Dozens of times over the life of this blog... now in its 7th year... I have tried to break the silence. Scattered throughout the close to 500 blogs in this space you will find reference to, or major portions of a blog dedicated to this very story. In most, if not all I have declared government actions regarding the subject have been illegal. I still await a qualified challenge to these statements.
I of course refer to the debacle known as the 1917 Purge of over 900 Medals of Honor. Most references to the medal today tell us that there were about 1,500 medals awarded for actions during the Civil War. Every one of these references are WRONG, regardless of the authority dispensing this disinformation. You can add at least 920 to that number. Those that were killed in 1917. The true numbers would be around 2,430.
The 920 amount to about 40% of all the CW medals. Almost Four in Ten.
About 2/3rds of these should not have been awarded in the first place. But nevertheless they were. But they were cancelled without legal authority. There was a way to do it. They chose the easy way out... the illegal way! Read my past blogs for details.
It is now over a century later. And the government has started to smarten up... of the 920 or so, cancelled, some have been reissued since 1977.
YUP, they have grasped the banner by the handle and held it high. First it was at a trickle. 1977 saw one returned. Then they went back to sleep again till 1989 when they marched forward with great pride to fix their mistakes by opening up the floodgates and returning some more.
Now wait for it... All at once they returned a whopping FIVE. Only about 914 more to go!
I'll talk about one of these heroes in this blog. Next week I will bring a 2nd story to the blog. Since both stories have been covered in the past in this space, I will only focus on their medals being reinstated. The first is Mary Walker, believed to be the 2nd person in US history to receive a medical license. While many wanted nothing to do with her at the beginning of the US Civil War, attitudes changed somewhat throughout the years of slaughter.
Applying for a commission and being denied she made her own uniform dressed as a man, and served in hospitals and at the front lines repeatedly. Her heroism was soon recognized by many who would see her treating the wounded right on the battlefields of several major battles.
At war's end Abraham Lincoln signed the paperwork for Acting Assistant Surgeon Mary Walker to get the Medal of Honor after she was nominated by two generals. However the President was assassinated before the medal was awarded. President Johnston then took up the cause and awarded it on November 11, of all days, ... in 1865. But in 1917, the rules calling for tighter controls decided she did not qualify and so she lost the medal in the Purge actions.
As an activist pre and post war days, she had taken to the wearing of men's clothing, and as such I believe was one of the activists often arrested for so dressing.
Once the 1917 Purge report was issued, letters went out to only 140 of the more than 900 recipients who were losing their medals. But like many, Mary held her ground. She was a very well known activist and often made pit stops at DC. The lawmakers of the day did their best to stay out of her eyesight lest they became the object of her criticism that day.
It has been said that when officials arrived at her doorstep in an attempt to retrieve her Medal of Honor. She arrived at the door wearing civies... and wearing her medal. In her hand she is said to have held a shotgun. They left in a hurry sans the medal. If true, she would have been about 85 at the time.
Many years ago the Oswego County Historical Society Museum came into possession of the Walker Civil War Medal of Honor, shown below.
The original Civil War ribbon is shown below, at left .
Newspapers across the country carried the story. Here is one such account.
Next week I will bring you the story of a famous soldier, how he lost his medal, and how it came back to his descendants many a year after his passing.
See you on August 4th,