Last Friday I left off with the some of the details of what would become known as the "Bascom Affair." (Google it for great reading.) With the expansion of the mail stage across the country, came an increase of the white man's invasion on various lands held by the natives. As more and more intrusion into their territory continued the natives felt they were being pushed too far. When their Chief Cochise came to investigate in peace, he was arrested and falsely accused of the earlier noted kidnapping and theft of cattle. A few natives and whites were killed in the process and yet more were taken hostage by both sides.
2nd Lt Bascom's ill training and abuse of Cochise caused an incident that needed not happen. In fact he almost cost the lives of some 60 soldiers now under siege by the natives. Them, plus a handful of white's running the stagging station for the mail line, about a dozen passengers and even more men from the stage crew itself. The situation further deteriorated when Bascom lost even more men and mules when they were sent off in search of fresh water.
Finally it was time to sneak out a desperate message to soldiers at two forts within 100 miles to to gallop forth and rescue the rescuers.
His name was Bernard JD Irwin and he was an Assistant Surgeon. And his, would be the very first Medal of Honor by date of action!
His men rode their mules for 24hrs through a blinding snowstorm and came across a handful of natives in the area of Dragoon Springs. They captured three and drove the rest off. But they also captured some cattle. Irwin decided to make use of the cattle by driving them forward and confusing the enemy if and when encountered.
And that would happen when the troop finally got to the area of Apache Pass.
On the 13th/14th of February (Valentine's Day) Irwin's small troop and cattle arrived and passed through Ewell Spring and advanced on Apache Pass with the cattle leading. By using smart tactics Irwin had placed his individual troopers very strategically to give the impression that there were many more men on hand than he really had. Soon more reinforcement actually arrived and the natives holding Bascom's soldiers under siege slipped away but even at that they managed to capture a few white men and torture them enroute. They would also leave the evidence of the men being tortured for the white men to find. Irwin's men acted in kind and hung several of the natives and left them hanging for the Natives to see.
Soon, with the start of the Civil War most of the military were pulled out and moved east for the war effort and in the process abandon forts and support for the the mail line and the white settlers who braved those earlier days.
Assistant Surgeon Bernard JD Irwin came to the US from Ireland in 1845. He enjoyed a long and rewarding career through the Civil War and finally retired with the rank of a Brig. General in 1894. His is wearing the Medal of Honor draped around his neck in the image to the left.
1894 was a good year for him for it was in that year that...after a 33 year wait, he was finally rewarded with the Medal for his rescuing Bascom and the others back in 1861... on a date even before the medal was invented or the US was even at war with itself. And in lands that were not American, but native.
Barnard had a son and a grandson that both also reached the ranks of general. In retirement he spent either full or part time living in the Cobourg area of Ontario, Canada from 1901 to 1917, and upon death that year his remains were sent to West Point were he lies at rest today.
The first MOH recipient, by date of action, was not American born and he joins the ranks of apparently at least 143 other non Americans who would earn their Medals of Honor during the Indian Campaigns, who were also foreign born, including several from Canada.
One in five over the entire history of the medal went to foreign born heroes!