This may come as a surprise to many, but last month was the
151st anniversary of the first Congressional Medal of
Honor. The medal was first established in December of 1861.
There is a great deal of history behind both the medal and those
who have received one.
For anyone who is unaware of the award, the Medal of Honor is
defined by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society as: "the
highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can
be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the
The medal has a long and interesting history. It
was first introduced by Iowa Sen. James Grimes, who first introduced
the idea of "medals of honor" for the Navy. Shortly after the
idea was raised, President Lincoln signed the bill that started the
Navy Medal of Honor on Dec. 21, 1861. Soon after, in February
1862, the Army Medal of Honor was signed into effect by President
R.T.G Winkler, an employee of William Wilson & Son Company
in Philadelphia, created the design for the Navy Medal of
Honor. It was then sculpted by the Philadelphia Mint's Anthony Paquet. A few
months later the Army's Medal of Honor design was created. To
this day each military branch has a different design. The Navy
Medal of Honor continues to use the 1861 design and is awarded to
members of the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard. The Army Medal
of Honor used today is a wreath version designed in 1904. The
final Medal of Honor version is the altered wreath version for the
Air Force which was designed in 1963 and adopted in 1965.
(Photograph: Today's Army
Medal of Honor)
During the initial years that the medal was awarded, the
criteria to receive a medal was not as stringent as it is today.
Awards were given out to soldiers for simply performing their
duties, or they were given out as personal awards to friends and
relatives. Due to a large number of requests in 1890, President McKinley directed the Army to
establish new regulations.
In 1916, a Board of Generals reviewed past award recipients and
removed 911 awardees from the honor roll. Included in that list was
William F. Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill,
who had received the award as a scout after participating
in the Indian Campaigns. The other prominent name stricken was
Dr. Mary E. Walker, who volunteered during the
Civil War as an assistant surgeon. She participated in campaigns
including Bull Run and Chickamauga, and she was held prisoner by
Confederates. She had been the first woman awarded a Congressional
Medal of Honor. Both of these historic figures were stricken from
the honor roll due to their civilian status.
It was not until 1977 that the Medal of Honor was restored to
Walker by President Carter. Today, Walker remains the only
woman who has received the award. Years later, in
1989, William Cody and 5 other civilian scouts had their medals
The Congressional Medal of Honor has been awarded to more 3,400
recipients. Leslie Sabo Jr. was the last recipient of the
award in May of 2012, but as we all know, it is certain that he
will not be the final recipient of the award.
If you wish to view the Congressional Medal of Honor and
other historical military medals and artifacts, visit the Money
Museum at 818 N. Cascade Ave. in Colorado Springs, Colo.