He'd be the first of four boys born to a struggling farmer and wife in Farmington New Hampshire. This community had only received its township charter about dozen years earlier. Most made their living off the land. But there was one other industry. Making shoes. They'd actually be one of the first areas in America to bring in automated tools to help in the trade.
Jeremiah's parents came up with a plan to deal with their struggling finances. Next door lived a wealthy neighbour. And he was old, and not expected to get much older. So the parents schemed and named their first born Jeremiah... after the neighbour. Surely that man would be so impressed he would will lots of money to the family... and soon. But alias, this was not to be.
By the time the boy had reached ten, the family had grown by three more boys.. and plenty of more financial burdens. Time for another plan. They'd simply give their kid to yet another neighbour for ten years. He could be used as child labour, as long as the new family taught him the trade. He was also to be given at least one month's schooling every year for the next decade. The neighbour would be expected to feed and clothe and even house the boy. He need not be paid a penny for his labour but there was a catch. At the end of the term he was to be given one oxen, a few sheep, and his freedom to leave and make the best of life on his own.
The neighbour accepted.
Over the years the boy would not only learn his farmhand skills but also to read and write. In fact he would ultimately gravitate to incessant reading. He would read whatever he could lay his hands on. Worldly books and papers. Anything on politics and business, history, biographies, philosophy and general interest... whatever he and the folks in the town could gather for him. It would later be claimed that in that decade he read over 1,000 books and papers, more than anyone else in the area. In fact his mind was so well developed that when a teacher gave him a task to read a few pages of a book before the next lesson, he in fact read the rest of either the chapter.. or book and was bored to heck when next in class, he angered the teacher till she learned what a gem she had in that class. And there's more. What Jeremiah read...he REMEMBERED!
When he reached the age of majority at 21, the farmer family released him to the world. He had yet to earn a single dime in his life. Though he was once PAID ONE CENT... for spending all day and into the dark hours working extra for the farmer when clearing out a swamp on that man's land.
He would soon take up work in the cobbler business as an apprentice and would quickly not only learn the trade but be able to produce shoes faster than his instructor. And time was money. You could get about 50 cents for every pair made.
When Jeremiah, now Henry, was not making shoes or reading he was involved with debating clubs and would take to the study of oration. But when illness struck his doctors told him to stop making shoes for a while and travel..so off to Washington DC Henry traveled. And there he became furious as he would learn more and more about the slave trade, in which... with temperance, became major causes for his advocacy skills.
Because of his elocution Henry was soon in demand for public speaking and it would not be long before he would become a town Mayor and owning his own business as a cobbler for over a decade. His gravitation towards politics was a natural, due to his compulsion for reading, public speaking, and advocacy. Soon he would become a state Governor, he would serve on both the state and national levels as a senator and at one point even found himself being elected as the major in an artillery company, a unit that would later see him as their Colonel.
In early May of 1862, while serving in the US Senate, and Chair, of the Committee of Military Affairs, Senator Henry Wilson, aka Jeremiah Jones Colbrath introduced legislation with regards to the Medal of Honor for the Army. (The plan for a medal for the navy was covered in this space several moths ago.)
His bill called for the minting of 2,000 Medals of Honor, and for the President to actually present them to... "such non-commissioned officers and privates as shall distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldier like qualities during the present insurrection." (Note that these medals were NOT proposed at that time, for officers.)
The left picture is the Civil War version of the army MOH. It went through a number of design and ribbon changes over the years . To the right is the NAVY version of the medal. The difference in both being the suspension devise, an anchor for the navy and a cannon for the army. The navy ribbon at right and the suspension were changed over the years but the medal itself remains the same to today as it did back in 1862. The first ones were presented in 1863 very soon after the army first 6 were presented on 25 March 1863 to the survivors of the Andrews Raid, covered in this space months ago.
In the centre of course is the old cobbler Henry Wilson, who in later years would become the Vice President of the United States, but would sadly pass away just a few years later.
His bill creating the army medal, and signed into law, got that final approval by Lincoln 151 years ago Friday past.