General Joshua Chamberlain’s Medal of Honor was discovered in the back of a book at a church sale. The medal was given to his granddaughter, whose estate was given over to the church when she died in 2000. An anonymous individual returned the medal to Pejepscot Historical Society. They of course were shocked believing that they were already in possession of his medal. However, they were in possession of his medal from 1904, which was given to him after the medal was redesigned. This medal, which has been authenticated, is in all actuality probably not the original medal given to Chamberlain. The design of the medal was used by the Army from 1896-1903. Since he was actually awarded the medal in 1893, it would only make sense that he would have been issued the first type. However, it is possible that when he was given the first replacement medal he turned in the first medal, then seven years later, just accepted a replacement medal without exchanging it, which was allowed at the time.
The Medal of Honor is the highest award that our nation can bestow upon a member of the military. There have been 3,468 medals awarded to the fighting men and women of this country since the medal’s creation in 1861. The medal is usually awarded in a special ceremony by the President of the United States to represent the gratitude of the American people for acts of extreme heroism in the face of danger. There is a reason that one-third of all Medals of Honor issued after the Civil War have been posthumously awarded. The medal is also jealously protected by U.S. law because of its status.
According to federal law, specifically Title 18, United States Code, Section 704, the law prohibits the buying, selling, trading, importing, exporting, or bartering for anything of value for a Medal of Honor. The law makes no mention of inheriting a MOH, or gifting one, so the only way you can legally obtain one is if you are the recipient of the medal, are given one, or inherit one. It is that big of a deal.
And then we come to the medal in question. General Joshua Chamberlain of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment received his medal in 1893 for his defense of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863. Yes, this is the 150th Anniversary of the Battle, it is not lost on me. Chamberlain and his 20th Maine were exposed at the far left end of the Union line, nowhere near the fish-hook that was used for troop reinforcement. The idiot Dan Sickles had abandoned his position on the top of the hill for a better battle site, leaving the flank open. Chamberlain took it upon himself to have his regiment occupy it. Keep in mind that at the time, failing to follow orders or taking the initiative was punishable by death if you were court martialed. The 20th Maine along with the 83rd Pennsylvania faced the 15th and 47th Alabama under John Bell Hood, part of the 4th Alabama and the 4th and 5th of Texas.
The battle for little round top lasted for hours, they were low on ammunition and tired and yet the Confederates kept coming, so the general order was given to fix bayonets and charge down the hill. This act of gigantic balls broke the Confederates. Had the hill been empty or the 20th Maine retreated, the Union lines would have been flanked and may have lost the battle. Had they lost the battle the Confederacy would have been free to march on Washington D.C. from their vantage point. It was that important.
This medal is a piece of American History and deserves to be shown off. The anonymous donor deserves to be recognized for their actions in returning the medal to its rightful home.