On topic with today's and the most recent blogs, I have written about 3 Medal of Honor, and one Victoria Cross recipient in particular. All thought to be within the above guidelines. And all being men of colour.
Two would later be shown to probably not have Canadian connections, despite what most on the internet still declare.
The first of these is Joachim Pease, thought to be from Newfoundland but that has been challenged. Definitive evidence is still being sought. This sailor was involved in the Civil War famous battle between the Union's USS Kearsarge and the Confederate's CSS's Alabama. His aim with the big ship's gun was so accurate that the enemy actually put a price on his head. But they did not collect, which of course pleased Joachim. The battle was a major win for the Union and was fought off the coast of Cherbourg France in June of 1864. His award was approved by President Abraham Lincoln on 31 December of that year.
The President would be assassinated 3 1/2 months later!
Robert Sweeney was another navy Medal of Honor recipient. In fact, any references to him usually includes the fact that he is one of only 19 recipients who would actually be awarded two MOH's. But history seems to refuse to publish anywhere the truth of the story. There were NOT 19 but at least 21 actual double recipients, as evidenced often in blogs here. But what can be claimed is that he appears to be the lone recipient of colour that is a double recipient.
Most say he was from Montreal. This probably comes from the misreading many a day ago of a place called ... Montserrat, which is in the West Indies. Some probably confused it and thus recorded a birth in Montreal.
He dived into dangerous waters at the risk of his own life to save a drowning comrade in October 1881. He did this again to save yet another mate in December 1883.
President Chester A. Arthur awarded him an early Christmas present in October of 1884 with the presentation of not one, but 2 Medals of Honor.
The lone man of colour confirmed as being from Canada (Nova Scotia) to be awarded the Medal of Honor is Joseph Noil who's evolving story has been the subject of many blogs in this space. Yet another sailor, he also risked his life back in 1872 and just 4 months later, in March 1873 was also awarded the MOH, by President Ulysses S. Grant, the famed General of Civil War days. Noil's story of being buried under the wrong name, and without hero recognition for over 130 years was rectified a few years back after the great work of several folks in the US and this blog.
The fourth man was also a sailor. By date he should have been the first noted. His medal came to him back during the Indian Mutiny. His actions played a major role in the destruction of a wall that prevented the British from rescuing many of their countrymen, women, children and British Officers.
The action of hauling massive guns up to the face of the wall, firing, being driven back, remounting and advancing time and again resulted in finally blowing a hole in the defenses that allowed the British to enter and make their rescues.
The actions also resulted in the awarding of the first ever Victoria Cross to a coloured man. That being Nova Scotia's William Hall. The award was approved by Her Royal Highness, Queen Victoria in 1859 for bravery on 4 November 1857.
For years those attending highland games across Canada got to watch serving members of the navy in teams from the west challenge teams from the east in a competition to dismantle a massive naval gun, struggle across various obstacles, remount the gun, run further to point of attack, fire, dismount, return to the obstacle and cross it, remount the weapon and take it back to the start point. It was a great crowd pleasing attraction annually but finally was cancelled because too many were getting injured. (A concept apparently not thought of back in 1859.)
The Victoria Cross at right is actually the very medal awarded to William Hall and across its suspension bar's reverse, but not decipherable in this image, are the words... Seamen W Hall Royal Navy, and below, as are all VC's, is the date of the heroism. In this case... 16 Nov. 1857.
The medal is held by a museum in Halifax and many a year ago I had the distinct privilege of not only seeing but actually holding the medal. Over the years I have held over a dozen VC's, most being held by museum's. Three not so have been the subject of several earlier blogs in this space.
American readers should use this site's search engine (it is at top right of this page) to read up on the US connection to William Hall VC. He served in the US Navy during the Mexican War before joining the British Navy and still later being awarded the Victoria Cross.
It seems fair to assume that there is little doubt these four sailors all faced discrimination during some parts of their military service, before and even after. But these men were highly decorated. Thousands were not!
Also note that discrimination is not limited to those serving. Nor to the black community. Nor to Canada, the US and Britain. And it predates the US Civil War by almost 300 years..
It was back in 1563, 1564 and 1568 that Francis Drake (later Sir Francis) and relative Hawkins landed cargoes of captured slaves on the shores of America. The men, women and children were seized from Portuguese vessels and towns in West Africa.
Regular readers of these blogs will recall the story of the creation of today's Purple Heart, reminiscent of the Badge of Military Merit introduced by President George Washington back in revolutionary days. But did you know that Washington had over 300 slaves at that very time working his plantation at Mount Vernon?
In fact, of the first dozen US presidents 10 owned slaves. And during the Revolutionary War of 1777 to 1783 the British tried to convince slaves held by American masters, to run away and enlist with the British in their fight against the Americans.
Three decades later, while the British had laws against the blacks joining their ranks, the authorities overlooked this and had thousands join up to fight the American invaders in the War of 1812. Men of colour who often had escaped slavery and feared return to same if caught by the Americans. And on the US side thousands also served with the army and upwards of 20% served on US ships manning the Great Lakes. Men who had in many a case came from slavery before the war.
Almost five decades would pass and in 1860 some 600 blacks fleeing from the struggles of racism in the US came to Vancouver Island BC. Many joined to form the Victoria Pioneer Rifle Corps It is believed to have been the first ever organized troop in Western Canada.
During their term of service the government held a Royal Commission on itself. Evidence was uncovered of discrimination of a different kind. In a plot to eliminate some of the northern native communities Hudson Bay blankets covered with Smallpox were given to the natives to take to their communities to keep warm, hoping they would all catch the deadly disease and die off.
In the next blog I will bring two horrendous Civil War stories of prejudice to these pages.
In the mean time, pause for a few moments tomorrow to give thanks to the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients. Tomorrow of course is Medal of Honor Day. Reflect also on the costs those men and their families and those today have paid so that you and I can sit down in peace and enjoy the freedoms. Rights earned as much by the bullets coming out of their guns as the diplomacy of our governments over the years..
Reflect also on the 2 who just gave their lives yesterday in Afghanistan and how tough the days to come will be for their families, their loved ones, friends, workmates, community and nation will be experiencing for you and I.
Find someone in uniform and thank their for their service in the days to come. They need to hear how much we owe them and appreciate their dedication to the cause of freedom for us, and those who cannot fight on their own.
See you next week,