Artifact Corner: Medal of Honor

Hi Everyone and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a very rare piece indeed. This is Frank Hall’s Medal of Honor, issued to him for his service as a chaplain during the American Civil War. During the Civil War, only four chaplains were issued this most prestigious honor, and our Frank Hall was one of them. Only nine chaplains in US history have ever been awarded this medal. Frank served along side the 16th New York Infantry, and was awarded this medal thanks to his gallantry and service during the battle of Salem Heights in Virginia, on May 3rd, 1863. Let’s learn a bit more about the medal of honor, and how Frank came to receive his.

The Medal of Honor was first authorized by Congress and approved by President Abraham Lincoln on December 21, 1861 for enlisted men of the United States Navy. The authorization was later amended to include officers as well as enlisted men of the army and navy, with eligibility for award retroactive to the beginning of the Civil War. The medal was to be awarded only to those who most distinguished themselves by their gallantry in action. The following quote is from the official publication of the Department of the Army, The Medal of Honor. “He who possesses the Medal of Honor is the holder of the highest military award for bravery that can be given to any individual in the United States of America.”

So, what did Frank Hall do to receive this most esteemed award? Frank was 36 years of age when he performed his heroic feat in the Civil War during the Chancellorsville Campaign, and was serving the last few weeks of his brief service as Chaplain of the 16th New York volunteer Regiment. In fact, the Battle of Salem Heights was the Regiment’s last battle. Organized soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, the 16th New York, composed of men from Clinton, Franklin and St. Lawrence Counties, was officially activated in May, 1861 for a two year tour of duty. It became part of General McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. The Regiment saw a great deal of action during the war, including the battles of 1st Bull Run, West Point, Gaines’ Mill, Glendale, Crampton’s Pass, Antietam and Salem Heights. On May 3, 1863 Frank rode back and forth from the front lines to retrieve wounded soldiers and bring them back to the hospital tents and camps. He did this repeatedly throughout the battle. Since Frank was a chaplain and a non-combatant, he was not brandishing a firearm, he was merely riding back and forth through extremely heavy fire trying to save mens lives. One of the commanding officers for the 16th New York is the one who nominated Frank for this medal. The letter informing Frank of his commendation reads as follows:
I have the honor to inform you that, by direction of the President and in accordance with the Act of Congress approved March 3, 1863 providing for the presentation of Medals of Honor…the Assistant Secretary of War has awarded you a Medal of Honor for distinguished gallantry in action at the Battle of Salem Heights, Virginia, May 3, 1863…The Medal has been forwarded to you today by registered mail. Upon the receipt of it, please advise this office thereof.
Very respectfully,
F.G. Ainsworth,
Colonel U.S. Army
Chief, Record and Pension

Frank was a humble, kind, and very thoughtful man, who never expected to receive any kind of fanfare for his actions on that day. Thankfully, he was recognized for his bravery and his heroism during his time as a chaplain for the 16th New York volunteers. This is a very special piece in our collections, and one we will treasure forever. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,