Today in history: the Medal of Honor is authorized by Congress

It was on July 12th, 1862 that “A Resolution to provide for the Presentation of “Medals of Honor” to the Enlisted Men of the Army and Volunteer Forces who have distinguished, or may distinguish, themselves in Battle during the present Rebellion” was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln.

The first men to be awarded the Medal of Honor were six survivors of Andrews’ Raid, or the Great Locomotive Chase.  These men were all soldiers in various Ohio regiments that had volunteered for the dangerous mission behind Confederate lines.

The only woman to be awarded the Medal of Honor (so far) is Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, an assistant surgeon for the 52nd Ohio Infantry Regiment who was the first woman to serve as a surgeon in the United States Army.  In April 1864 she was captured in Georgia and held prisoner by the Confederates until she was exchanged in August of that same year.  While in prison, she famously refused to wear the women’s clothes given her by her captors.  As a result of the poor conditions during her captivity, she suffered health issues for the rest of her life.

Dr. Walker in her uniform, which she apparently designed herself, I guess since there were no Army regulations governing what a woman could wear.


The first sailors to be awarded the Medal of Honor were 41 sailors who received the medal on April 3rd, 1863.  Of these sailors 17 received the medal for heroic actions during the Battles for Fort Jackson and St. Philip.

The first Marines to receive the Medal of Honor were (then) Corporal John Mackie and Sergeant Pinkerton Vaughn who received their medals on July 10th, 1863.

Side-wheel paddle frigate USS Mississippi as she looked in 1863, when Marine Sergeant Pinkerton Vaughn, Seaman Andrew Brinn, and Boatswain’s Mate Peter Howard earned their Medals of Honor the night the ship was destroyed.

The only Coast Guardsman to be awarded the Medal of Honor is Signalman First Class Douglas Albert Munro, who was awarded his medal for evacuating some 500 Marines under fire at Guadalcanal on September 27th, 1942.

There have been 19 men who have been awarded not one but two Medals of Honor.  The most well-known of them are probably Major General Smedley Butler, who famously became an outspoken critic of American military policy after he retired, and Captain Thomas Custer, who earned his 2 medals in less than a week in April 1865 by capturing two Confederate flags.  He was the first person to be awarded two Medals of Honor and was also a younger brother of the famous general George Custer.


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