was released in time to help during the battle for Atlanta as a surgeon in Louisville, Kentucky. Walker was greatly pleased that she had been traded "man for man," for a Confederate Officer.
Purge of 1917
Among the people whose medals were rescinded in the "Purge of 1917" were those given to the 27th Maine to re-enlist, the 29 officers and enlisted men who accompanied President Lincoln's remains from Washington D.C. to Illinois, and that of a true American hero, "Buffalo Bill" Cody, who shared many of Dr. Walker's core beliefs
During the purge of 1917, the federal government tried to clean up many of the errors that had been made in issuing medals. Mary Walker's medal was revoked for "unusual circumstances" two years before she died. She refused to turn the Medal of Honor back to the Army as requested and according to friends wore it proudly every day until her death in 1919.
Perhaps the best description of this woman comes from the Post Office itself. In a section on women on stamps, they wrote,
Dr. Mary Walker was a humanitarian devoted to the care and treatment of the sick and wounded during the Civil War, often at the risk of her own life. A patriot dedicated and loyal to her country, she successfully fought against the sex discrimination of her time. Her personal achievements, as much as her vocal support, significantly contributed to the struggle for women's rights
Biographies Biographies of famous, not so famous and infamous people from the North Georgia area or who had an effect on North Georgia The Civil War in Georgia Beginning with the Great Locomotive Chase and the battle of Chickamauga, to the Atlanta Campaign and the March to the Sea