The Medal of Honor is the highest gallantry award that can be bestowed by the United States. The medal was introduced for naval enlisted men in December 1861, and for army soldiers and non-commissioned officers in July 1862. In March 1863 army officers became eligible for the award, though naval and marine officers did not become eligible until 1915. Of the Civil War recipients, at least 146 were born in Ireland. One man, Coxswain John Cooper of the USS Brooklyn, was awarded the medal twice for actions in the Civil War.

A full list of these Irishmen can be found on the blog’s Medal of Honor page, and some of their stories will follow in later posts.  The vast majority received their citation for service in either the eastern theatre or the naval theatre. Although the list includes only those servicemen born in Ireland, many other Civil War Medal of Honor recipients were clearly of Irish descent. One of the most interesting points of note is the number of Irish-born men who do not have distinctly ‘Irish’ surnames, for example Surgeon William Blackwood of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry who was cited for removing wounded officers and men under heavy fire at Petersburg Virginia in 1865, and Private George C. Platt of the 6th US Cavalry who prevented the capture of the regimental color at Fairfield Pennsylvania in 1863. It is often tempting to speculate on the nationality of a particular soldier or group of soldiers in the Civil War based on their surname, but these examples sound a note of caution.

Further Reading

Broadwater, Robert P. 2007. Civil War Medal of Honor Recipients: A Complete Illustrated Record

Congressional Medal of Honor Society