If you have not read the last two blogs, you ought to or today's may not make a lot of sense to you.
My theories aside, I would like to now turn to the paper trail so far discovered with regards to these four men and their medal... or medals. First I'll turn to those records that talk about all four at once..and then look at the individual cases.
The very first item would be General Order #11 that was published on 3 April 1863. This document does not deal with the army, and only deals with the navy. It announced for the first time ever that Medals of Honor were awarded and gave the names, ranks and vessels of 70 sailors. It listed the 4 sailors we are interested in and gave their vessel as being the Baron de Kalb. (despite what the two known medals have engraved on them) The list gives no other details whatsoever about dates or actions or locations.
The list was sent to the news media and the New York Times of the same day carried a story listing all of the sailors in the General Order. With regards to the four it printed that they served on the de Kalb and that medals were awarded as the sailors were..."mentioned by their commanding officer as having distinguished themselves in various actions."
In October of 1973 the US Senate's Committee on Veterans Affairs released one of the most important books on the subject, over 1,200 pages long and entitled Medal of Honor recipients 1863-1973. This is obviously a federal government undertaking. And therein it again repeats that the four were serving on the de Kalb. The book added a description of the crew's events, though not the 4 individually, and that they were involved in the Yazoo Expedition, had repelled enemy attacks often, had secured some enemy supplies and destroyed others, had burned several enemy ships and captured some prisoners. It continued with the statement that the CO recommended the 4 men for... serving bravely throughout this action and "distinguished himself (same for other 3) in the various actions."
In 1995 a group of respected authorities on the subject came out with the Lang, Collins and White 2 volume set of books called Medal of Honor recipients 1863-1994. Therein again the exact words from the Senate's book noted above, were printed in this 2 volume set.
These two books have introduced evidence that when you see the words...and other actions... the phrase clearly refers to the actions described before the use of the term...ie activity at the Yazoo Expedition... and NOT the action at the two forts.
Now let's look at the four individuals and what the evidence shows. First with John McDonald... the easiest. Other than the above references to all four, I can find no individual references to McDonald, nor can I find his medal or where he lived or died. Although a most recent development suggests a New Jersey connection that I have yet to verify. But there is no info located that discusses his medal or what is engraved on it or what it was for other than the above.
Pierre (Peter) Leon, as noted yesterday, lost his medal (s) when the Baron de Kalb was sunk by a Confederate mine in July 1863 in the Yazoo River. His family in the 1940's contacted the navy to ask what was engraved on the medal and was told by these officials THAT THE NAVY DID NOT KNOW WHAT WAS ON IT. They later sent the family a blank MOH.
Peter Cotton's case has many discrepancies. On 29 Sept. 1871 the Secretary of the Navy released a list of 91 Medals being held by the Navy Department. Cotton was one of these and it notes he was serving on the Baron de Kalb. But it gives no date for the action involved. Of all 91 listed, it is the only one with no date listed. Most curious!
On 7 Feb 1898 the NY Times carried an artilce about the medals the Navy Department where holding and that they had not yet been claimed by the recipients or their families. Therein is listed the Cotton medal and it notes it was earned on the de Kalb... in various actions.
On 25 August of that year the Navy Department issued another list of these same medals. Therein it identified him as serving on the USS Saint Louis and gives no dates or actions or reasons for the medal, but it also lists none of this stuff for any of the others on the list either.
A USN record in 1923 lists him on the de Kalb and having distinguishe himself in various actions.
A USN record in 1945 again has him on the de Kalb, mentions him in the Yazoo Expedition and then adds the words that his CO recommended him for serving bravely throughout this action, (Yazoo), and that he distinguished himself in the various actions.
Then of course... all the paperwork aside... you have the medal that I gave you a link to see yesterday. And on that medal it is clearly engraved that the service was on the Saint Louis and that the bravery was noted at actions at both Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in February of 1862. The medal also adds... and other actions also.
Now let's look at Charles Robinson who, buy the way, moved to Halifax Nova Scotia after the war and remained there till death some 30 or more years later.
As already noted yesterday, Robinson's medal has turned up and like Cotton's, is engraved for service on the Saint Louis at both Forts... and other actions... as well. In addition, there are two documents in Robinson's service records with the archives at Washington DC. In these are two letters dated in Feb of 1893 with regards to pension applications. And these two mention the medal and the very inscription about noted regarding Cotton's medal is written on these documents as well.
From this wide variety of sources you can see the story constantly changing or being added to or subtracted from, and most of the originators are with the government.
Taking this further, there is a very long record of government sloppiness that any serious researcher has encountered in their own research of matters touching on the Medal of Honor. Some of this is because new information is always coming forth. Some by sloppy recording of info. Some by those who chose to add their take on what did or did not happen..and of course all of this is up on the net for anyone to see and jump to conclusions without taking it upon themselves to delve further. Some of the discrepancy is also due to the fact that maybe a foreign accent troubled the recorder to write something he or she thought was said. In other occassions they get the statement quite right but it was the soldier or sailor who chose to mislead about ages, marriage status, residence on entry into service or place of birth etc... regardless, the record as it stands is often not accurate.
Here are a handful of examples of items to ponder.
Perhaps we can start with the 1863 very first awarding of the Medal of Honor to the six Andrews Raiders. They were presented on 25 March 1863 by the Secretery of War and today across the US they celebarte the date as medal of Honor Day each year. But upon very close examination anyone can check the dates of the orders granting the medals to these six heroes. You might be surprised. I'll cover this in a future blog, as I already have checked these dates.
On 18 October 1884 General Order # 326 was issued. It announced that several medals.. actually 34 in total in the years 1877, and every year from 1879, to 1884 had been awarded, but that there had been no notice in any general order about them. DAH!
In 1886 a book was produced by a fellow using the name UNCLE SAM (there were a series of his bks) and in this first edition the author notes that within his book there is a list of the first recipients... none had been published before that date apparently. He added a sour note about the complete lack of fanfare in the issue of the medals... usually by the Post in most cases without any fanfare whatsoever for the hero involved.
In 1887 the US Navy Dpartment produced a book called the General Orders and Circulars Issued by the Navy Department from 1863 to 1887. On the very 1st page of his preface the author states that... Many if not all of the orders and circulars ussed prior to 1863 have become obsolete, and were not numbered nor reportedly distributed, since that date they have been numbered consecutively.
This suggests that any search of the record pre 1863 may come up empty handed. How does that preserved history?
In that same year there was the production of Appleton's Annual Cylopaedia and Register of Impotant Dates and Events if the Year 1887. In this it is stated that...No complete list of the sailors who have received the Medal of Honor for gallantly serving the US Navy have been published. The following list is made up from partial lists forwarded us by the Navy Department. (our 4 are listed here as serving on the de Kalb but no details were noted re place or deeds or dates was given) The war was over for 27 years and according to this source there had yet to be an accurate punlished list of sailors getting the MOH! How accurate will a list produced so late be?
In 1915 a circular was produced by the government. It noted 73 ommissions or corections that dated from 1904 to 1914 regarding MOH recipients.
In 1964 the US Senate Sub Committee on Veterans Affairs produced a book re the MOH history from 1863 to 1963. In the book's forward, a Senator said....undoubtedly there have been mistakes made in this record. He then went on to add that when found please so advise the sub committee.
In 2008 the Home of Heroes website, one widely recognized as being an authority on the subject, made mention of the fact that after examining just 300 of its massive files on MOH recipients, it found no less than 38 mistakes.
Over the past few years there have been several stories of MOH recommendations that somehow have gotten lost in the shuffle. At least two involving delays of in the area of 40 years, but had finally been rectified and medals awarded.
All of the above ought to lead any reader to the conclusion that records cannot be relied on to reflect the truth. Thus, when I argue the records are a mess with regards to the four recipients noted in this blog, past sloppiness ought to add to my arguement that the records are clearly not right in these 4 cases. Records that claim to this date that these heroes only got one Medal of Honor.
Some final thoughts.
The recommendations came from the commanding officer. I cannot find the exact document that contains the words of the CO... Lt Walker of the de Kalb during the expedition up the Yazoo River. He was only on the ship from Oct 1862 till Aug 1863, and could well have made the recommendation for the Yazoo Expedition. But he was not on the vessel whilst it was the USS Saint Louis at the Forts in Feb of 1862. Thus, how could he make a observation of bravery when he wasn't even there.
Likewise for Lt Paulding who commanded the Saint Louis in Feb of 1862 but was later promoted and given another command and was not on the de Kalb during the Yazoo events, and thus he could not have made recommendations for the Yazoo incident.
So you have two commanders that could only account for bravery at one event, each being different. For the record to be accurate in this case you need recommendations from TWO COMMANDING OFFICERS... not one. And for the record to say the events happened at Yazoo yet his actual recommendation was not found, and for medals to say the Forts again with a actual recommedation not found... who is right... or are both right... for two seperate events..and two seperate medals.
Some have argued that the... and other actions phrase refers to the Forts and thus the medal engravings, but it would seem that if a citation was a paragraph long about Yazoo...and three words refer to another event... the obvious engraving ought to be for the Yazoo. But neither engraved medal supports that opnion. There were many battles between the Yazzoo date and the Forts dates, that such a phrase could be referring to.
And while the records show in great length the wording of the Yazoo incident...and thus it being superior one might think to the other event... ie the forts... let them consider this.
The admiral, secretery of navy and the war departement and the congress..both houses and even a fellow named Ab Lincoln have praised the admiral, his officers and men for actions at the Forts and done so in writting. Not so for the Yazoo. The President actually directed that the admiral ensure the officers and men under his command AT THE FORTS receive his thanks. Not so for the Yazoo.
This would suggest that clearly the medals were for the forts as thus engraved, There may well be a medal floating about and yet to be discovered for the Yazoo as outlined in the citations to boot.
I could go on but some might say I am long winded! hehe
I hope I have not put you all to sleep with this.
By the way, I cannot leave this blog without making note that today, being the first of February, is the begining of Black History Month, and that some reflection should be given this month to the many black Medal of Honor and Victoria Cross recipients, and in fact all blacks during this month. Monday's blog will help to start this reflection..
Please get some sleep, and come back on Monday...