The Civil War – Union ideas and action

Submitted by C.J. Johnson

On July 14, 1862, President Lincoln signed into law the bill that created the Army Medal of Honor.

“Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby, authorized to cause two thousand ‘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].”

The President had already signed into law the Navy Medal of Honor in December 1861. At the time, the “Medals of Honor” were the only medals available for presentation during the Civil War. Medals were presented to soldiers under guidelines less rigorous than today’s standards.

For Civil War action, 1,522 Medals of Honor were presented to Union Soldiers. Mary Edwards Walker, a surgeon, was the only woman to receive a Medal. Twenty-five were presented to African-Americans, including seven sailors, 15 members of the U.S. Colored Troops, and 3 soldiers from other U. S. companies. (A total of more than 3,400 total Medals of Honor have been awarded to date.)

In mid-July 1862, Lincoln began to speak of freeing slaves. He spoke of the Emancipation Proclamation to William Seward, Secretary of State, and Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, saying, “he had about come to the conclusion that it was a military necessity, absolutely essential for the salvation of the nation, that we must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued.” This was said to be the first time Lincoln had spoken of the idea. A week or so later, Lincoln shared his emancipation document with his Cabinet members.

On July 23, General Henry Wager Halleck took over as General-in-Chief of the Union Army. Halleck was a Mexican War veteran, and West Point graduate (3rd in the class of 1839.) Just prior the war, he had been a lawyer in San Francisco, and was president of the Pacific & Atlantic Railroad. In 1860, the governor of California commissioned him as a Major General in the California militia.

Appointed Major General in 1861 in the U.S. Army, he was placed in command of the Department of the Missouri, and said to be partly responsible for keeping the state of Missouri in the Union. He proved to be good at strategy, but less successful on the field of battle.

In early 1862, he was recognized for his administrative efforts. Lincoln, on the urging of retiring Winfield Scott, brought Halleck to Washington, as general-in-chief. While he was in charge, the Union Army continued to be successful in the Western Theatre. However, Halleck was unable to revive the Virginia campaign and show progress there.