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The Congressional Medal of Honor

       The first military decoration formally authorized by the American government to be worn as a badge of honor, the Medal of Honor was created by an act of Congress in December 1861. Senator James W Grimes of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Naval Committee, proposed that a medal of honor, similar to the Victoria Cross of England and the Iron Cross of Germany, be given to naval personnel for acts of bravery in action. His bill was passed by both Houses of Congress and approved by President Abraham Lincoln on December 21, 1861. It established a Medal of Honor for enlisted men of the United States Navy and Marine Corps.
       Two months later, Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts introduced a Senate resolution extending eligibility for the medal to enlisted men of the U.S. Army and making eligibility retroactive to the beginning of the war. On March 3, 1863, army officers were made eligible through another act of Congress; naval and marine officers were not included until 1915.
       According to the act establishing the army medal, the award was to be given to those members of the armed forces who "shall distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldierlike qualities." Because of the act's vague wording and because the United States gave no other medal to its armed services, the Medal of Honor was awarded liberally during the Civil War to about 1,200 men.
       The first to receive medals were the six survivors of Andrew's Raid. In 1916, Congress considerably tightened the rules for eligibility, requiring that a serviceman come into actual contact with an enemy and perform bravely at the risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty. Congress also created a board of five retired generals to review all previous award recipients for eligibility and found that about 911-most of them Civil War veterans did not meet the new standards and thus struck them from the list.
Source: "The Civil War Society's Encyclopedia of the Civil War."

This Page last updated 02/15/02


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