"...service must have been performed in action as such conspicuous character to clearly distinguish the man for gallantry and intrepidity above his comrades--service that involved extreme jeopardy of life or the performance of extraordinary hazardous duty."
Army Medal of Honor
Approved by the United States Congress in 1862, the Medal of Honor has been presented men and women who have distinguished themselves in service to their country. The medal may only be awarded to a person who was on active military service at the time of the incident. The first awardees of the medal were men involved in "The Great Locomotive Chase."
The Medal of Honor during the Civil War The medal was originally proposed to General Winfield Scott who did not like idea. However, a similar proposal was endorsed by Gideon Welles, then Secretary of the Navy. This proposal was signed by President Abraham Lincoln in December, 1861. The next year a "medal of valor" was created for the Army thanks to the efforts of Edward D. Townsend, Assistant Adjutant General. The bill creating this medal was signed into law in July, 1862. Although proposed only for the Civil War, Congress made the medal permanent in 1863.
Since that time more than 3400 men and 1 woman have been awarded the medal.
The Civil War era medals were designed by silversmiths William Wilson & Son of Philadelphia and the designs were coordinated by James Pollock, Director of the U. S. Mint. The "foul spirit of Secession and Rebellion" is depicted on the obverse side as a man holding serpents attacking a female figure (The Union). The back of the medal was unadorned so that the awardees' name could be engraved.
From the time the first medal was issued until January 14, 1997, 3,427 medals were awarded to 3,408 recipients (there were 19 to whom the Medal was awarded twice.) Of these, 2,553 were enlisted personnel and 169 were living as of this date. (Source: Congressional Medal of Honor Society).
Three medals, awarded to Daniel Sickles, Henry Tremain, and Daniel Butterworth (the so-called "Sickles' Circle) forced the review of the process in 1897. Because these high-ranking individuals had gained medals in questionable ways, and because of other abuses of the Civil War era medal nominations, the process of applying for a Medal of Honor was revised. In addition to standardizing the nomination process, eyewitness testimony was required so that the committee could reduce the number of inappropriate medals awarded.
Perhaps the single most famous event associated with the Medal of Honor is the Purge of 1917. Originally convened in 1916 by Nelson Miles, himself a MOH awardee, the commission reviewed each of the Army medals awarded. Their report, presented in February, 1917, revoked the medals presented to 911 people including 864 medals awarded to the 27th Maine for re-enlisting and President Lincoln's funeral guard. Six medals awarded to civilians were revoked as well. Included in this group were Mary Walker, the only female awardee, and Buffalo Bill Cody, a scout and technically not a soldier during the Indian Wars.
Medals of Honor for the Navy, Army and Air Force
For sixty years the revocation of the medals stood. Dr. Walker, who refused to return the medal as requested by the U. S. Army, proudly wearing it every day until she died. In 1977 President Jimmy Carter re-instated the award to Walker. It would be another 13 years before President George Bush re-instated the medals for Cody and five other scouts.
Bush also presented a medal to the family of Freddie Stowers, an African-American who died in World War I, gravely wounded while attempting to destroy a machine gun that had pinned down his men. While Medals of Honor had been awarded to African-Americans for heroic deeds during Civil War actions, in 1997 President Bill Clinton ordered a review of heroic deeds by African-Americans during World War II that may have been overlooked because of racial prejudice. Seven men were chosen to receive the award.
During the Second World War a group of Navajo served the front lines relaying coded messages back to rear echelon support groups. These "Code Talkers" were routinely in the line of fire and performed their assigned task with merit -- duty that frequently brought them into jeopardy. It was felt that the heroic action of the "Code Talkers" had been overlooked. Congress approved a special gold medal to be awarded these Navajo Indians who served on the battlefield during World War II. These medals were presented to the living recipients by President George W. Bush on July 26, 2001.
While not technically a "Medal of Honor," these Americans were Marines at the time of their heroic actions, and deserve to be mentioned in any history of the Medal of Honor.
Georgia History Articles about North Georgia history and the state in general. This section is currently being developed. For more information on Georgia History, please see The Civil War in 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