In most cases, those in the military who risked their lives over and above the call of duty, and later being awarded a medal, had a legitimate bone to pick. They felt that the 27th Maine medals should never be held in the same respect as those earned for bravery in the face of the enemy.
Many years later legislation was changed to prevent events like those involving the 27th, from happening again. But the reader, the soldier and marine, the sailor, the coastguard men and women, and air force members, the politicians of the day and since, the pubic and historians should remember that things were different in Civil War days. The rules were different then, like it or not.
And these rules of the day clearly provided for the same medal being awarded in situations NOT INVOLVING bravery in the face of the enemy.
Here is the actual wording of the original legislation back in 1862...
Clearly, the Congress decided that army medals should be awarded obviously for bravery above the call of duty and in the face of the enemy. Congress also noted that there would be other times when a medal should also be awarded. However, in choosing the very words... "for other soldier-like qualities," this became problematic almost since day one. What the heck did this mean? And WHO gets to decide?
The obvious answer was that it was ultimately left to one man... the President. And when he dictated that someone was to be awarded the medal, that was the end of the discussion. Much to the chagrin of many, over the years that followed.
When one researches the Medal of Honor and the 27th Maine in particular, he or she will find no shortage of disparaging comments about the regiment. Though true that in this regiment of 864 men, only about 300 originally were intended to become recipients of the medal. But the last blog showed how that morphed, as ordered apparently by President Lincoln in 1865, into all getting the metal.
On another front, few of the resources above referenced tell that the Secretary of War also was about to get into a 2nd kettle of fish.
Back in September 1864, a Brig. General wrote the Secretary of War to say that whilst he commanded five different regiments, totaling some 500 men, each had terms of service ending in the days to come. He promised that if guaranteed to be paid, his men would stay on an additional 10 days if sought. Secretary of War Stanton, on behalf of the President, then wrote back that not only would they be paid, they'd also ensure each would also GET A MEDAL Of HONOR.
I've yet to determine if these regiments stayed over, but nothing appears to have come of the commitment to award these medals either.
Yet an even worse kettle of fish was a General Order the Stanton issued in 1863 that would have resulted in about 50,000 more medals being awarded. But little came from this other than perhaps about a dozen medals being awarded and I believe all or most of these were purged in 1917.
But history records the fact that 864 medals were awarded to the 27th in January 1865. All of these and over two dozen others were cancelled by the purge of 1917.
Over the years many powerful military groups, individuals and politicians let officialdom know that they were not at all happy with the 27th Maine and its Medals of Honor.
Had they known the full story perhaps the numbers complaining may have been less!
As mentioned in a recent blog, in 1886, apparently for the first time ever, the Adjutant General's office produced an official Medal of Honor book for the government. It listed all of the medals that had been awarded to date. It included all of the 27th members, but did not show who stayed for the extra few days to serve their country at it's calling, or those who went home.
The fact that they were listed in this official government book, seems to be an apparent acknowledgement, at that time, that the medals were legal !
On yet another front, four years later, at Washington DC, the Medal of Honor Legion was formed. It was open to all medal recipients.
It's Executive Committee of Officers decided that it would not allow entry to any 27th Maine recipients of the medal. This despite one of its own founding principals. That of preserving the Union and... the constitution.
The very document that forbade the cancelling of the 27th medals, as noted in past blogs, and which there will be much more to say, in the days to come.
The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) treated the 27th differently. This organization started in 1866 and lasted till early in the 1900's with several hundred "posts" spead across every state of the country. There were also about a dozen in Canada. Membership included some of the most powerful men of the day, and active in its roster of over 400,000 strong.
Note the two medals. Actually one medal and one badge of membership. The Medal of Honor is the one on his right and to its left is the GAR membership badge.
This badge was designed by GAR and came back to bite them. Because the two looked look so much alike, this caused much grief in the military world. Wearing only the BADGE led many to believe the recipient was a MOH recipient, which of course may well not have been the case.
In later years some of its own membership would join many others in advocating for a new design for the medal and ribbon. This also came with the hopes that any new medal and ribbon would NOT be passed on the former the soldiers of the 27th Maine.
And the GAR had considerable pull in Washington DC. Indicative by its very prestigious statue in downtown DC withing blocks of the Senate, Congress, White House and even the Canadian Embassy. I visited the area during a several week research trip to many US States several years ago. Here is their most prominent and glorious memorial.
The Adj. General responded and said that the medals were awarded under the terms of the above mentioned General Order that could have resulted in over 50,000 medals being issued. He added that such being the case, the 27th medals were legal. Indeed they were legal, but not under the noted General Order, but by virtue of the 1862 law creating the medal in first place.
Another five years would slip by and in 1895/6 a new army ribbon was designed. With it also came a new rosette and bow knot that were available upon application. The office of Adjutant General was responsible to issue the items to the regular army and the volunteer army members would be supplied through the Records and Pensions Offices. In short order some 425 ribbons and over 600 bow knots and rosettes were issued. Presumably some of these went to 27th men. Thus yet again an acknowledgement that those men were legally awarded their medals.
According to an 1897 newspaper account, the War Department that year produced a 2nd list of Medal of Honor recipients. The story tells that this was only the 2nd list ever made, the first being back in 1886. Twenty one years after the Civil War ended!
In this 2nd listing the 27th men were again all listed. The first list gave all the names with no comment on who stayed and who didn't. This 2nd list now added the comment that..."Some of the medals were legally authorized by the 1862 Joint resolution."
Had they checked with the Constitution provisions, they would have realized that, since awarded to all of the 27th by President Lincoln, each and every one was legal, per the wording of the 1862 legislation, and the later rights to withdraw only if certain parts of the Constitution were honoured. These were never taken into consideration, a matter to be further explored in blogs in the days to come.
In 1897, in response to complaints from several fronts, the law was actually changed to remove the "soldier like qualities". Thus mandating that future army medals could only be awarded for actions in the face of the enemy.
But that same year the War Department again came out with a new list of recipients, and once again all of the 27th were listed with no indications of who stayed and who went home when called upon for the extra duty. Further justification for arguing that the medals were legal.
The story continues on Sunday 3 May.
In the mean time I cannot end without noting the sad news that yesterday the horrendous virus plaguing the world has how delivered a death punch to the Medal of Honor community.
After only a few days of hospital care, Vietnam war hero Bennie Adkins was taken by the virus.
The 86 yr old former Army Command Sergeant Major did 3 tours In Vietnam. During his last tour he came under constant fire for about 38 hours. It would take him some further 48 to escape, but not before killing between 135 and 175 enemy. In the process he was wounded 18 different times, and almost became supper for a 400 pound tiger.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, and, after 48 years saw his DSC elevated to that of the Medal of Honor.
I urge you to look him up on the internet and learn about this American hero. Such a loss to family and friends, comrades and the nation.
We should all stand and salute him.
see you in 2 weeks.