July 12, 1862 ~ The Medal of Honor is Established by Congress

The Medal of Honor is the United States of America’s highest and most prestigious personal military decoration.

It is awarded to recognize U.S. military service members who have distinguished themselves by acts of valor. The medal is normally awarded by the President of the United States in the name of the U.S. Congress.


We all know the most most famous of those who have received the Medal of Honor, but how many of us know the history behind the nation’s highest award for bravery.

The modern-day Medal of Honor had a number of precursors. The first medal for military service in the United States was issued in 1780, after its creation in the same year by the Continental Congress.

Known as the Fidelity Medallion. It was awarded to 3 Militia Members from New York for the capture of John André, a British officer and spy connected directly to General Benedict Arnold during the American Revolutionary War. The capture saved the fort of West Point from the British Army

The Fidelity Medal was followed by the Badge of Merit in 1782 which is considered the first military award of the United States Armed Forces.

Designed by Washington in the form of a purple heart, it was intended as a military order for soldiers who exhibited, “not only instances of unusual gallantry in battle, but also extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way

The Purple Heart is the official successor decoration of the Badge of Military Merit.

After the outbreak of the Mexican–American War a Certificate of Merit was established by Act of Congress on March 3, 1847, “to any private soldier who had distinguished himself by gallantry performed in the presence of the enemy”

This medal was later replaced by the Army’s Distinguished Service Medal, established on January 2, 1918.

The Modern Medal of Honor traces its direct lineage to the U.S. Civil War.

The medal was first authorized in 1861 for Sailors and Marines, and the following year for Soldiers as well.

The Medal of Honor we think of today was formally established by an act of Congress and signed into law on July 12, 1862.

Today, there are three different types of Medals of Honor: the original simple star-shaped medal first established in 1862 which the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard have retained; a wreath version designed in 1904 for the Army; and an altered wreath version for the Air Force, designed in 1963 and adopted in 1965.

The first South Carolinian to receive the award during military action was Ernest A. Garlington of Newberry, who earned the honor for “distinguished gallantry” against the Sioux Indians at the Battle of Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890.

Early in the following century, naval surgeon Middleton Stuart Elliott of Beaufort and Commander William A. Moffett of Charleston each received the decoration during hostilities against Mexican forces at Vera Cruz in April 1914.

Eight South Carolinians were awarded the medal during World War I, including three who made the supreme sacrifice.

In 1991 the sisters of Corporal Freddie Stowers of Anderson County were presented a posthumous award for his extraordinary courage while attempting to destroy a machine gun that had pinned down his men. Stowers was the only African American from the war awarded the medal.

During World War II five South Carolinians were awarded the medal for courage and self-sacrifice, including Marine Sergeant Robert Owens of Greenville who made a charge against a well-placed Japanese gun in the Solomon Islands on November 1, 1943. His sacrifice silenced the gun and paved the way for a successful invasion.

During the Korean Conflict, three South Carolina recipients were presented the honor posthumously, while the fourth, Marine Staff Sergeant Robert Sidney Kennemore of Greenville, miraculously survived the blast of a grenade on which he had thrown himself to protect his platoon.

Seven native South Carolinians were awarded the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam conflict.

Then Captain James Livingston, originally of Georgia, was awarded the Medal of Honor while serving as Commanding Officer, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines distinguished himself above and beyond the call of duty in action against enemy forces during the Battle of Dai Do.

The youngest living recipient of the Medal of Honor is Kyle Carpenter of Jackson, Mississippi. On November 21, 2010, while joining his team to fight off a Taliban attack in a small village, he suffered severe injuries to his face and right arm from the blast of an enemy hand grenade, including multiple shrapnel wounds and the loss of his right eye. After-action reports state that he threw himself in front of the grenade to protect a fellow Marine,

After his July 2013 medical retirement, Carpenter enrolled at the University of South Carolina in Columbia and received a degree in international studies in 2017.

Since its inception, more than 3,500 Medals of Honor have been awarded to members of all Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard.

Today we salute the bravery of those who have gone above and beyond in the service of this great nation.

To learn more about the Medal of Honor, visit the National Medal of Honor Museum at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

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