Shortly after the Civil War began, in December of 1861, Congress authorized the distribution of medals of honor to petty officers, seamen, landsmen and marines that distinguished themselves by their bravery in action and other seamanlike qualities during the Civil War. Two months later, Congress authorized the distribution of medals of honor to privates in the Army of the United States that distinguished themselves in battle. Consequently, the “Medal of Honor” was born. In March of 1863, the Army Medal of Honor was extended to officers, as well as non-commissioned officers and privates. The Navy medal continued to be reserved for enlisted personnel only until March 1915. The Air Force was authorized in August 1956, with their own distinctive design “Medal of Honor” separate from that of the Navy and Army.
The first Medals of Honor were presented by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to six of the surviving members of Andrew’s Raiders on March 25, 1863. While these were the first medals presented, the first heroic act for which the Medal of Honor was given occurred February 13, 1861. On that date, Army Assistant Surgeon Bernard J.D. Irwin rescued 60 soldiers of 2d Lt. George Bascom’s unit at Apache Pass, AZ. The Medal of Honor was also presented to several individuals for heroic acts performed before the Medal of Honor was authorized by Congress in December 1861.
Did you know? The National Medal of Honor Museum of Military History is located in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Source: 21 December 2012. http://mohm.org/recipient_pages/moh_recipient_history.html
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