But that's not the way most think of the Medal of Honor. Trouble is, it seems that not enough actually do think of it. Several years ago a US House of Representatives member gave notice that the Wall Street Journal recently did a study of what the youth knew about this most precious award for bravery. Some 1500 students were asked to respond to a survey and when completed it was discovered that a whopping 50% hadn't a clue what it was. Only 5% did. Over 50% thought it had something to do with the entertainment business. (And some surely wondered why a recent call in this space was for a law to be passed barring the use of the term by ANY organization other than for THE Medal of Honor.) But I digress.
I and many others are anxiously awaiting an update on the Alonzo Cushing story. His bravery during the Battle of Gettysburg on its 3rd day, and in the face of about 15,000 troops charging his line, gave his life for his country. A move has been ongoing for years to see that he be properly awarded with a Medal of Honor. He received an on the spot promotion... at death.. and had two others for similar bravery in his short career. Recent news is that the US Congress has allowed for the extension of time and has approved the award and it is awaiting the President's approval. It will be the longest case on record of delay between action and award, but when it comes it will be front page news across the US and at about page 100 in two or three Canadian papers, despite the fact that hundreds of Canadians were probably on the same grounds of slaughter that day and the two before.
But back to the first Medal. Here's what the press had to say about what most claim was the first medal...or medals... awarded.
This appeared on page one of the New York Times on 26 March 1863. It was buried in column five and is rather difficult to notice unless you have a very sharp eye. In short, it not only did not even give the name of the medal, nor did it give any major news coverage. This lack of fanfare was widely spread amongst the military and civy population at the time and many a recipient simply tossed it into a drawer when they got it. It has only become a mainstay in later days, and of course would receive incredible news coverage today.
The above story is about the Andrews Raiders who, about 21 strong at the start of the mission, went undercover and deep into enemy lines to capture a train, destroy telegraph cables, burn some bridges and tear up some rail line in the process. All of which would quite upset the enemy. Most would later be awarded the MOH, some posthumously as they were captured and without due course, taken out and hung as spies. However this only happened after plenty or torture. The Raiders have received honourable mention in this space often.
But the Andrews Raiders were NOT the first Medal of Honor recipients. Six of them were the first TO BE PRESENTED WITH THE MEDAL, but later that year and for years to come others would be also awarded, and for deeds before the Raider's activities took place.
And one of these is the subject of the next few blogs.
To tell this story requires the laying of ground work... to tell yet more of the story of the history of the United States. And like going to Google to get your simply answer... it took you hours to get where you wanted to go...and that is only IF you were successful and managed to live through all the other interesting road-signs along the journey.
But in avoiding them, you often avoid a neat part of the story...
To give an example.... earlier today I sent an email to PEI with regards to another MOH matter I am working on. Within 6 minutes I had a reply. That email travelled a minimum of 2,594 KMs (there and back) according to Google... in 6 minutes.
Today's story starts back in the late 1850's when the Pony Express was the email of the day. As was the Butterfield Overland Mail Stage. And before this... my email would have had to be put in ink, sent down to California, then down to the Panama, then travel by canoe and pack animals, and a train across the isthmnus, then boarded on a steamer and head up to New York City, and from their sailed still further North to PEI. Months later, if miracles were on your side, the letter arrived.
Back in 1845 the US annexed Texas. Then followed a 22 month war with Mexico over disputed lands. But with fall of Mexico City, the states now known as California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and portions of Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico ceded over 1/2 million square miles to the US. Couple this with gold discoveries and the headlines further east would spread the news of gold like wildfire. And thus began the stampede west. Populations would explode and with them also came lots of troubles.
One of these was the push for better east/ west communications lines.
Congress authorized the post office to get tenders for a better, faster and more efficient route across the US for the mails. Nine bids were whittled down to one.. the Butterfield Overland Mail Stage, that would chop half the distance off the earlier route but would need a massive support system to carry out. It proposed travel through several states and also several Indian territories, but the whole route would be chopped down to just 2800 miles.
The proposal was accepted and took a year to plan. It called for 2 trips in each direction weekly, would carry upwards of 25,000 letters and about a dozen very brave and gutsy passengers each way. The trip would take 25 days, would need an infrastructure of over 240 staging areas across the nation, 2000 workers, over 250 coaches and 1800 mules and horses.
The Overland route would be the longest on record, would travel from San Francisco to St Louis in the East and have 9 divisions. One of these, number 4 was deep in native held territory.
It was here that the real beginnings of the Medal of Honor would plant their routes, but more on that on Friday.
Hope you will join me then,