A Brief History of the Soldiers Medals, Issued By The State of West Virginia As "Tokens of Respect" To Those of Her Citizens Who Served in the Army of the United States, From 1861 To 1865

By Rev. Horace Edwin Hayden (E. B. Yordy, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, 1881)

West Virginia Medals.

True courage, whether displayed in a righteous conflict, or an unholy war, commands and receives universally the admiration of friend and foe. To be brave is God's gift. True moral courage that will brave death for the sake of duty, is the spirit of that One whose death upon the Cross was the most wonderful voluntary act of duty and service for others that the sun ever shone upon, or the universe ever beheld.

It is the natural attraction which such courage has for the human heart that has drawn together once again, in sympathy and mutual respect, the soldiers of the two great armies which a few years ago contended with each other in the deadly struggle of a civil war. It is the respect felt for a brave foe that has made the task of preparing this paper a pleasant one. Because, having served for four years as a private soldier in the Armies of the Confederate States of America, under Generals Robert E. Lee and "Stonewall" Jackson, the writer of these pages knows how well deserved is any meed of valour that may be bestowed upon the gallant men whom he has met in the shock of battle; and because the history of the part which the private soldier plays in times of war is too often lost in oblivion. The details of a battle are always forgotten in the result, as the details of a life are apt to be lost behind the general character of it. When one rises to eminence above his fellows, the world looks only at the King, and not at the means by which he climbed to the throne. A forest may be stripped to weave a chaplet of honour for a single brow, but no one thinks of the leafless trees. So "the leader lives while the memory of the subordinate actors survives only in the general recollection of the event. In the very nature of things it happens that -

"A thousand glorious actions, that might claim
"Triumphant laurels and immortal fame,
"Confused in clouds of glorious actions lie,
"And troops of heroes undistinguished die."

It is not a matter of wonder that this fact represses the enthusiasm and the bravery of the private soldier, who feels that however gallantly he may act, his superior officer will bear off the palm of victory, while he will not receive even the reward of honourable mention in those reports of battle, which are first read, and then - forgotten.

To excite the enthusiasm and devotion of their soldiers, it has been the custom from time immemorial, among the governments of Europe, to reward with medallic honours, acts of extraordinary bravery on the part of private soldiers engaged in war, e.g., the Crimean Medal of England and of Turkey; the Iron Cross of Prussia, &c.

This custom had never obtained in the United States of America, except as a State, or an individual enterprise, until the late Civil war. Before that event, the nearest approach to it by the Government was the ordering of medals by Act of Congress, to commemorate signal victories on sea or land, and as a reward to the officer commanding the National forces engaged in the battle. A series of such medals has been issued by the United States Government in accordance with the Act of Congress, but never for distribution among the private soldiers of the Army and the Navy as a reward of personal valour.

The first instance of the issue in America of medals to private soldiers for gallantry in times of war, is that of the Province of New Jersey, in 1758, reported in the "Boston News Letter" for September 28th of that year. The language of the Act of the Province ordering the execution of this medal, places the duty of thus honouring personal bravery on its proper footing:

"And whereas, it's not only strictly just, but highly prudent, to reward and encourage such Acts of Martial Bravery as have a Tendency to distress the Enemy and defend ourselves; And whereas, it is credibly reported that one John Van Tile, a Sergeant in the pay of this Colony, with a party of nine more under his Command, have lately exerted themselves against the Common Enemy upon the Frontiers of this Colony, in a signal Manner; and that a Lad aged about 17 years, sirnamed Titfort, when pursued by the Enemy, shot one of them, and secured his Retreat from the imminent Danger with which he was threatened, losing his gun; Therefore, as a just Reward to the above Persons, and to excite others to imitate their heroic Example, Be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That ___ shall also procure for and present unto the said John Van Tile, and the said Lad, sirnamed Titfort, with a Silver Medal each, of the Size of a Dollar, whereon shall be inscribed the Bust or Figure of an Indian prostrate at the feet of the said Van Tile and Lad aforesaid, importing their victory over them, and to Commemorate their Bravery, and their Country's Gratitude on the Occasion. Which Medals the said Van Tile and Lad aforesaid, shall or may wear in View, at all such public Occasions which they may happen to attend to excite an Emulation, and kindle a Martial Fire in the Breast of the Spectators, so truly essential in this Time of general War."

The first instance of this kind in the United States as an act of the Government, and as far as I can learn, the only one, occurred during the early parto f the late Civil war. The XXXVIIth Congress, on the 21st of December, 1861, approved "An Act to further the Efficiency of the Navy," section 7th of which enacts -

"That the Secretary of the Navy be and is hereby authorized to cause five hundred 'Medals of Honour' to be prepared, with suitable emblematic devices, which shall be bestowed upon such petty officers, seamen, landsmen and marines as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action and other seaman-like qualities during the war, and that the sum of one thousand dollars be and the same is hereby appropriated, out of any money in the treasury, for the purpose of carrying this section into effect."

The following description of them occurs in the American Historical Record - II., 113.

"These medals were made of bronze, in the form of a star with a device emblematic of Union discomforting Insurrection, around which is a circle of thirty-three smaller stars, representing the thirty-three States then composing the National Union. The medal is suspended from the flukes of an anchor, which is attached to a buckle and ribbon of blue at top for half an inch downward, and thirteen vertical stripes, alternate red and white, for eight-tenths of an inch."

The same Congress passed, and on the 12th of April, 1862, approved, "A joint resolution to provide for the presentation of "Medals of Honour' to the Enlisted Men of the Army and Volunteer Forces who have distinguished or may distinguish themselves in Battle during the present Rebellion:"

"Resolved, by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States in Congress assembled, That the President of the United States be and he is hereby authorized to cause two thousand 'Medals of Honour' to be prepared, with suitable emblematic devices, and to direct that the same be presented in the name of Congress, to such non-commissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities during the present insurrection. And that the sum of ten thousand dollars be and the same is hereby appropriated out of any money in the treasury not otherwise appropriated, for the purpose of carrying this resolution into effect."

Congress also approved, on the 6th of March, 1863, a new appropriation, for striking from the dies already prepared, an additional number of the above medals, to be presented not only to enlisted men, but to officers.

In the Report of the Assistant Adjutant General U. S. A. for 1864, these medals are said to be "of bronze, and of neat device, and highly prized by those on whom they were bestowed."

In the Report of the Secretary of War for 1864 (p. 22), occurs a list of fifty-four soldiers who were recommended to the War Department as worthy to receive the "Medals of Honour" for gallantry in "individually capturing flags from the enemy." More than this I have been unable to learn concerning this medal, letters of inquiry written to the War Department eliciting no reply.

No other instance of the United States government rewarding private soldiers for gallantry by medallic honours, is known to the writer.

The medals awarded to the captors of Major Andre may be a possible exception; and another medal may be noted, which does not appear to have been the result of any National action, but to have originated with President Grant. As an act of simple justice, though so very tardily performed, it is deserving of mention. According to the American Journal of Numismatics," the President of the United States and the Secretary of War, in 1876, directed the United States Mint to issue medals made of the cannon captured during the Mexican war, for the purpose of presentation to the veteran soldiers of that war. The design of the medal is "a modified American shield, the outer rim raised from the general surface, and having thereon the names of the prominent battles in Mexico. In the centre in relief are various emblems of war - cannons, small arms, man-of=war, bursting shell, &c. Thereunder the word 'Mexico,' and a castle, with the maguey and cactus plants, and '1846,' the date of the war, all surrounded by a laurel wreath, banded below with three folds, bearing the names of Scott, Taylor and Pierce. Outside the wreath are twenty-nine stars, denoting the number of the States of the Union at that time." It required thirty years of deliberation - from 1846 to 1876 - to do this act of justice to the veterans of the Mexican war. And had not a soldier occupied the exalted position of the Presidency of the United States, and he not been himself one who had served in that brilliant campaign of continued victories for the National arms, and so have known how to appreciate the heroism of those who gained them, even this reward of valour had never been bestowed.

Individual and State enterprise had early taken the initiative in this manner of rewarding personal prowess in arms. How soon after the organization of the National government I cannot say. As early as 1813, the State of Pennsylvania voted a silver medal to each of her volunteer soldiers who were engaged in the naval engagement on Lake Erie in that same year. A number of the States that supported the National arms during the late Civil war, also rewarded private soldiers in the same manner. But the State of West Virginia, the youngest in the galaxy of States which form this Union, and whose organization grew out of the Civil war, was the first exclusively to follow the example of the Colony of New Jersey, in that she conferred medallic honours on all her enlisted troops, for patriotism displayed in times of war, and for gallantry on the field of battle.

The record of the soldiers of the young State of West Virginia is an honourable one, deserving of notice and reward. No more than justice is done those who were in actual army service, by the statement that for gallantry and endurance in the field, they did not fall behind any troops from other sections of the North, or those from the same section of the Old Commonwealth of Virginia who fought with such distinguished bravery under "the Stars and Bars."

The Report of the Adjutant General of West Virginia for 1865, places the State in a most creditable position as to her military record. The State organization was virtually effected early in 1862. In 1865, with a little more than 60,000 men claimed to be subject to military duty (many of whom, because of their known sympathies with the Confederate cause, could not be expected to serve in the United State army), and with an enrollment of 33,774 men, there had been enlisted in the Armies of the United States 31,846 troops of all branches of service. Of these it is claimed that only 257 were drafted men, and held for service, and only 573 were substitutes. And the desertions from the service were no greater in proportion to the number of men furnished to the United States than those reported by any other State then in the Union. The West Virginia troops were engaged in most of the battles which occurred in Virginia, including Piedmont, New Market, Cloyd Mountain, Lynchburg, Winchester, Cedar Creek, and the battles around Richmond which closed the war. It is claimed that they silenced, and captured in part, the last battery that Gen. Lee put in position, and eight of the West Virginia regiments were present under General Grant at the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, April 9th, 1865.

The Adjutant Generals of West Virginia, in the reports of 1864 and 1865, which are voluminous, giving the name of each soldier enlisted and his military record, while they seek to do justice to these troops, fail unfortunately to do equal justice to the two Northern States whose territory adjoins that of West Virginia. A large number of the troops reported in the actual service of the United States, and credited to the State of West Virginia as a part of her quota to the National army - several regiments at least - were recruited from the population of the western part of the State of Pennsylvania, and the eastern part of the State of Ohio, and therefore citizens of other and neighbouring jurisdictions. The counties of Gallia and Meigs, Ohio; and of Greene, Washington and Fayette, Pennsylvania, contain many veterans of the West Virginia troops who have always resided in the sections where they now live, and who possess the medallic reward conferred by the State of West Virginia. In 1865 the State of West Virginia discharged an army of 25,000 men.

A distinguished officer of the British Army (Col. G. Pomeroy Colley, C. B.), in an article on the subject of Armies, published in the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, notices the marvelous facility with which, during the Civil war in the United States, nearly 4,000,000 men were drawn from a population of 32,000,000, in the two sections of a divided country, "figures before which, the celebrated uprising of the French nation in 1793, or the recent efforts of France and Germany in the war of 1870-1, sink into insignificance," and the facility also with which, "with three years, the whole of those vast forces were peaceably disbanded, and the army had shrunk to a normal strength of only 30,000 men."

It is even more remarkable that such a peaceable disbanding of armed men could have taken place in a mountainous country like that of the State of West Virginia, whose organization was hardly yet au fait accompli, since even her raison d'etre was still in dispute; whose executive machinery was yet new, and continually hampered and clogged by unjust laws, ironclad oaths, and partisan legislation; whose citizens were largely mountaineers; whose history was well expressed in the motto of the young State - "Montani Semper Liberi;" and whose land titles were, in many instances, ropes of sand, and constantly in dispute. Yet, to the honour of her troops be it said, no greater disturbances followed the influx of so much unemployed material into her borders, than resulted from the same cause in other States of the North. The medallic honours conferred upon them by the Legislature of the State, were therefore deservedly bestowed, as upon gallant soldiers and peaceable citizens.

The General Assembly was not slow in recognizing the merits of these citizen soldiers. The West Virginia troops were disbanded in June and July, 1865. In the House of Delegates, at Wheeling, January 17th, 1866, on motion of Colonel John S. Witcher, the member from Cabell county, it was "ordered that the Committee on Military Affairs inquire and report as to the expediency of providing and presenting to each soldier from the State, who has been or may be honourably discharged the service of the United States, a medal of honour." (House Journal, p. 75.)

On the 27th of January, 1866, Colonel William B. Curtis, the member from Ohio county, from the Committee on Military Affairs, reported House Joint Resolution No. 11, as follows:

A Joint Resolution providing Medals of Honour for West Virginia Soldiers.

Resolved, By the Legislature of West Virginia, That the Governor procure, or cause to be procured, suitable medals as tokens of respect to the officers and soldiers of West Virginia, who have served during the rebellion in the service of the United States, containing upon one side the name of the recipient, with his regiment, battalion or battery, surrounded by a wreath; upon the reverse side some appropriate design and inscription. The medal to be suspended by a piece of tri-coloured ribbon; its artistic features to be equal to the Crimean medal, and its cost not to exceed one dollar each.

The medals and inscriptions to be of four kinds:

1. For the officers and soldiers of the volunteer army who have been or may be honourably discharged from the service.

2. For the officers and soldiers who have been killed in battle.

3. For the officers and soldiers who have died from wounds received in battle.

4. For the officers and soldiers who have died from diseases contracted in the service.

The medals for the officers and soldiers who have been killed in battle or who have died of wounds or disease in the service, to be delivered to the families of said officers and soldiers. (Adopted February 1, 1866.)

This action was concurred in by the Senate February 5th, 1866.

The Adjutant General of the State at once opened a correspondence with Mr. A. Demarest, 182 Broadway, New York, a skilled die-sinker and engraver, with whom a contract was subsequently made to furnish 26,999 bronze medals, of three classes instead of four; numbers four and three of the Joint Resolution being very wisely united in one class.

Mr. Demarest has written me that he furnished to the State the exact number of medals ordered - 26,999 - made of copper, bronzed, the same as the sample furnished for imitation, which was a veteran Ohio medal. Three or four only were struck in silver. Mr. Demarest also manufactured the dies and furnished the designs. Mr. J. Sigel, whose name occurs at the base of the central figure, on the obverse, was one of the artists who finished the dies. The dies were delivered to the State of West Virginia, with the last installment of the medals. The largest number issued was of Class I, for those "honourably discharged;" and the smallest number was of Class 2, for those "killed in battle," of which not over 800 were struck.

As these medals have been greatly in demand by numismatists, and have sold at coin sales for very high prices, a description of each issue is given below. Class I, being the most numerous, is the only issue that has, as yet, found its way into the coin market. One of these, sold at the Fewsmith sale a few years ago, brought $12.00; another, at the Parmalee sale, in 1873, brought $11.75; and another, at the Stentz sale, in 1875, brought $12.00.

As the cost of each medal was only one dollar, this scarcity speaks well for the valuation placed upon these "tokens of respect" by the honourable recipients of such rewards of valour. The true soldier will always hold that which he wins by his gallantry in risking his person and his life in the dangers of the battle, as far above all price; and when it is his country's testimonial of his patriotism, he will part with it only when he parts with his honour or his life.

These medals are finished with a proof surface, finely bronzed, and are size 24 of the American scale fixed by the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia. (See photographic plate.)

No. I. Obverse. The figure of Liberty, scantily draped, to the right, with both arms extended; the right hand holding a laurel wreath which she is about to place upon the head of a soldier, who, to the left, is stepping forward to be crowned; the left hand holding a scroll which the soldiers is receiving. Behind the figure of Liberty, the American eagle is perched upon a small pedestal, and behind the soldier is a box of growing cereals. On the base of the piece of ground on which these figures stand is the name of "J. Sigel, N. Y." In exergue, the legend, motto, and devices of the arms of the State of West Virginia, to the left of which is the date 1861, and to the right the date 1865.

Reverse. Within a wreath of laurel, the inscription in five lines, "PRESENTED|BY THE|STATE|OF\WESTVIRGINIA." In exergue, "A. DEMAREST, N. Y."

This medal is suspended from a bronzed pin (similar to that of the Crimean medal), a scroll, on which occur the words "HONOURABLY DISCHARGED," and which is attached to the medal by the letters "W. V." interlaced; a tri-coloured ribbon, one and one-eighth inches wide by four inches long, is also suspended to the pin.

No. II. Obverse. A battle scene; a mounted officer with sword drawn is leading a charge; behind him, to right, United States soldiers with fixed bayonets, and flag flying, follow closely. To the left, in the foreground, a dismounted cannon, and in the distance dead bodies and flying troops. In exergue, the seal, &c., of the State, same as No. I.

Reverse. Wreath and inscription same as No. I. Ribbon and pin, same as No. I, except that the inscription on the pin is "KILLED IN BATTLE."

No. III. Obverse. A catafalque surmounted by a spread eagle, flags, cannon balls, and implements of war. On the front of this catafalque the inscription, "DIED|IN THE DEFENCE|OF HIS COUNTRY." To the right stands the figure of Liberty, properly draped, holding a drum upon the catafalque. To the left stands a soldier with his right arm in a sling. In exergue, the seal, &c.; of West Virginia, same as No. I.

Reverse. Similar to No. I. Ribbon and pin also similar to No. I, except the inscription, which reads, "FOR LIBERTY." The name, rank, company and regiment of the soldier to whom the medal is awarded, occur in sunken letters on the edge of each medal.

The difficulties attending the distribution of nearly 30,000 medals were very great. The following extract from the Report of the Adjutant General for 1867, will explain what they were, and how they were overcome:

At the date of the last Annual Report of this Department, the medals which your Excellency was directed to procure or cause to be procured for the volunteers in the United States army from this State during the late rebellion, as contemplated by the joint resolution of the Legislature, adopted February 1st, 1866, had been contracted for by my predecessor, and it was expected that they would all be delivered here by April or May of the present year. But it was found that a much longer time would be required to manufacture them than was anticipated, and in consequence the last of them did not arrive until about the first of September. Meanwhile they had been arriving in small quantities, and as soon as a sufficient number were received the work of distributing was commenced. This was a work requiring much time and labour, as a notice had to be prepared and published in all the newspapers of the State, notifying all the parties who were entitled to them that the medals were ready for delivery, and requesting them to send their post-office address here in order that they could be sent to them; besides, it was found necessary to prepare books wherein to record the name of each soldier, his rank, company, regiment, post-office address, and date at which his medal was forwarded. Each medal was delivered here in a small paper box, with the name, rank, company, &c., of the recipient marked on the outside of it, and in distributing the medals each one was enclosed in the envelope with a letter of presentation which had been prepared, and directed to the soldier who was entitled to it. Thus, it will be seen that the name, rank, company, regiment, and post-office address of the soldier had to be written twice with each medal that was sent out; and when it was considered that there were some 26,000 of these to distribute, some idea may be formed of the amount of work required. Before distributing any of them our Representative to Congress succeeded in getting a join resolution passed by that body allowing the medals to go through the mails free of postage, and conferring the franking privilege on the Adjutant General for that purpose, thus saving the State a great expense.

Over 15,000 of the medals have been delivered to the soldiers for whom they were intended up to this date, leaving some 11,000 yet to be distributed; and I have no doubt but that most of them will be applied for in the next few months. While on the subject of medals I desire to express my appreciation of the prompt and skillful manner in which Mr. A. Damarest, of New York city, has executed his contract for manufacturing and delivering them. My business intercourse with him has been of the most pleasant character, and he has fulfilled his contract in the most satisfactory manner."

The cost of these medals was, of course, met by especial appropriations. The Treasurer of the State reports in 1867:

Soldiers' medals
Appropriation, ....$28,000.00

The Treasurer reports, 1868:
Medal Appropriation,...............$3,581.49

The Report of the Adjutant General for 1868 shows a distribution during that year of 2,560 medals, which, in addition to those delivered in 1867, make a total of 17,060, leaving on hand and uncalled for over 8,000 medals.

The Report for 1869 states that the remaining medals had been distributed as far as it was possible to obtain the address of claimants; complains that many soldiers honourably discharged were still ignorant of the existence of the medals, and suggests issuing blank circulars of inquiry throughout the State to learn the address of those still entitled to them.

The Report for 1870 states that the Adjutant General's office was still encumbered with a large number of medals which could not be disposed of for want of the post-office address of those still entitled to them, although circulars had been sent to all parts of the State. The Report continues:

"I conclude that a large portion of our honourably discharge soldiers are quite indifferent as to their possession, and that thousands of these medals must remain in the office, to testify to an ill-advised effort on the part of our lawmakers in the past to give expression to their patriotic and grateful feelings towards a class of men who are worthy of all gratitude and praise - our citizen soldiers."

No report of these medals has been published since 1871. The office of Adjutant General was discontinued by the new Constitution of 1872, the duties of the office being added to those of the State Librarian. There are at present over 3,000 of the medals still in the possession of the State, almost entirely of Class I ("honourably discharged"), awaiting the application of those whose names are engraved upon them.

I am far more willing to believe that those entitled to them are living in the neighbouring States, and beyond the immediate reach of the circulars that have been issued, and that ignorance of their existence, rather than indifference to the honour conferred by them, is the cause of their not having been claimed.

The photographic impress which forms the frontispiece of this pamphlet was taken from a very fine set of the medals now in the numismatic cabinet of the writer.

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