Today's story is about one of these double recipients. He was a navy man who most will say was born in Montreal, but in fact he came from Montserrat in the West Indies. He is the only known black recipient to become a double recipient. I say known because more information comes available on a regular basis. An example..just a few days ago I became aware of a historian's recent discovery that a recipient previous thought to be white, was a black man. This, despite all other available sources not so indicating. More on a future blog on this. His medal aside, usual sources tell us that there are about 85 listed Black Medal of Honor recipients, many dating back to Civil War days.
The hero of this story earned both during peace time and for saving lives from others who had fallen overboard from a warship, could not swim and were about to drown. About 86 medals were issued to navy men for the same form of bravery, and naval provisions provide for such awards that did not need to be in the face of the enemy.
Our man's name is Robert Sweeney. No known images of him seems to be available. He enrolled in the navy in 1873 and served on a number of vessels before finally retiring from naval service in 1893.
On 27 Oct 1881 Commander GB White sent a handwritten note to Secretary of War WH Hunt telling of a cadet officer and Seaman Sweeney's heroism on 26 October. While at the Navy yard at Hampton Roads Virginia, a seaman by the name of EM Christtoveson fell overboard from a jacob's ladder, Sweeney dove in to try and rescue the lad. He could not swim, was in a panic, and pulled Sweeney under twice and it was then that the cadet jumped in with a rope to haul both out of the water. The commander noted that...it was a brave and plucky act" and ... "to their bravery and prompt action we owe the life of one of our crew." The commander commended that the Secretary of War give them due consideration. Early words meaning they were both being recommended for the Medal of Honor. Only days later... on November 1 the Secretary issued a general order announcing that the department very highly appreciated the bravery of both men and that the later... Sweeney... had been awarded the Medal of Honor.
Two years later, and now at the navy yard in New York, Robert Sweeney would yet again dive into the water to save a shipmate. This time he dove of the decks of the USS Jamestown to save apprentice AA George who was attempting to walk a plank between 2 vessels and fell overboard. He was later recommended for a second medal and by the end of December it was awarded.
And that act of bravery occurred 128 years ago today... on 20 December 1884. Robert Sweeney was born in 1853 and died at only age 37, in 1890.
The records indicate that only 8 sailors in the entire history of the medal became double recipients. A future blog will argue there may well be four more.