June 26, 1864: “Medals of Honor” awarded to participants of the Morris Island Campaign

On this day (June 26) in 1864, the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery took a brief break from their normal routine of shelling Fort Sumter and Charleston.  The occasion was one for honoring the regiment’s heroes:

June 26. The “Medals of Honor” awarded by Major-General Gillmore for “Gallant and Meritorious Conduct” in the reduction of Morris Island and the demolition of Sumter, were bestowed upon the men with appropriate ceremonies and addresses.  The General Order No. 94, issued by General Gillmore in October, 1863, specifies that these “Medals of Honor” should be awarded to three per cent of the aggregate strength of the regiments, companies, and detachments in the actions in the batteries and trenches.  Accordingly ten of the gallant men of our regiment received these decorations for valor and ability; two in each of the five companies engaged in the memorable battle.  The men were: S.F. M. Bushee (Company B); _____ ______ (Company B); Sergt. John F. Newcomb, wounded (Company D); John Nickerson, who had died of wounds (Company D); James McGuire (Company H); Michael Ryan (Company H); Daniel Currie (Company I); Michael Gormley, who lost his arm ( Company G); Sergt. George F. Hazen (Company M); Thomas Cryan (Company M).  The presentations were made before the battalion at dress-parade, accompanied by suitable remarks from the officer and the Chaplain.  Where all our men behaved so gallantly under the heavy missiles; it was no easy task to select the proper persons to bear those honorable distinctions and rewards. In Companies B and H the selection was made by lot.  In some cases the men insisted that the honors should be bestowed upon the wounded.

Notice these were not THE Medal of Honor, but rather something created by Gillmore himself in recognition (or some might say promotion) of the deeds on Morris Island the previous year.  Interesting that a small quota was set for the award. The regimental history goes on to describe these medals:

The medals were of choice prize metal, olive-colored, larger than a half dollar piece, very finely wrought, with ornaments and mottoes in relief; the face reading: “For Gallant and Meritorious Conduct. Presented by Maj-Gen. Q.A. Gillmore;” the obverse reading: “Fort Sumter, Aug. 23, 1863,” with a relief view of the demolished fort.  They were surmounted by swivel cap-pieces, bearing the inscribed names of the recipients, and furnished with clasps that held grounds of heavy red silk ribbon and attached the whole decoration to the left breast of the wearer. The medals were accompanied by elegantly struck certificates, bearing the soldier’s name, the award, fac-similes of the faces of the medal, and the bold signature of Major-General Gillmore.

The medals looked like this:

The medal awarded to Sergeant George Hazen, of Company M, recently came up for auction:

A blank medal, perhaps part of a proof set or an extra minting, is on display at the Richmond Town and Staten Island Museum.

Of course the 3rd Rhode Island was not the only regiment with soldiers receiving these Gillmore medals.  Others have written about the 7th New Hampshire.  And there is a list on line for all recipients from New Hampshire.  And some were awarded to the USCT regiments which saw action on Morris Island, notably the 54th Massachusetts (though not as many as the 3rd Rhode Island).

And one was awarded to the ordnance officer who served through the campaign – Captain Alfred Mordecai, Jr.  Mordecai had proven himself a very capable officer in that capacity, certainly taking after his father in that regard.  In fact, by the summer of 1864 Mordecai was serving in the same capacity on the Bermuda Hundred front.  All sorts of interesting aspects to Mordecai, Jr.’s service…  Jewish officer, son of a senior officer who sat out the war due to divided loyalties, relative of a Confederate ordnance officer serving across the marsh on James Island… but I’ll save those for another day.

(Citation from Frederic Denison, Shot and Shell: The Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery Regiment in the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Providence, R.I.: Third Rhode Island Artillery Veterans Association, 1879, pages 251-2.)



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