The records show today that there have only been 19 double recipients since the medal was created. This is of course nonsence. History likes to forget that Civil War General Mindil was awarded two, but about 50 years after being so awarded, the government, it would appear, IN VIOLATION OF THE US CONSTITUTION, decided it would take one of them away. History has also yet to credit another soldier for being a double recipient, but I'll save that story for another day. History also shows that there were only 2 MOH doubles in the navy in the Civil War. This blog will argue that there are four more. In fact I do believe the dates involved in these four would make them THE FIRST DOUBLE RECIPIENTS ON RECORD.
The story is long so get your coffee first.
Let's begin with two points that could throw the reader off balance. The first deals with the ships involved. Actually it was just one ship. This story begins with the four sailors... Charles Robinson, a Boatswain's Mate, John McDonald also a Boatswain's Mate, Peirre (Peter) Leon, a Captain of the Forecastle and finally Peter Cotton who was a Coxswain. In February of 1862 these four sailors served on a vessel called the USS Saint Louis. While on that vessel they participated in many battles including the most significant battles at Forts Henry and Donelson on Feb 6 and 14. At the time the ship was owned by the US War Department. But several months later it was transferred to the US Navy Department. And in short order the navy discovered that it had a problem. It already had a Saint Louis... why did it need two of them? It then did the normal thing and changed the new ship's name to Baron De Kalb. (The changing of ship names may not have been something new to the Navy or War Departments. In fact, a few years later... In June of 1869 they would do it 41 times. Then in Aug of the same year they would do it again 38 more times.)
Often, as you shall soon see, these men and the names of the ship flip back and forth and leads to confusion. Don't let it. It is the same vessel!
The next point of confusion is that there were not one but two fellows names Charles Robinson... and both came from Scotland..and both were said to be born in 1840 (one was acually born in 1832) And both were awarded Medals of Honor.
You'd think I'm making this up but I'm not. hehe
The fellow born in 1832 served on the Galena, and in 1864 he earned a MOH for actions at Mobile Bay. (As did several Canadians.) But in the very navy General Order that announced that he had been awarded a MOH, it also took it away from him for desertion. In 1957 the Navy Department tuned over to the Naval Museum at Washington DC a list of 74 MOH recipients who have failed to claim their medals. It is believed they also turned over the medals as well. On that list is deserter Charles Robinson, but the list says he was on the Baron de Kalb by mistake and noted that his medal was earned at Mobile Bay in 1864. (The De Kalb was sunk in mid 1863. This incorrect entry is systemic in military records of the day as you shall see throughout this blog. (In fact if you investigate by going to this URL... http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/pers-us/uspers-c/p-cotton.htm today you will see an image of Peter Cotton's Medal of Honor which clearly shows it was earned for bravery at the Forts and dates mentioned above. Yet the US Navy Historical Center's web site above states RIGHT BESIDE THE IMAGE that the medal was awaded for actions during the Yazoo Expedition in another state and some 300 miles away 8 months after the date enscribed on the medal. Talk about confusion!
The Charles Robinson above is not the Charles and three others that are the subject of this blog.
If this citation is correct, how can anyone explain what is engraved on the Cotton medal that can be viewed at the above URL stating the medal for Cotton was earned at the Forts earlier mentioned, in early February of 1862 and some 365 miles away in another state... that of Tennessee?
Cotton's medal is not the only one that says what it does, but I'll get to that a little later.
I have 2 problems with the above citation for the medal. First... it clearly says the individuals were recommended by the Commanding Officer. That was Lt Commander Walker. While the commander, he could have recommended the four for the medal but a search for years has yet to turn up this recomendation. And if he made it, it would be knowledge he had while he was the commander of not the USS Saint Louis but the De Kalb. He was the commander of the De Kalb from October 1862 till Aug 1863, and thus could recommend for the Yazoo Expedition as outlined in the above citation, BUT COULD NOT RECOMMEND FOR ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE SAINT LOUIS EIGHT MONTHS EARLIER WHEN HE WAS NEITHER THE COMMANDER... NOR EVEN ON THE SHIP at the time the Cotton medal says it was for bravery on the Saint Louis at the Forts.
My second problem with the citation above is in the wording near the end. It clearly states that the reasons for the awards were for serving bravely throughout this action. The critical words being THIS ACTION. And of course common sense suggests that they refer to the action described above..ie events during the YAZOO EXPEDITION...and not the Forts.
The citation continues with the words... distinguished himself in the various actions. So what actions is he talking about. It would seem clear that they were, amplified already above... being in THIS ACTION... ie again... the Yazoo Expedition... NOT THE FORTS.
So where are the medals for the Yazoo. None have yet to turn up in 7 years of research! But another has also saying the medal was for the Forts..not Yazoo. I'll get to that soon, but a few more points first...
A few years back I located a most industrious researcher who was most interested in this story. The woman was intrigued and noted that she was off to Washington DC to do some research and would look into this case while there. And after considerable efforts she came across a daily journal of a fellow that actually served on the USS Saint Louis up until the summer of 1863 Plowing through page after page she found a notation dated 3 May 1863. It announced that 4 crew members were being escorted off the vessel as their terms of service was then up. One of these was Peter Cotton.
Another entry on 10 June 1863 was more exciting. It said that..."Medals awarded to John McDonald and Charles Robinson, Boatsmen Mates, and Peter Leon C. Forecastle for gallant and meritorious actions in the Battle of Forts Fisher and Donelson and other actions."
Obviously the medal to Cotton could not be presented as he had left the ship. Thus it got turned back over to the Naval department and ultimately to the Navy Museum where it is held and on display I assume.
The journal entry was probably the result of the comments given by the Saint Louis Commanding Officer of that day... as he read out the citation in front of his ship's company and then presented the medals. But again there are the curious words... and other actions.... that have followed from Walker's citation without the benefit of knowing the words are probably a reference to the Yazoo Expedition in the Sate of Mississippi. And those same words appear on Cotton's MOH.
Several years back I also found relatives of Charles Robinson, and over a period the family discovered in the basement of one of the family homes in the "Button Box" kept for family keepsakes a really interesting keepsake. A Medal of Honor that had been stored away for years. The grandmother who owned it was in her most senior years and was a daughter of Charles. The medal said exactly what the Cotton medal said... ie for the Forts in Feb of 1862... and other actions. The family also passed along a neat tidbit. They say that the daughter claimed at one point... "there were two medals." But the family could not add what the 2nd one was. It could have been a 2nd MOH but could also have been a campaign badge, or a GAR membership badge that looks almost identical to a MOH or whatever other medals he may have collected over the years.
The third medal went to Pierre Leon. This was lost after the Saint Louis,. became the DeKalb and months later it was sunk by a Confederate mine. Many lost most if not all their possessions. Pierre lost lots of stuff including a medal... or maybe two???? In the 1940's the famly wrote the Navy Bureau of Navigation to say the item(s) were lost when the ship sank and could the navy tell the family what was written on its reverse. The repsonse that came from... none other than... the famed Admiral Nimitz... was that the bureau had no record of what was engraved. He later actually sent them a BLANK MEDAL that they could enscribe presumably anything they wanted. DAH!!
The fourth fellow was John McDonald, who like so may others had completly disappeared off everyones screen after the war. No one knows what happened to him, where he lived or died, or where his medal is and what it says.
Most recently a claim has come forth that he lived in New Jersey and that he was in fact a black man. This revelation has not been known to any of the usual sites that list the 85 or 87 black men who were awarded the medal. I am attempting to verify this info but still have nothing on his medal. He like Cotton and Leon and Robinson are all in the same boat though... pardon the pun. They all served at the Forts and at Yazoo.
And thus the double staus may well apply to them as well.
But more on this in the final blog on this subject tomorrow.
Please come back back to see this and drop me a note about you comments.