1st Medal of Honor presented to an Irwin

Colonel Bernard J D Irwin

Bernard John Dowling Irwin, 1st. Medal of Honor recipient. Born June 24, 1830(1830-06-24) Ireland

Died December 15, 1917(1917-12-15) (aged 87)

Place of burial West Point Cemetery Service/branch United States Army Years of service 1856 – 1894

Retired Rank Brigadier General

Battles/wars Apache Wars

Awards; Medal of Honor

Bernard John Dowling Irwin (June 24, 1830 – December 15, 1917) was an assistant army surgeon during the Apache Wars and the first (chronologically by action) Medal of Honor recipient. His actions on February 13, 1861 are the earliest for which the Medal of Honor was awarded.

The event started when Cochise, the Chiricahua Apache chief, and a group of Apache warriors had kidnapped a boy and a small group of U.S. soldiers in the Arizona Territory after the army had captured his brother and nephews. When the army refused to make a prisoner exchange, Cochise killed his prisoners with exception to the boy. The U.S. army then killed Cochise’s brother and nephews. Second Lieutenant George N. Bascom led a group of men of the U.S. Seventh Infantry after Cochise but was soon captured and taken prisoner along with 60 other soldiers prompting a rescue mission by the army. 

 February 13, 1861In response to the capture of Bascom and his men, Irwin set out on a rescue mission with 14 men. He was able to catch up with the Apaches at Apache Pass in present day Arizona. He strategically placed his small unit around Cochise and his men, tricking the Apache leader into thinking that Irwin had a much larger army with him. The Apaches fled and Bascom and his men were saved. Bascom and his men joined Irwin and together they were able to track Cochise into the mountains and rescued the young boy that Cochise had captured previously.

  The Medal of HonorThe Medal of Honor did not exist during this event. The medal was not established until 1862. However, the actions of Colonel Irwin were remembered and he was awarded the Medal of Honor just prior to his retirement on January 21, 1894.

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