The National Archives is honoring the most esteemed of military awards, the Medal of Honor, with a 150th anniversary exhibit that opens on Veterans Day. The actual anniversary date is next month, Dec. 21, 1861, when President Lincoln signed legislation for a Navy medal of valor. Seven months later, the Army was included in the medal program and in 1863, Congress made what had been considered a Civil War award into a permanent decoration.
The free exhibit, which runs through January 16, is open from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily.
The display features a letter of recommendation for the Medal of Honor for Pvt. Samuel E. Eddy of Company D, 37th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, who fought at the infamous Battle of Sailors Creek in Virginia, where thousands of men resorted to hand-to-hand combat using swords, rifle butts and knives to kill each other. It was there, on April 6, 1865, that Eddy rescued an officer who was in mortal danger and killed his attacker. Eddy was in turn attacked and pinned to the ground with a bayonet. He was able to reload his rifle, shoot his foe, remove the bayonet and return to Union lines.
As was often the case with a Medal of Honor earned during the Civil War, Eddy did not get his medal until years later, in 1897.
There is another medal on display that was approved during the war in a timely manner but never presented. Sgt. James Hill of the 14th New York Artillery was awarded the medal for extraordinary heroism on July 30, 1864, when he shot a Confederate officer who was rallying his men during the battle of Fredericksburg. He also captured an enemy flag. Hill did not survive the war. He died while a prisoner of war at Andersonville, Georgia.
The exhibit is drawn from the National Archives’ 1.4 million cubic feet of permanent records. More than half of those holdings are military files dating to the Revolutionary War.