A Union Army private received the first Medal of Honor by helping steal a Confederate locomotive on the first anniversary of the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter.
Jacob Parrott and 21 other men, some posing as smugglers sympathetic to the Rebel cause, stole a train in Big Shanty, Ga., in April 1862. They were 200 miles behind enemy lines.
The Union spies headed north, intending to tear up track, burn bridges and scuttle tunnels along the way. An angry conductor ultimately organized the pursuit. Using a locomotive running at top speed in reverse, they eventually caught the stolen train.
Parrott, Union commander James Andrews and the rest of the men eventually were captured. Six were hanged.
Dubbed the Raiders, they all received the Medal of Honor, and Parrott was first in line, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
The first Medal of Honor-worthy deed, however, was performed by an Army surgeon named Bernard J.D. Irwin. The Irish-born doctor took charge of troops near Apache Pass, Ariz., in February 1861.
Irwin eventually rescued 61 members of the 7th Infantry trapped by Chiricahua Apaches.
The Medal of Honor was created by Congress in December 1861 to recognize men who went “above and beyond the call of duty.” At first, only enlisted men could receive the honor. Eventually that was expanded to include officers.
More black Americans received the Medal of Honor for Civil War heroism than in any other major American conflict since the medal was created. Until Monday, World War II was the first war in which no black American veteran received the medal.
The only black American World War I veteran to receive the medal, Cpl. Freddie Stowers, wasn’t recognized for his heroism in France until 1991.
Medal of Honor recipients receive several privileges. They receive an additional $200 a month in their pension and their children are guaranteed a chance to attend any U.S. military academy.
They are allowed to shop on military bases, fly standby on military flights at no expense and are buried with honors.