On July 12, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law a measure calling for the awarding of a U.S. Army Medal of Honor, in the name of Congress, “to such noncommissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities during the present insurrection.” Since that day the Medal of Honor has become the highest honor one can receive in the military.
The first soldiers to receive the honor were six members of a Union raiding party who in 1862 penetrated deep into Confederate territory to destroy bridges and railroad tracks between Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Atlanta, Georgia.
The first African American recipient was William Harvey Carney, who was born a slave in Virginia. In the battle of Fort Wagner, the Union side’s flag bearer was killed and Carney held the flag up for the rest of the battle. Despite suffering multiple injuries he never let the flag touch the ground.
The only female to receive the Medal of Honor is Mary Edwards Walker. She was an abolitionist and doctor who tried to join the Union Army as a surgeon but was unable to because she was a woman. In 1863 she was finally allowed to work as a “Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon.” President Andrew Johnson awarded her the Medal of Honor in 1865. Her award was temporarily rescinded in 1917 after it was determined that it was “unwarranted” because of her status as a civilian. She refused to give her medal back and wore it every day until her death in 1919. President Jimmy Carter reinstated Walker’s medal in 1977.
At Valorous TV we believe in honoring heroes and history behind the Medal of Honor, by sharing them with our viewers. Celebrate with us by watching our Medal of Honor series.
This 6-part documentary chronicles the highest award given to military personnel for their extreme bravery, valor, and harrowing sacrifices. Covering the Civil War through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, learn about the most courageous acts performed by the people who fight for American freedom. These are their stories.