The History of the Medal of Honor

On December 1, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation instituting the new Navy Medal of Honor (MOH), which was followed a year later by the Army Medal of Honor. This video gives a brief history of the MOH.

The American Civil War had begun on April 12, 1861, some eight months before the new medal for conspicuous bravery in battle, the Medal of Honor, was initiated. In the beginning, it was designed for the Navy. Today, there are three forms of the MOH: the Navy/Marine Corps/Coast Guard MOH, the Army MOH, and the Air Force MOH.

Photo: YouTube/WGRZ-TV

The MOH was awarded for the first time to Army private Jacob Parrott. He served with Company K, 33rd Ohio Voluntary Infantry, during the Civil War. In April of 1862, he and a couple of dozen others were given orders to go deep into enemy territory to destroy bridges and railroad tracks between Chattanooga, TN, and Atlanta, GA.

When they had arrived in the Atlanta area at night, they snuck aboard a train full of boxcars heading north. When it stopped at Big Shanty, GA, the engineers and crew got off for breakfast, uncoupled the engine, the fuel car, and three boxcars, and steamed out of the station.

Photo: YouTube/WGRZ-TV

These raiders began destroying bridges as they went, but it wasn’t long before the Confederates put together another train and were in pursuit. The raiders uncoupled more of the stolen cars to slow their pursuers, but to little effect. They ran out of fuel near the Georgia-Tennessee border, and they then tried to get away on foot.

They were eventually all captured, including Parrott. He was returned to the Union Army in a prisoner-of-war exchange in March of 1863, and, for his part in the raid, he became the first to be awarded the Medal of Honor that same month. Five of his fellow raiders received the same distinction soon thereafter.

Photo: YouTube/WGRZ-TV

The Civil War saw more Medals of Honor awarded than in any other of our wars since. Since its inception, there have been some 3,522 Medal of Honor recipients. Nineteen of those have been awarded the MOH twice. Theodore Roosevelt is the only U.S. President to be awarded the Medal of Honor, and that was awarded after his death.

Medal of Honor recipients enjoy some extra privileges as well. For example, each living recipient receives a specific pension and Special Retirement Pay. The pension at this time is nearly $1,400/month. They are also given uniform allowances, on-base parking spots, priority space for travel, invitations to Presidential Inaugurals, and military burial honors.

Photo: YouTube/WGRZ-TV

It is illegal to reproduce or mint copies of the MOH. Fraudulently claiming to be a recipient can be punished by jail time.

As you will hear in this new video from a station in New York state, one-third of the MOHs given out during the Iraq War were awarded to people from that part of New York.

There is much more to this history, and there are video accounts and interviews with most of the living recipients of the Medal of Honor available on the internet if you are interested in hearing some of their incredible stories. But this video is a good place to start.

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