Fun Facts about the Medal of Honor

3 Modern Variations on the Medal of Honor<br>Photo credit: Congressional Medal of Honor Society

3 Modern Variations on the Medal of Honor
Photo credit: Congressional Medal of Honor Society

As reported previously, it is officially called the Medal of Honor (not Congressional….). and it is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a person in the Armed Services of the United States.

Here are a few other interesting facts about the Medal of Honor:

General History

  • The Medal of Honor (MOH) is properly described as having been “awarded”, “earned”, or “received”, not “given” or “won.”
  • At this writing, the MOH has been awarded 3446 times.
  • There is a Medal of Honor for each of the U.S. military branches. There are three designs of the MOH: one for the Army, one for the Air Force, and one that is shared by the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard.
  • By Acts of Congress, the MOH for the Navy was established on 21 December 1861 and for the Army on 12 July 1862; .
  • Surrounding the insignia on the Medal of Honor are 34 stars, one for each of the States as of 1862 (including the 11 who attempted to secede).
  • The first action which earned the MOH was on 13 February 1861 by Army Assistant Surgeon Bernard J.D. Irwin. At the time of his action, the medal didn’t exist. It was awarded to him in 1894.
  • The first time a person was actually awarded the MOH, was on March 25, 1863. On that date, Pvt. Jacob Parrott was the first of a group of 6 men awarded the MOH for their actions in April 1862.
  • The first African-American to be awarded the MOH was Sgt. William Carney of the famous 54th Massachusetts (see the movie Glory) for his actions on July 18, 1863 at Fort Wagner, SC.
  • A total of 911 Medals of Honor were revoked in 1917, including those of 864 members of the 27th Maine, 29 members of Lincolns funeral guard, and 6 civilians. The valor of the latter group wasn’t doubted but civilians were judged ineligible.
  • As Robert E. Lee headed North towards Gettysburg at the end of June, 1863, about 300 of the 864 members of the 27th Maine agreed to extend their enlistment by a few days in order to defend Washington D.C. on the promise that they would each receive the Medal of Honor. When the danger had past on July 4th, the last of the 27th Maine left for home but no accurate records had been made of who had stayed for the extra few days – so the medal was awarded to all 864 of them! In 1917, all 864 were revoked for failing to meet the criteria for the award.
  • One of the civilians whose medal was rescinded was Assistant Surgeon Mary Walker, a contract surgeon during the Civil War and the only woman to ever be awarded the Medal of Honor. Her medal was restored in 1977.
  • Another of those civilians whose medal was rescinded was “Buffalo” Bill Cody for his service as a scout in the Indian Campaigns. His award was restored in 1989.
  • Captain Jay R. Vargas, a Marine who was awarded the MOH for his service in the Vietnam War, requested that the name of his recently-departed mother be engraved on his medal instead of his own. President Nixon honored the request and the mother, M. Sando Vargas, was thus added to the Honor Roll.
  • The youngest person to be awarded the MOH was probably Willie Johnston, a musician in the 3rd Vermont Infantry, who was just 11 years old at the time he earned it for ‘Gallantry in Seven Day Battle and Peninsula campaign” 26 June – 1 July 1862.
  • The oldest person to be awarded the MOH was probably General Douglas MacArthur, age 62 when he earned it in 1942 for “For conspicuous leadership in preparing the Philippine Islands to resist conquest, for gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against invading Japanese forces, and for the heroic conduct of defensive and offensive operations on the Bataan Peninsula”
  • The MOH has been awarded to five sets of brothers.
  • The MOH has been awarded to two father-son pairs. The first was to 1st Lt. Arthur MacArthur, Jr. for service in the Civil War and General Douglas MacArthur for his service in World War II. (Yes, Gen. Douglas MacArthur was born in 1880 and his father was born in 1845!).
  • Theodore Roosevelt is the only President to have received the Medal of Honor. It was for his service at San Juan Hill, 1 July 1898, but it wasn’t awarded until 16 January 2001.
  • The sons of two Presidents, Webb Cook Hayes (Philippine Insurrection) and Theodore Roosevelt, Jr, (World War II), have received Medals of Honor.
  • The Roosevelts thus became the second father-son pair to have been awarded the medal – and it was awarded to the son in 1944, 57 years before it was awarded to the father!
  • It is the only military award in the country that is worn from a ribbon around the neck.
  • It is illegal for anyone but the actual recipient to wear the MOH.
  • It is illegal to sell a Medal of Honor or to sell, manufacture, or wear a “colorable imitation” of one. Possible punishment includes a fine or imprisonment of up to six months.
  • Although not a requirement, it is the custom among military service personnel to salute a MOH recipient out of respect and courtesy, regardless of rank.
  • At this writing, the last time a MOH was awarded was on September 17, 2009 to Sergeant First Class Jared C. Monti for his service in Afghanistan.
  • At this writing, there are 91 living recipients of the Medal of Honor.

Civil War

  • The MOH has been awarded 1527 times for service in the Civil War.
  • The first action of the Civil War which earned the MOH was on 24 May 1861 by Army Private Francis Edwin Brownell.
  • Of the 1527 medals awarded for service in the Civil War, the “Issued Date” (the date on which it was actually awarded) is missing for 357.
  • Of the remaining 1170, only 204 (17%) were issued before the end of the war. By the end of 1865, there were 362 (31%) issued.
  • Thereafter, the year with the most awarded medals was 1894 with 127, followed by 1897 with 119.
  • The first posthumous award of the Medal of Honor was in September, 1863, to Sergeant Major Marion Ross of the 2nd Ohio Infantry for his service as one of “Andrews’ Raiders” in Georgia in April, 1862. He was one of 22 participants in “The Great Locomotive Chase”, a daring capture of a Confederate railroad train, an event which inspired a 1956 movie by the same name.
  • The date on which the most Medals of Honor were earned during a single engagement was 22 May 1863, at Vicksburg, Mississippi (97).
  • The last time a MOH was issued for Civil War service was on 31 January 2001. It was awarded to Corporal Andrew Jackson Smith of the 55th Massachusetts Volunteers who saved the regimental colors at the Battle of Honey Hill, SC, on 30 Nov 1864.
  • Only soldiers in the Union Army were eligible for the Medal of Honor.


  • According to the National Park Service, there were 63 Medal of Honor which were awarded for service at Gettysburg. Of those, 8 were for actions on July 1st, 23 were for actions July 2nd, and 30 were for actions on July 3rd. Two others covered more than one of those dates.
  • Of the 63, 10 served in the I Corps, 27=II Corps, 6=III Corps, 9=V Corps, 1=VI Corps, 3=XI Corps, 1=XII Corps, 2=Artillery Reserve, and 4=Cavalry Corps.
  • The most decorated regiments at Gettysburg were the 19th Massachusetts and the 6th Pennsylvania Reserves with 5 Medals of Honor each.
  • The Park Service’s count of 63 medals for service “at Gettysburg” actually includes one for an action in Fairfield, PA (Private George C. Platt (6th U.S. Cav.) and one for an action in Millerstown, PA (Sgt Martin Schwenk, also 6th U.S. Cav.). Both actions were on July 3rd.
  • The 63 does not include Maj. Charles E. Capehart (1st WV Cav.) who was awarded his MOH for service on at Monterey Pass (near Fountaindale, PA). Although in the Gettysburg campaign, his action was on July 4th, after the official end of the battle.
  • There were two people who received the MOH for service at Gettysburg but whose citation is also for gallantry at another battle — and they aren’t counted as double award recipients. 1st Sergeant George W. Roosevelt, 26th Pennsylvania, was awarded the MOH for service at Bull Run on 30 August 1862 and in Gettysburg on 2 July 1863. Capt James Pipes, 140th Pennsylvania, was awarded the MOH for service in Gettysburg on 2 July 1863 and at Reams Station on 25 August 1864. Unlike four people in the Civil War who received two Medals of Honor each (see below), Roosevelt and Pipes each got one medal for gallantry at two different engagements.
  • Of the 63 award recipients for service at Gettysburg, there were 2 Musicians, 12 Privates, 12 Corporals, 16 Sergeants, 2 First Sergeants, 2 Second Lieutenants, 1 Lieutenant, 7 Captains, 3 Majors, 1 Lieutenant Colonel, 2 Colonels, 1 Brigadier General, and 1 Major General.
  • Only 7 were awarded to men who commanded regiments/batteries or higher (Chamberlain, Fuger, Huidekoper, Sellers, Sickles, Veazey, and Webb).
  • 17 other commanders at Gettysburg would receive the MOH for service elsewhere: 8 for service before Gettysburg and 9 for service after Gettysburg.
  • The first awards of the MOH for service at Gettysburg were issued 17 months after the battle (1 Dec 1864)
  • None of those who were in command at Gettyburg were awarded a MOH prior to 1890.

Double Award Recipients

  • 19 people have received two Medals of Honor each.
  • 4 of those were for service in the Civil War (none in relation to Gettysburg).
  • 1 of those was 2nd Lieutenant Thomas W. Custer, the brother of George Armstrong Custer. (George was at Gettysburg but Tom was not). Both were killed at Little Big Horn in 1876.
  • The other 3 double-recipients from the Civil War were in the U.S. Navy.

Broadwater, Robert P., Civil War Medal of Honor Recipients (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co, 2007).
Home of Heroes,
National Park Service,
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society,
U.S. Army Center of Military History,

4 Responses to “Fun Facts about the Medal of Honor”

  1. Cathy Says:

    Wow. The fact that 63 individuals received the Medal of Honor for their service during the battle in Gettysburg. I had no idea.
    The fact that both General MacArthur and his father received the Medal of Honor is pretty amazing, and that Custer’s brother received the medal twice. Great Trivia.

  2. Edward Nuzman Says:

    Great compilation of MOH recipients and historic tidbits. Keep up the good work!

  3. Harlan Chapman Says:

    Thank you for your work on the history of this battle. My grand father was at the same area for the Conferate side. He lost his right arm possibly to one of Cushing’s cannon balls. He recive the Confederate Medal of Honor which was passed down to me. He was born in 1844 and died in 1907. Do you know where I might could find his military records. I have his medical records where he was operated on. I would like to find more about his service. Thank you for any help you might could give me. Also do you think his name may be on one of the monuments at Gettysburg. His name was Joshua Chapman and he was enlisted in North Carolina. Thanks for any help you could give me.

  4. admin Says:

    Harlan, Thanks for writing. I am responding by email….


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