Petersburg Medals of Honor: Introduction

   

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in Deeds of Valor, Volume 1

SOPO Editor’s Note: For a long time going forward, Mondays at the Siege of Petersburg Online will focus on Union Medal of Honor winners at the Siege of Petersburg.  These posts are taken from Deeds of Valor, Volume 1, compiled and edited by Oscar F. Keydel and Walter F. Beyer early in the 20th Century.  The compilers reached out to living Medal of Honor winners and comrades of living and dead recipients of the award in order to put together a much more detailed view of what these men did for their country.  So sit back, enjoy, and learn a little about the brave deeds performed by Union soldiers at the Siege of Petersburg every Monday morning.  

For those of you wondering about the Confederate side, they had no official Medal of Honor.  However, long after the war the Confederate Roll of Honor was awarded posthumously to Confederates by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  I am working on a plan to compile my own list of brave Confederate deeds in the year plus it takes the Union series to run.  One promising place to look for candidates is the modern book Valor in Gray: The Recipients of the Confederate Medal of Honor by Gregg S. Klemmer, which I’ve ordered and will be in possession of by the time you’re reading this.  Hopefully I can write up my own set of articles for the Confederate side in the future.  My list will hopefully be a little larger than the existing Confederate Roll of Honor.  If you’re interested in helping on that project, please use the Contact form at the top part of the page to get in touch.

What follows is the introduction to Deeds of Valor, Volume 1, and the first Medal of Honor post goes live at the same time as this one.  I’d love to hear from you if you have some familial or other connection to these men.

INTRODUCTION1

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DURING the progress of the War of the Rebellion, in July, 1862, and March, 1863, Congress provided by joint resolution for Medals of Honor for most distinguished gallantry in action. Under the regulations of the War Department pursuant to these joint resolutions it is provided that every soldier and sailor in the service of the United States, who, outside of the strict line of his duty and beyond the orders of his superiors, performed an act of conspicuous bravery of advantage to the service, should be rewarded by receiving a “Medal of Honor,” specially struck for that purpose, on satisfactory proof being presented of the circumstances of the act. From the beginning of the War of the Rebellion to the opening of the war with Spain, only about 1,400 of these medals were granted, including all those given for services in the Indian Wars which intervened. For services in the Spanish War, only 26 medals were awarded. When it is considered that nearly two millions of men served in these wars, and that their course was marked with innumerable gallant actions, the signal merit of the actions which earned the medals and the care with which the proof was scrutinized, may be better appreciated. Mere recklessness of danger, when duty is to be performed or orders obeyed, is a common attribute of all American soldiers, and those who received the Medal of Honor were doubtless,. in many cases, more fortunate in opportunity rather than braver of heart than their comrades ; yet the fact that less than 1,400 out of two millions wear this badge of heroism marks the wearers as soldiers of extraordinary merit and heroism.

The official record of these stories of heroic deeds in the service of the Republic is of the most meager character, a mere line, with the name of the individual, his company and regiment, and a brief phrase designating the character of his achievement, without any of the details which would give it life and dramatic interest. It scarcely rises above the form of a tabular statement. As time passed, the heroes of these deeds were rapidly disappearing from the stage of life, and soon all recollection of the essential features of their achievements, would be buried in the graves of those who performed and witnessed them. The design of this work was to gather these details together, verified by the medal bearers, their superior officers, or other witnesses, and present them to the American public in a form worthy of the subject.

The work has been by no means an easy one. It involved several years of arduous pursuit by the compilers, voluminous correspondence and exhaustive search; but it has been accomplished with a degree of completeness which was hardly to be expected. The compilers have had the advantage of the zealous assistance of every officer of the army to whom they applied, access to the official reports of the War Department, and written reports of the incidents from the medal holders themselves. So far therefore, as historical accuracy is concerned, there is little apology to be made for the work. As to its literary merit, it may be said that much of it is in the simple and modest language of the heroes themselves, who have minimized their own merits, and taken from their narratives much of the dramatic interest which a disinterested witness would have found in the deeds they performed. Many of the incidents, on the other hand, have been related by officers who were witnesses of the deeds of their subordinates, and who had the literary skill to mark and describe them in the manner they deserved, but without exaggeration or embellishment.

The editing of the work was committed to competent hands, whose chief purpose was to eliminate crudities, and to avoid extravagant expressions to which such a work was easily liable. Whatsoever may be its demerits, its publishers may at least fairly claim that it is a truthful and modest narration of the most heroic personal achievements of our soldiers during the past half century, verified by competent officers, and sustained by proofs which have been accepted by the Government of the United States as evidence of the facts which deserved the distinguishing acknowledgment of the Medal of Honor.

Henry M. Duffield

Brigadier-General, U. S. Volunteers

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COMPILERS’ PREFACE

The pages of our country’s history abound with instances of the most lofty courage, which thrill the pulse and kindle the spirit of every true patriot. Congress itself has singled out many of these instances and given them special recognition. It has provided for a medal, known as the “Medal of Honor.” It is the nation’s grateful acknowledgment of a great and heroic deed, a reward for such gallant services in action as make him who renders them conspicuous among his comrades.

The heart beats faster and the blood courses through the veins more rapidly, as one reads these simple stories published in the heroes’ own modest words. These narrations speak for themselves. Editorial embellishment could only detract from their value.

The footnotes which accompany the several descriptions are intended to give a brief review of the historic events to which they refer. In this manner the reader will obtain an abridged history of our several wars, including the campaign in the Philippine Islands, illuminated by the thrilling acts of the nation’s heroes.

To the contributors of the narrations, and all who have assisted in this task, and especially to General Lewellyn G. Estes and Captain James R. Durham. Washington, D. C and His Excellency, Hazen S. Pingree, Governor of the State of Michigan, the compilers feel themselves deeply indebted.

The compilers submit this work for the approval of the American people, hoping that their effort to preserve these heroic episodes in a permanent and worthy form, before all recollection of them has passed away, will not have been in vain, and that the result will be a monument to remind generation after generation of Americans of the heroism of their fathers.

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SOPO Editor’s Note: The Medal of Honor winners from the Siege of Petersburg which were chronicled in Deeds of Valor will be featured at The Siege of Petersburg Online.  Check for new posts below or at the permanent page for Deeds of Valor.

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And see below for even more mentions of Medal of Honor winners at the Siege of Petersburg:

Source:

  1. Beyer, Walter F. and Keydel, Oscar F. Deeds of Valor: How America’s Heroes Won the Medal of Honor…, Volume 1 (The Perrien – Keydel  Company: 1901), pp. 1-2

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