Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Congressional Medal of Honor

The highest military honor decoration presented by the United States Government  to a member of its armed forces is the Medal of Honor.  It was created in 1861.  The President, in the name of the United States Congress, awards the Medal.  At the present time, there are 3, 471 awardees.

The award was created during the Civil War.  Recipients have received the award for their war service in:  Somalia, Vietnam, Haiti Campaign, Mexican Campaign, both World Wars, Indian War Campaign, Philippine Insurrection, the Boxer Rebellion and the War with Spain, among others.

The first Army Medal was awarded to Private Jacob Parrott of Ohio who was a member of the group who conducted the Great Locomotive Chase in 1862.  Parrott met President Lincoln and was awarded his medal by Secretary of War Stanton.

The first African American recipient was William Harvey Carney of Massachusetts.  Carney was a member of the famous Massachusetts 54th Regiment and during the Battle of Fort Wagner refused to let the American flag touch the ground.

The only female Medal of Honor recipient is Mary Edwards Walker who was a Civil War surgeon.  Walker was also known as a feminist, abolitionist and concerned with dress reform.

Exceptions have been made to the law which can be found at  Charles Lindbergh received his as a civilian pilot; and the British Unknown Warrior was awarded a Medal in 1921.  General Pershing presented that medal. Canadians who served in the U.S. armed forces (mostly in the Civil War) have also been recipients.

In 1979,  GPO (the Government Printing Office) produced  Senate Committee Print No. 3 from the 96th Congress, 1st Session entitled:  MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENTS 1863-1978.  This book is kept on reference in the State Library main reading room in room 341 of the State House.  Later recipients and additional information about the Medal can be found on the web pages of the Center for Military History.

Visit the State Library in room 341 of the State House between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm, Monday through Friday to use our public access computers to access information about the Congressional Medal of Honor available in our collection.

Bette Siegel
Government Document Librarian