The Exchange : An historic look at the Congressional Medal of Honor

An historic look at the Congressional Medal of Honor

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 United States." 


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 Lincoln. 


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.

Medal of Honor

(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 restored. 


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.

Written by Brandon Ortega at 00:00

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