MEDAL OF HONOR - The First Recipients

MEDAL OF HONOR


The First Recipients

Medal of Honor
MEDAL OF HONOR
The First Recipients
In April, 1862, James J. Andrews, a civilian scout for the Union Army, led a band of 20 enlisted men and one other civilian from various Ohio regiments deep into Confederate territory. There were two other enlisted men who started with the group but who did not get into Georgia with the remainder. Their plan was to board a train headed north out of Atlanta for Chattanooga, capture the train and continue steaming north, stopping frequently to cut telegraph lines and burn bridges, thereby disrupting Confederate lines of communication and aiding the Union Army's drive on Chattanooga.

Unfortunately, the plan went awry, and all the men were captured. Eight, including their civilian leader, were executed in June, 1862, in Atlanta. Eight more escaped from jail in Atlanta in October of that year. Then on March 17, 1863, nearly a year after their adventure began, the remaining six Raiders were exchanged via City Point, Virginia. When they arrived in Washington on March 25, 1863, Secretary Stanton sent word that he would like to see them. He was particularly impressed by Jacob Parrott, at age 19, the youngest of the group. Parrott calmly recited the major details of the raid, then related the story of the brutal beatings he had suffered at the hands of his captors. After listening to their hair-raising tale, Stanton praised Parrott's devotion to duty, then turning to an aide, selected a black morocco leather case. "Congress has by recent law, ordered medals to be prepared on this model and your party shall have the first; they are the first that have been given to private soldiers in this War, " he said as he pinned the medal to the left breast of Parrott's uniform. The remaining five men were also presented medals as of March 25, 1863.

Eventually 19 of these men were awarded the Medal of Honor. The official citation for their award is: "Nineteen of twenty-two men (including two civilians) who, by direction of General Mitchell (or Buell), penetrated nearly 200 miles south into the enemy's territory and captured a railroad train at Big Shanty, Georgia, in an attempt to destroy the bridges and track between Chattanooga and Atlanta."

To illustrate how disorganized and routine the system for awarding the Medal of Honor was in the beginning, one can look at the awards to these 19 men. Six got them on March 25, 1863. Eight more medals were awarded in September, 1863, but only one of these is recorded in a specific date September 17th. Two were awarded in July, 1864, one of them to Private James Smith after his father had requested of Secretary Stanton that the same be done. One more was awarded on August 4, 1866, and the last one came on July 28, 1883. One also wonders why it was not known whether it was General Mitchel or General Buell who sent the raiders out and also why it was not known in Washington how to correctly spell General Ormsby McKnight Mitchel's name - with one "l" rather than two. Since eight men were executed in Atlanta in 1862, one might assume that all the military men of that group got the Medal of Honor. Not so; two of them Perry G. Shadrach and George D. Wilson were never awarded the Medal. James Smith, who did not participate in the Raid, but who tried, and was later imprisoned for some time as a result, was awarded the Medal of Honor after his father requested that he be placed on the same footing as those who had been so recognized. As an example of how well appreciated and regarded the Medal was, this letter was written by James Smith after he received the Medal:

Parkersburg, Oct. 15th/64

Sir: I was made happy yesterday by the receipt of the medal which the secretary of war was pleased to award to me for services rendered and which I hope to wear long and honorably.

I am doubly happy to have received this mark of distinguished appreciation during the administration of that gentleman, scholar and patriot A. Lincoln: long may he wave.

Very Respectfully
Your Obt. Servt.

James Smith

E.D. Townsend, Asst. Adjt. Genl.
Washington, DC

James Smith had enlisted under an assumed name in the 2nd Ohio Infantry in 1861 at the age of 16. He later got into Georgia with the 2nd Ohio throughout the Atlanta campaign. He died on January 28, 1868 at the age of 23.

There have been few awards of the Medal of Honor, perhaps none, that attracted so much attention over the years as those awarded to the Andrews Raiders.

Special Thanks to: Dave Joswick
Used by permission Andrew's Raiders.com

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