The Great Locomotive Chase: Part IV, The Medal of Honor

 The Medals of Honor awarded to Brown and Scott are on display at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History

The Medals of Honor awarded to Brown and Scott are on display at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History

Read Parts I, II, and III here.

While the Andrews Raid was a failure that resulted in the deaths of many of the participants, the Raiders went down in history in an additional way. Six of the raiders were the first men to ever receive the Medal of Honor.

The legislation behind the Medal of Honor began in 1847 when Congress authorized a presidentially-awarded “certificate of merit” to be given to a private soldier who had distinguished himself in service. More specific legislation came in December 1861 when Iowa Senator James W. Grimes introduced a bill to provide a medal of honor for the Navy and February 1862 when Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson did the same for the Army. While it took a few months for the legislation to move through the process, members of the Army and Navy, including the Raiders, performed noteworthy acts in the war. President Lincoln approved the Congressional action for the Navy Medal of Honor in December 1861 and legislation for the Army Medal of Honor in July 1862.

On March 25, 1863, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton presented the first Medals of Honor to six of the surviving Raiders: Private Jacob Parrott, Private Willian Bensinger, Private Robert Buffum, Sergeant Elihu H. Mason, Sergeant William Pittinger, and Corporal William H. Harrison Reddick. In total 19 out of the 24 Raiders would receive the Medal of Honor, including four of the hanged men: 9 in September 1863, two in July 1864, one in August 1866, and the final one in July 1883. Neither James Andrew nor William Campbell were eligible for the award because they were civilians and Corporal Samuel Llewellyn, Private Charles Perry Shadrach, and Private George D. Wilson did not receive the award for other reasons. The Medals awarded to Private Wilson W. Brown and Sergeant John M. Scott are on display at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, GA, right next to the restored General.

 Andrews and his seven fellow executed Raiders lie together in Chattanooga National Cemetery along with a monument featuring the  General . (photo by author)

Andrews and his seven fellow executed Raiders lie together in Chattanooga National Cemetery along with a monument featuring the General. (photo by author)

While overshadowed by contemporary events, such as the Battle of Shiloh, the Andrews’ Raid is a story of daring in the midst of the Civil War. Inspiring the Buster Keaton classic and an 1956 Disney film, the story of the Raiders sparks the imagination, even if it was a failure militarily.

Read the rest of the series here.

Further Reading:

Bonds, Russell S. Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor. Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, LLC, 2007.

Pittenger, William. Daring and Suffering: A History of the Andrew Railroad Rail. Cumberland Publishing House, 1999.

Rottman, Gordan L. The Great Locomotive Chase: The Andrews' Raid, 1862. New York: Osprey Publishing, Ltd., 2009.

The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, GA has an extensive exhibit on the Andrews' Raid, including the restored General.

Kathleen Logothetis Thompson graduated from Siena College in May 2010 with a B.A. in History and a Certificate in Revolutionary Era Studies.  She earned her M.A. in History from West Virginia University in May 2012.  Her thesis “A Question of Life or Death: Suicide and Survival in the Union Army” examines wartime suicide among Union soldiers, its causes, and the reasons that army saw a relatively low suicide rate.  She is currently pursuing her PhD at West Virginia University with research on mental trauma in the Civil War.  In addition, Kathleen was a seasonal interpreter at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park from 2010-2014 and has worked on various other publications and projects.