In the past I have talked about William ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody and his Medal of Honor. It is significant, because he was awarded this medal for heroism, as a civilian contractor. What is not talked about though, are the other 7 civilians that were the recipients of this medal, to include the only female recipient Dr. Mary Walker.
Mary’s medal is the reason why Buffalo Bill and the other civilians were able to retain their Medal’s of Honor after the Purge of 1917. This purge was an effort to thin out the ranks of the MoH and make it a purely military honor. It was also designed to take away medals from individuals that did not receive the medal for heroism. Basically, they wanted to make the medal more exclusive.
But what is interesting here is that all of these civilian medal recipients mentioned below were purged from the list back in 1917, not because of a lack of heroism, but because they were not military. But then along came Mary….. As soon as it was determined that Mary and company could not wear the medal any more, of course that caused a backlash. Mary would purposely wear the medal out of defiance of the ruling, all the way up until her death.
What happened after her death is that her family fought for the medal to be restored, and for sixty years this battle continued. In 1977, these efforts caught the attention of President Carter and he restored her medal posthumously. It is that event that that led to the other 7 civilians having their MoH restored. So that is a big thanks to Dr. Walker and President Carter. Although I am sure he did not intend for his actions to legitimize the heroic acts of contractors during times of war, and I think he was thinking more in terms of women’s equality. lol
The other interesting part of this history are the civilians who were working for the navy that received the MoH. They were boat pilots it sounds like, and this was during the Civil War. They were not privateers, but they were still working as civilians and were awarded the medal for heroism. Although there is not much on this history, so I really cannot add much there.
Finally, the guys I really like on this list, were the scouts. These folks were crucial to the Army mission during the years of brutal warfare in the wild west. There were other famous scouts from that time period like Frederick Russell Burnham, but it is these four scouts below that were recognized by the government for their heroism in battle.
I often wonder if congress would ever consider including civilians once again for the MoH? In this current war, there are numerous acts of gallantry and sacrifice that were performed by contractors, and yet their act goes unnoticed? Contractor use in this war far surpasses the use of contractors in US history, with over 2500 plus killed and thousands wounded. Yet there has been very little recognition of the heroes in this group (250,000 plus contractors serve in the war zones). Of course there have been a handful of Defense of Freedom Medals given out, but that is it.
Of course some would say that contractors get their reward in the from of monetary payment. But so does the US military, and so does all of it’s partners. What I am talking about are recognizing an individual’s sacrifice and efforts during times of war, despite if they are military or civilian. I celebrate our military heroes, and I would like to celebrate our civilian heroes as well. But no one knows about those civilian heroes, because they have not been recognized for their efforts.-Matt
Restoration of 6 Awards Previously Purged From TheRoll Of Honor
From Home of Heroes website.
There was no intent on the part of the 5 retired generals that reviewed all prior awards of the Medal of Honor, to single out any individual or group of individuals from whom to revoke our Nation’s highest award. Certainly the case of the 27th Maine precipitated the review, and as a former commander of the Medal of Honor Legion, General Miles presumably agreed with the Legion’s opposition to the inappropriate awards to that unit. Even so, however, the five generals approached their daunting task with reverence for the award as well as a sensibility to those who had already received the award.
None of the Medal recipients were known by name during the review, as each case was given only a number. Decisions were based upon the citation for the award or other documentation that precipitated the award. The five generals used this information to apply the “letter of the law” as established by the U.S. Congress in the bill authorizing the Roll of Honor and payment of the special pension. That criteria established the Roll to include:
“The name of each surviving person who has served in the military or naval service of the United States in any war, who has attained or shall attain the age of sixty-five years, and who has been awarded a medal of honor for having in action involving actual conflict with an enemy, distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity, at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, and who was honorably discharged from service by muster out, resignation, or otherwise, shall be, by the Secretary of the proper department, entered and recorded on said roll.” (Emphasis ours)
The legislation authorizing the review instructed the board that: “…in any case in which said board shall find and report that said medal was issued for a cause other than that hereinbefore specified the name of the recipient of the medal so issued shall be stricken permanently from the official Medal of Honor list”.
When the review panel had concluded its review of all 2,625 Army awards to date, 905 members of the United States Army saw their names stricken from the Honor Roll because they did not meet the criteria of “action involving actual conflict with an enemy”. All but twelve of the names stricken were members of the 27th Maine (864) or the Lincoln Funeral Detail (29). Thus, beyond the two OBVIOUS large groups, most other awards were upheld (99.7%).
The latter clause in the legislation included the requirement that the recipients be “honorably discharged from service”. That wording accomplished two important goals in the effort to protect the integrity of the Medal of Honor:
1. It preserved the award as a MILITARY award, not something that would hereinafter be available for presentation to civilians, and
2. It allowed for revocation of previous awards to recipients who may have performed less than honorably (as is found in the case of several Navy recipients who lost their Medals for desertion or other bad conduct).
It is doubtful that the measure was ever intended to result in the revocation of previously awarded Medals of Honor to civilians. Indeed, having only been awarded to six civilians, those individuals were probably easily overlooked amid the Congressional debate and approval of the legislation. Some historians even suggest that accounts of the board proceedings indicate the five generals hoped that the civilians would be excluded from the revocations when they submitted their finished report. (Indeed most of them knew well that the civilian scouts who had served during the Indian Campaigns, had performed with valor equal to other recipients of the US Army.)
Whatever the PERSONAL preference of the five generals may have been however, when they submitted their final report listing 905 awardees who had not received awards for “action involving actual conflict with an enemy”, they had to also (under the letter of the law) include the names of 6 awardees who had not been “honorably discharged from service”. Those six failed to meet the criteria, not for any wrong-doing, but because all six had never been in the military service. Each was a civilian who had performed their duties as an employee of the US Army.
Most notable of the six names was DR. MARY EDWARDS WALKER, who had served as a civilian contract surgeon on Civil War battlefields through several campaigns. Hers was the ONLY female name on the list of prior recipients. Their is nothing to indicate that she was singled out due her gender. The only other civilian to receive the Army award during the Civil War (there were also two civilian ship’s pilots who received Navy awards but whose names were not purged) was civilian scout WILLIAM H. WOODALL. Woodall had received his Medal for capturing a Confederate flag at Deatonsville (Sailor’s Creek), Virginia in the closing days of the Civil War. During this period numerous soldiers received Medals of Honor for performing the same action, however William Woodall’s name was stricken from the Roll Of Honor along with that of Mary Walker. The removal of their names was not based upon gender (both received equal treatment in the process), or on a lack of valor in the face of an enemy (both had demonstrated combat courage). Both Woodall and Walker were purged because they could not meet the “honorably discharged” provision.
Similarly, four civilians who had worked under contract to the US Army during the Indian Campaigns in the West, fell to the scrutiny of the board. In all, six civilians were purged from the list, bringing the total number of names removed in 1917 to 911.
Dr. Mary Walker, Contract Surgeon, Civil War
William H. Woodall, Civilian Scout, Civil War
Amos Chapman, Civilian Scout, Indian Campaigns
William F. Cody “Buffalo Bill”, Civilian Scout, Indian Campaigns
William Dixon,Civilian Scout,Indian Campaigns
James B. Dozier,Civilian Scout,Indian Campaigns
All 911 persons who saw their names removed from the Honor Roll as a result of the report by General Miles board, were instructed to return their Medals. While it is certain that Dr. Mary Walker was NOT the only of these to refuse to do so, as the ONLY women to have ever received the Medal of Honor, she was the most visible.
In the two years following the board’s report and until her death on February 21, 1919, Dr. Walker continued not only to wear her Medal of Honor in defiance of Congress, but she wore it IN FRONT of the members of Congress. The last two years of her life was a battle to have the US Congress reverse its decision, and restore her Medal of Honor.
Debate about the Dr.’s award continued for nearly half a century after her death. Dr. Walker had always been somewhat of an activist, doing the unexpected and often generating ill will for her outspoken and untraditional manner. To view Dr. Walker as ONLY an activist however, is to deny her important role in the advancement of women’s roles in both the military and society. In addition to being an activist, she was also a trend-setter for her sisters.
While one could debate that by post-1917 standards, the service of Dr. Walker might not have merited the Medal of Honor, her actions and service must be viewed in the context of the Civil War, and the standards that were applied to others for receipt of the award. By that standard, both Dr. Walker and William Woodall (not to mention the other four civilian scouts), certainly earned the award, and were denied it SOLELY because of their civilian status.
In the years after Dr. Walker’s death, her cause was taken up by others, including members of her family. On May 4, 1977, fifty years after her death, the Army Board for Correction of Military Records submitted a recommendation to Army Secretary Clifford L. Alexander, Jr. that the Medal of Honor taken from Dr. Mary Edwards Walker for her Civil War service, be restored. On June 10th, Secretary Alexander approved the recommendation, and Dr. Walker’s name was returned to the Honor Roll…the only woman to be listed among our Nation’s greatest military heroes of combat action.
If Dr. Walker was a trend-setter for women, that action also made her a trend-setter for men, or at least five of them. The purge that had removed Dr. Walker’s name from the Roll of Honor, had also removed the names of those five civilian scouts. Subsequent to the restoration of Dr. Walker’s award, the case was reviewed for the civilian scouts. On June 12, 1989 Medals of Honor were restored to:
• William Woodall, Civilian Scout, US Army – Civil War
• Amos Chapman, Civilian Scout, US Army – Indian Campaigns
• William Cody, Civilian Scout, US Army – Indian Campaigns
• William Dixon, Civilian Scout, US Army – Indian Campaigns
• James B. Dozier, Civilian Scout, US Army – Indian Campaigns
(Civilians Receiving Navy Awards Martin Freeman Ships Island, MS John H. Ferrell Illinois)
As a result of the same legislation that led to the removal from the Honor Roll of 911 names, including these 6 civilians, the Medal of Honor is subsequently limited ONLY to members of the United States Military services for “action involving actual conflict with an enemy, distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity, at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty”. The Medal of Honor is NO LONGER available to award to civilians. These six are the ONLY names restored from list of 911 purged in 1917. It is doubtful that there will be a restoration of any other names.
One additional “outgrowth” of the purge of 1917 was the development of a series of medals to recognize heroism and/or service that did not merit award of the Medal of Honor but were worthy of note. This series of medals became known at the PYRAMID OF HONOR, a layered series of awards for various degrees of heroism and/or service. You can click on the button at right to access our pages on the Pyramid of Honor.