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Today's Medal of Honor Moment for 18 June

There are four Medals awarded for action in the Civil War, all on the exact same day, in two battles, at opposite ends of Virginia.  

We're back for the last day of the Battle of Petersburg.  Let's let Confederate General Beauregard relate what it was to face men such as the three who earned Medals on that last day of the battle, before the Armies settled down to the Siege.  From "Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume 4."

On that morning the troops arrayed against us consisted of Hancock's, Burnside's, and Warren's corps, with the larger portion of Smith's under General Martindale, and finally Neill's division from Wright's corps (the Sixth), strengthened by its whole artillery. This gave the enemy an aggregate of over 90,000 effective. We had on our side, after Kershaw's arrival, but 15,000 men, no deduction being made for the casualties of the three preceding days. It was only later on, somewhere between 12 M. and 1 P. M., that Field's command was put in position on the line, and from that moment to the end of the day our grand total amounted to about 20,000 men. At noon or thereabout - the predetermined " grand attack" was renewed, although partial disconnected assaults had been made before that hour on several parts of our line, but with no tangible result of any kind. This renewed attack was mainly led by Gibbon's division of Hancock's corps. It proved to be entirely ineffectual. And still another grand attempt was made at 4 P. M., with at least three full Federal corps cooperating : Hancock's on the right, Burnside's in the center, and Warren's on the left. General Meade, in his report, says it was "without success." And he adds these. words : " Later in the day attacks were made by the Fifth and Ninth corps with no better results." The truth is that, despite the overwhelming odds against us, every Federal assault, on the 18th, was met with most signal defeat, "attended," says Mr. Swinton, the Federal historian, "with another mournful loss of life." This was, in fact, very heavy, and exceeded ours in the proportion of nine to one. (1)

My welcome to General Dial. He was at last where I had, for the past three days, so anxiously hoped to see him-within the limits of Petersburg? Two of his divisions had preceded him there, and his whole army would be in by evening of the next day, namely, the 19th of June. I felt sure, therefore, that, for the present at least, Petersburg and Richmond were safe. Not that our forces would be numerically equal to those of the enemy, even after the arrival of the last regiment of the Army of Northern Virginia; but I was aware that our defensive line would now count more than one man per every four and a half yards of its length ; and I felt relieved to know that, at last, the whole of our line -not portions of it only, as heretofore - would be guarded by veteran troops, alike, if not superior, in mettle to the veteran troops opposing them.

Scarcely two hours after General Lee's arrival I rode with him to what was known as the City Reservoir, on a commanding elevation, toward the right of our line. A good view of the surrounding country could be had from this point, and the whole field was there spread out before us like a map. I explained to General Lee and showed him the relative positions of our troops and of those of the enemy. I also pointed out to him the new and shorter line then occupied by us, and gave my reasons for its location there. They were these :

"First. ,That it kept the enemy's batteries at a greater distance from the besieged town.

"Second. That it would act as a covered way (as the phrase is in the regular fortifications) should we deem it advisable to construct better works on the higher ground in the rear. In the meantime we could construct a series of batteries to protect our front line by flanking and over-shooting fires ; and we could throw up infantry parapets for our reserves, whenever we should have additional troops.

"Third. That the new line gave a close infantry and artillery fire on the reverse slope of Taylor's Creek and ravine, which would prevent the construction of boyaux of approaches and parallels for a regular attack."

General Lee, whose capacity as a military engineer was universally acknowledged,-and none appreciated it more than I did,-was entirely of my opinion. Thus the new defensive line selected by me, which my own troops had been holding for twelve hours before the arrival of General Lee at Petersburg, and which his troops occupied as they came in, was maintained unchanged as to location-though much strengthened and improved thereafter-until the end of the war.

After those explanations to General Lee, and while still examining the field, I proposed to him that, as soon as Hill's and Anderson's corps should arrive, our entire disposable force be thrown upon the left and rear of the Federal army before it began to fortify its position. General Lee, after some hesitation, pronounced himself against this plan. He thought it was wiser, under the circumstances, to allow some rest to his troops (those present as well as those still coming up) after the long march all would have gone through with; and he stated as a further reason for his objection, that our best policy - one, he said, which had thus far proved successful to him-would be to maintain the defensive as heretofore. I urged that the Federal troops were at least as much exhausted as ours, and that their ignorance of the locality would give us a marked advantage over them; that their spirits were jaded, and ours brightened just then by the fact of the junction of his army with my forces ; and that the enemy was not yet intrenched. But I was then only second in command, and my views did not prevail.

The evening of the 18th was quiet. There was no further attempt on the part of General Meade to assault our lines. He was " satisfied,'' as he said in his report, that there was " nothing more to be gained by direct attacks." The spade musket, and the regular siege was begun. It was only raised April 2, 1865.

No event of our war was more remarkable than the almost incredible resistance of the men who served under me at Petersburg, on the lath, 1 6th, 17th, and 18th of June, before the arrival of Lee.


Rank and organization: Private, Company F, 88th Pennsylvania Infantry. Place and date: At Petersburg, Va., 18 June 1864. Entered service at: ------. Birth: Germantown, Pa. Date of issue: 30 April 1892. Citation: Distinguished bravery in action; was severely wounded.


Rank and organization: Sergeant, Company I, 37th Massachusetts Infantry. Place and date: Near Petersburg, Va., 18 June 1864. Entered service at: Agawan, Mass. Birth: Agawan, Mass. Date of issue: 16 August 1894. Citation: Voluntarily exposed himself to the fire of a Union brigade to stop their firing on the Union skirmish line.


Rank and organization: Private, 34th New York Battery. Place and date: At Petersburg, Va., 18 June 1864. Entered service at: ------. Birth: France. Date of issue: 30 July 1896. Citation: As gunner of his piece, inflicted singly a great loss upon the enemy and distinguished himself in the removal of the piece while under a heavy fire.

Same day, but over to the west, in the Shendandoah Valley. The Battle of Lynchburg - where Confederate General Jubal Early's Corps, arriving just in time via rail, sent Union General David Hunter packing back out of the Shenandoah Valley and back into West Virginia.  General Hunter's troops, had they moved with speed (a hallmark of Confederate infantry) could probably have concentrated sufficiently on the first day of the battle - 17 June, to overwhelm the hasty defenses of Lynchburg - but, was too often the case with Union leaders, the forces did not get where they needed to be when they needed to be there.  The outcome of this battle was also influenced by the Union Cavalry's defeat at Trevilian Station several days before - Hunter's supply lines were well disrupted by guerrilla activity, and Sheridan's troopers were not present for the battle at Lynchburg.  Early's successful defense of the Lynchburg rail hub ensured that Lee's armies around Richmond still had access to the agricultural bounty of the Shenandoah Valley, and Hunter's withdrawal back into West Virginia left the Valley route open for Early's subsequent march into Maryland.  As I've noted before and often - small units are where battles are won, but they can be lost at any level.


Rank and organization: Private, Company B, 54th Pennsylvania Infantry. Place and date: At Lynchburg, Va., 18 June 1864. Entered service at: ------. Birth: Somerset County, Pa. Date of issue: 27 December 1894. Citation: Voluntarily led a charge on a Confederate battery (the officers of the company being disabled) and compelled its hasty removal.

Today is an unusual day in the history of the Medal - If it weren't for the18th of June, 1864, this entry would be empty.