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Life IS history in the making. Every word we say, everything we do becomes history the moment it is said or done. Life void of memories leaves nothing but emptiness. For those who might consider history boring, think again: It is who we are, what we do and why we are here. We are certainly individuals in our thoughts and deeds but we all germinated from seeds planted long, long ago.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Honor Before the Medal

This Day in History: February 13, 1861

The territory: What is now the state of Arizona
The Time: Two months prior to American Civil War

The Medal of Honor
Civil War Era Design
[Photo by David Aeberli;
owned by Linda Fluharty.]
When one thinks about the Medal of Honor, thoughts of its first recipient(s) probably surround the events of the American Civil War. After all, the actual medal was created in 1862 during that period of war and is the highest military decoration presented by the United States government to a member of its armed forces for valor in combat.

Perhaps consideration of the very first Medal of Honor has not been a prior thought or question to pursue. What about the action which brought about someone receiving such a medal? Actions do precede awards! Actions are the foundation upon which awards are founded.

The first persons to ever wear the Medal of Honor and the earliest actions for which the Medal was awarded are two different events. Today is the honoring of the first Medal of Honor action that took place before the Civil War had even begun, an action which drew attention to the person receiving the Medal of Honor over 30 years later.

The first heroic act for which the Medal of Honor was given occurred February 13, 1861.

Here is that story...

Colonel Bernard J.D. Irwin
Irwin’s official citation below:


Rank and organization: Assistant Surgeon, U.S. Army. Place and date: Apache Pass, Ariz., 13-14 February 1861. Entered service at: New York. Born: 24 June 1830, Ireland. Date of issue: 24 January 1894. 

Citation: Voluntarily took command of troops and attacked and defeated hostile Indians he met on the way. Surgeon Irwin volunteered to go to the rescue of 2d Lt. George N. Bascom, 7th Infantry, who with 60 men was trapped by Chiricahua Apaches under Cochise. Irwin and 14 men, not having horses began the 100-mile march riding mules. After fighting and capturing Indians, recovering stolen horses and cattle, he reached Bascom’s column and help break his siege.Source: Army Live

Although Irwin’s bravery in this conflict was the earliest Medal of Honor action, the award itself was not created until 1862, and it was not until January 21, 1894, that Irwin received the nation’s highest military honor.