Tag Archives: Medal of Honor

Legislation of the Thirty-Seventh U.S. Congress

July 16, 1862 – The lack of southern opposition made the Thirty-seventh U.S. Congress one of the most productive in history, as the Republican majority worked to enact nearly every plank of their party platform.

U.S. Capitol Building under construction | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Regarding the war effort, Congress approved a measure authorizing the distribution of the Medal of Honor to Federal army personnel. The Medal had been established last year only for officers and men of the Federal Navy or Marine Corps. This later became known as the Congressional Medal of Honor, the only individual decoration for valor during the war besides a congressional vote of thanks.

The Federal Navy

President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill into law establishing that “… every officer, seaman, or marine, disabled in the line of duty, shall be entitled to receive for life, or during his disability, a pension from the United States, according to the nature and degree of his disability, not exceeding in any case his monthly pay.” This was intended to help wounded naval personnel, as well the widows and children of those killed in service. Another law appropriated money for the families of Federal sailors killed in action against the Confederate ironclad C.S.S. Virginia at Hampton Roads, Virginia, in March.

Congress approved a measure stating that “… the spirit ration in the Navy of the United States shall forever cease, and… no distilled spirituous liquors shall be admitted on board vessels of war, except as medical stores… there shall be allowed and paid to each person in the Navy now entitled to the ration, five cents per day in commutation and lieu thereof, which shall be in addition to their present pay.” This law was sponsored by Republican Senator James Grimes of Iowa, at the request of Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox.

The Militia Act of 1862

Lincoln approved a bill that defined militias as consisting of all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 45, eligible to be called into Federal service for up to nine months. The president was to “make all necessary rules and regulations… to provide for enrolling the militia and otherwise putting this act into execution.”

This allowed for unprecedented Federal power over state militias, and it was the first step toward a military draft. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton authorized Federal officials to suppress any criticism of the Federal militia policy, including imprisoning anti-war protestors.

The law also authorized the president “to employ as many persons of African descent as he may deem necessary and proper for the suppression of this rebellion, and for this purpose he may organize and use them in such manner as he may judge best for the public welfare.” This included “any military or naval service for which they may be found competent.”

This was the first time in American legislative history that blacks were allowed (albeit implicitly) to serve as military combatants. Blacks would receive less pay than whites, and they would initially be used only for manual labor, but abolitionists saw this as a good first step toward racial equality. A moderate Republican senator acknowledged that “the time has arrived when… military authorities should be compelled to use all the physical force of this country to put down the rebellion.”

These wartime measures marked a turning point in the Federal war policy. The war would take a much harsher turn in future months, as the Federals sought to fight on “different principles” and toss aside the “white kid-glove warfare” that had produced stalemate.

The Ironclad Oath

Lincoln approved a measure requiring all Federal officials or employees, elected or appointed, to take an “ironclad oath” declaring that they had never done anything to aid the Confederacy. Those who could not take this oath or refused to take it would lose their jobs.

This had generated intense debate in Congress, but Lincoln’s moderate approach to readmitting Confederate states to the Union meant that this was rarely enforced at first. However, the oath requirement was later extended to cover Federal contractors, attorneys, and jurors, along with residents of Confederate states under Federal military occupation.

Financial Legislation

Republicans approved more measures raising the already high protective tariffs on sugar, tobacco, and liquor. This made up for land sale revenue lost by the Homestead Act and helped garner party support from bankers and industrialists who lobbied for the high rates.

Congress approved the Second Legal Tender Act, which authorized printing another $150 million in paper currency, or greenbacks. Greenbacks were worth only 91 cents in gold by the end of July, but many people supported them, especially westerners who had limited access to specie. Confederates under Federal military occupation also used greenbacks because they were still worth more than the nearly worthless Confederate currency.

There were now $300 million in greenbacks in circulation, which inflated the cost of living in the northern states. However, this was somewhat offset by the new Federal income tax enacted this month, as well as the strengthening northern industry to bolster the economy.

Another bill addressed the problem of dwindling amounts of metal currency by authorizing the use of postage stamps as money.

Other Legislation

Lincoln signed a bill into law approving a treaty to work with Great Britain in suppressing the illicit African slave trade. The U.S. Senate approved a measure endorsing the secession of western Virginia from the rest of the state and admitting “West Virginia” into the Union as a new state. West Virginia had been created by a legally questionable legislature on May 23 on the condition that blacks would not be permitted there, slave or free.

Lincoln also signed the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act into law, which banned polygamy in U.S. territories. This was part of the Republican Party’s campaign pledge of 1860 to end polygamy within the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the Utah Territory. Mormons argued that such a law violated their First Amendment right to freely practice their religion.


Members of this 37th U.S. Congress overhauled the nation’s financial system, distributed land to states and homesteaders, laid the groundwork for a transcontinental railroad, and took steps to abolish slavery. All these measures permanently changed the direction of America’s social and economic development. They also gave the Federal government unprecedented control over the states and the people, which was exactly what southerners had argued against (and were now fighting against) since the nation’s founding.

Before Congress adjourned, one last controversial measure would be enacted.



CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 176, 193-94; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 323, 385; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 178, 180-81; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 236, 238-41; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 303, 446, 450, 491-92, 499-50; Robertson, Jr., James I., Tenting Tonight: The Soldier’s Life (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 32-33; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 213-14; Sylvia, Stephen W., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 484; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q362

The Great Locomotive Chase

April 12, 1862 – A daring effort to sabotage Confederate supply lines made sensational headlines in newspapers but had little impact on the war.

Brigadier General Ormsby M. Mitchel’s Federal division had been detached from the Army of the Ohio to operate in central and southeastern Tennessee, as well as northern parts of Alabama and Georgia. While camped at Shelbyville, Tennessee, Mitchel met with Kentuckian James J. Andrews, a contraband trader and top army spy.

Andrews proposed leading men on a secret mission to sneak behind Confederate lines in Georgia and steal a locomotive. They would then burn bridges, destroy railroad tunnels, and sabotage the important Western & Atlantic Railroad line between Atlanta and Chattanooga. Mitchel approved and helped sort out the details.

Andrews recruited one civilian and 22 soldiers from Brigadier General Joshua W. Sill’s Ohio brigade. They formed small teams that traveled separately to Marietta, Georgia, 200 miles south of Shelbyville. The men covered the first 90 miles on foot and, dressed in civilian clothes, used thick southern accents to tell anybody who questioned them that they were headed to join the nearest Confederate army. Two men were seized by Confederate pickets and sent to man the Chattanooga defenses, leaving Andrews with 21 men.

The raid was to start with Mitchel creating a diversion by capturing Huntsville, Alabama, and threatening Chattanooga on April 11. But since it rained that day, Andrews figured that Mitchel would postpone the diversion until the 12th. Andrews figured wrong; Mitchel’s Federals captured Huntsville as planned. They seized the telegraph office, post office, 15 locomotives, all supplies stored in the warehouses, and took several hundred Confederate prisoners. They then awaited Andrews’s arrival on the stolen train.

Andrews and his men spent the night of the 11th in a Marietta hotel owned by a New Yorker and fellow spy. The locomotive General was scheduled to stop at Marietta as part of its normal Atlanta-to-Chattanooga run the next morning. The General was a 25-ton eight-wheel, wood-burning locomotive capable of moving up to 60 miles per hour. It pulled two passenger cars, a mail car, and three boxcars. The raiders planned to seize the General at Big Shanty, the first stop after leaving Marietta.

On the morning of the 12th, Andrews told his men before they went to the Marietta depot, “Now, I will succeed or leave my bones in Dixie.” He and his volunteers bought tickets and boarded the train as passengers in civilian dress. The conductor, William A. Fuller, took their tickets and paid them no mind.

When the General stopped at Big Shanty, the passengers and crew detrained to eat breakfast at the hotel. William Knight, one of Andrews’s raiders and a former railroad engineer, decoupled the passenger and mail cars before climbing into the General. The rest of the men jumped into the three boxcars, and on Andrews’s signal, the locomotive began moving out. The train’s foreman watched it pass out the window and hollered to Fuller, “Someone is running off with your train!” Fuller and other crewmen began chasing on foot, but it was no use.

The General | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The General | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The raiders steamed north, with Andrews directing Knight to keep the train at its normal 16 miles per hour to avoid attracting attention. They made occasional stops to cut telegraph wires along the way. They also stopped long enough to pry up a section of rail and take it with them. The raiders refueled at Cassville as they explained to the station agent that they were on a mission to deliver ammunition to General P.G.T. Beauregard.

Meanwhile, news of Huntsville’s capture the previous day caused a surge in southbound railroad traffic. Consequently, the General had to wait over 90 minutes on a siding while southbound trains passed. Fuller and other crewmen began catching up to the stolen locomotive after hopping onto a handcar, but they were knocked off near Etowah when they hit the missing rail.

At Etowah Station, the pursuers commandeered the locomotive Yonah to resume the chase. But they were also detained by the southbound traffic at Kingston, 14 miles north of Etowah. They abandoned the Yonah and took the William R. Smith to continue on.

By this time, the General had reached Adairsville station, 69 miles from Chattanooga, where Andrews told Knight to “see how fast she can go.” Reaching full speed, the raiders ignored the stops and nearly collided with a southbound train at Calhoun. Andrews believed that the speed burst gave them enough space and time to stop the General and begin their main mission–destroying bridges and tunnels.

At Adairsville, the Confederate pursuers were stopped by another break in the rails. They abandoned the William R. Smith and hurried aboard the Texas. Running it backward, the Confederates began gaining on the stopped raiders. The Texas halted briefly at Calhoun to take on 11 Confederate soldiers for support.

A mile and a half north of Calhoun, Andrews stopped again to wreck more track. As his men worked, the whistle of the approaching Texas could be heard. The raiders stopped working, decoupled two boxcars, and hurried on toward Resaca. When the Confederates came upon the boxcars, they simply coupled them to their backward-running locomotive and continued on.

The General had to stop at Tilton for more wood and water, but the raiders cut the stop short when they heard the Texas coming on. By the time they reached Tunnel Hill, they were nearly out of steam. Andrews directed his men to decouple and set fire to the last boxcar, but heavy rain prevented it from igniting. The raiders jumped back into the General and resumed their flight. They had no time to accomplish their main mission of burning bridges; rainy weather also contributed to their inability to destroy tunnels as planned.

The General finally ran out of fuel about two miles north of Ringgold, near the Tennessee line. It had covered 87 miles. Andrews hollered to his crew, “Jump and scatter! Every man for himself!” As they jumped out, the Texas closed to within 200 yards.

The Federals fled into the woods, but the Confederate troops jumped off the Texas and captured three or four almost immediately. Over the next week, a posse rounded up the rest of the raiders. Andrews and Knight were taken a few days later, less than 12 miles from Federal lines near New England, Georgia. The prisoners were sent to Chattanooga to await trial.

Of the 22 Federal raiders, Andrews and seven others were found guilty of espionage, having engaged in war against the Confederacy while in civilian clothes. They were hanged on June 7. Six of the raiders were paroled, and the other eight escaped captivity and made it back to the Federal lines.

In March 1863, Andrews and his crew were the first men to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor (albeit posthumously) for bravery “above and beyond the call of duty.” William A. Fuller and his fellow Confederate pursuers received a vote of thanks from the Georgia legislature. Although Andrews’s sensational effort accomplished little in deciding the war, it soon became known as the “Great Locomotive Chase.”



CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 160; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 377-78; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 134, 137; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 199; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 8-10, 11-12; Time-Life Editors, Spies, Scouts and Raiders: Irregular Operations (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 111-12