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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 19, 2014

County trio wins Medals of Honor during Civil War

Legislator suggests Henry County be called 'Home of the Heroes'
Apr 30, 2013
Photo by: Submitted photo A monument at the Henry County Courthouse honors all county recipients of the Medal of Honor — the top military award.

Editor’s note: As part of the nation’s 150-year anniversary of the Civil War, the Henry County Civil War Sesquicentennial Task Force will be publishing a monthly column, written by Henry County historians. The research for the articles comes from Henry County newspapers published between 1861-1865, as well as diaries, journals and letters written by Henry County Civil War soldiers and their families.

By Pat Ryan White

The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest military award, given in recognition of distinguished gallantry during hostile action. It is presented by the president of the United States in the name of Congress.

On Dec. 9, 1861, Iowa Senator James W. Grimes introduced a bill designed to “promote the efficiency of the Navy” by authorizing the production and distribution of “medals of honor.” The bill passed on Dec. 21, authorizing 200 such medals be produced “which shall be bestowed upon such petty officers, seamen, landsmen and marines as shall distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action and other seamanlike qualities during the present war (Civil War).” President Lincoln signed the bill and the (Navy) Medal of Honor was born.

Two months later, Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson introduced a similar bill, this one to authorize “the President to distribute medals to privates in the Army of the United States who shall distinguish themselves in battle.” Over the following months, wording changed slightly as the bill made its way through Congress. When President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill, on July 12, 1862, the Army Medal of Honor was created.

Resolved: That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby, authorized to cause 2,000 “medals of honor” to be prepared with suitable emblematic devices, and to direct that the same be presented, in the name of the 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 (Civil War).

With this simple and rather obscure act, Congress created a unique award that would achieve prominence in American history like few others. First awarded in 1863, the Medal of Honor has been awarded less than 3,500 times, with almost half to Civil War soldiers. More than half of the recipients of the Medal of Honor did not survive the action for which it was awarded.

(Information taken from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website: www.cmohs.org)

Since its inception, 108 Iowans from 10 conflicts have received the medal. Three Henry County men were awarded the Medal of Honor for acts of bravery during the Civil War:

Pvt. Charles A. Swan was born in Pennsylvania. At age 16, his family moved to Mt. Pleasant. The Swan family farm eventually became the site of Camp Harlan, training grounds for the 4th Iowa Cavalry, where Swan served in Company K. In a conflict with Confederates at Selma, Alabama, on April 2, 1865, Swan captured the flag and color bearer of the 11th Mississippi, Infantry. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in June, 1865. Swan died in Mt. Pleasant at the age of 75. He is buried in Forest Home Cemetery.

Pvt. Edward J. Bebb was born in Ohio, but resided in Henry County at enlistment. He served in Company D, 4th lowa Cavalry and was awarded the medal for his bravery at Columbus, Ga. on April 16, 1865. His citation reads simply “Capture of flag” and the medal was awarded on June 17, 1865. After the Civil War, he removed to Jasper County, where he farmed. Bebb died at the Iowa Soldiers Home in Marshalltown, at the age of 77. He is buried in New Salem Cemetery, Lynnville.

Pvt. James P. Miller was born in Ohio and at the age of 21, moved to New London, where he was a farmer. He enlisted and served in Company D, 4th Iowa Cavalry. In actions at Selma, Ala., on April 12, 1865, Miller captured the flag of the Confederate 12th Mississippi Cavalry. For gallantry, he was awarded the Medal of Honor on June 17, 1865. After the war, he returned to New London, but in 1870, moved to York, Neb., where he farmed, served as sheriff of York County and as a state senator. Miller died at age 84 and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, York, Neb.

There are several Medal of Honor sites to visit in Henry County:

Plaque at Camp Harlan, dedicated May 2011, commemorating the Medal of Honor recipients who trained with the 4th Iowa Cavalry at Camp Harlan. Located northwest of Mt. Pleasant at the intersection of Courtland and Hickory.

Gravesite of John P. Yount, Oak Grove Pioneer Cemetery, north of Mt. Pleasant in Marion Township. Yount was awarded the Medal in 1871 for “Gallantry in action with Indians”. His Medal of Honor marker was dedicated September 2007.

Gravesite of Charles A. Swan, Forest Home Cemetery, Mt. Pleasant.

Veterans Memorial on the Henry County courthouse lawn in Mt. Pleasant. On the south side of the black, granite marker is a list of Henry County Medal of Honor recipients.

Iowa State Sen. Dennis Black, author of Profiles of Valor, has urged Mt. Pleasant to adopt the motto, “Home of the Heroes”, for the significant number of Medal of Honor recipients associated with the city. Black has stated, “The greatest number of any city in the nation.”

For further information about Iowa’s Medal of Honor Heroes, visit: www.iowahistory.org

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