This Civil War Medal of Honor recipient’s story is not commonly known in our time, but it truly is a story for the ages. First, let me tell you about how and where he received his Medal of Honor. But there is another story here too, one that takes place three months later in that same war.
On May 22, 1863, Jacob Miller, was a private in Co. G of the Illinois Infantry engaged in the battle of Vicksburg, Mississippi. General Ulysses S. Grant was in command of the Union forces at Vicksburg. As you may or may not know, that battle involved a long siege of the Confederate forces who were defending that very important military point on the Mississippi River.
Who controlled Vicksburg, would control the vital supply line of the Mississippi River.
That battle would be as important to the eventual Union victory over the South as another battle that was taking place at approximately the same time up in Pennsylvania at a place called Gettysburg.
During the month of May at Vicksburg, the union forces tried on several occasions to storm the city. One of the charges against the Confederate redoubts was taken up by volunteers. It would become known as the “charge of the volunteer storming party.” Among those who volunteered was Jacob Miller. It was during this charge that Miller was cited for his audacious courage and awarded the Medal of Honor.
But the Civil War was long from over, for the nation or for Pvt. Miller. On Sept. 19, 1863, just some three months after Vicksburg, Pvt. Miller found himself in the middle of the 2nd bloodiest battle of that war, the Battle of Chickamauga. The number of casualties at Chickamauga were second only to those at Gettysburg.
Miller was one of those casualties. He was struck dead center in the forehead, right between the eyes, by a musket ball.
He fell instantly.
His own troops, seeing where he was hit and the amount of blood, took him for dead. As he lay on the battlefield, the battle raged on, with both sides advancing and retreating in successive waves.
But Miller was not dead. According to We Are The Mighty, he regained consciousness a few hours later and realized that he was now behind Confederate lines. He was able to stand and begin walking with the aid of his rifle. He went further behind the battle lines and then stealthily moved parallel to them until he was able to flank the ongoing battle and get back to his own lines.
We can only imagine the reaction of those he knew when he came walking back among them with that bloody hole in his forehead.
Miller would spend several months in hospital and would finally be released just as his enlistment was up. He would live another 54 years with that very obvious bullet hole in his forehead with the bullet still lodged in it.
In his own words, “Seventeen years after I was wounded buckshot dropped out of my wound and thirty one years after two pieces of lead came out.”
He lived through those years with that bullet lodged in that hole causing him constant pain, but he writes again of that experience on the battlefield at Chickamauga and beyond: “The whole scene is imprinted on my brain as with a steel engraving. I haven’t written this to complain of anyone being in fault for my misfortunes and suffering all these years, the government is good to me and gives me $40.00 per month pension.”
This was one tough guy. You can imagine the kinds of questions he took from strangers and the awe that they must have felt when he told them how he had survived that terrible wound. But he is also an example of the courage, the dedication to duty and to others, that is common to all those who have received the Medal of Honor since President Abraham Lincoln created the award during the Civil War.
Learn more in the video below.
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.