Medal of Honor
DR. MARY E. WALKER
Rank and organization:
Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon (civilian), U. S. Army.
Places and dates:
Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861;
Patent Office Hospital, Washington, D.C., October 1861;
Chattanooga, Tenn., following Battle of Chickamauga, September 1863;
Prisoner of War, April 10, 1864 - August 12, 1864, Richmond, Va.;
Battle of Atlanta, September 1864.
Entered service at: Louisville, Ky.
Born: 26 November 1832, Oswego County, N.Y.
Whereas it appears from official reports that Dr. Mary E.
Walker, a graduate of medicine, "has rendered valuable service to the
Government and her efforts have been earnest and untiring in a variety
of ways," and that she was assigned to duty and served as an assistant
surgeon in charge of female prisoners at Louisville, Ky., upon the
recommendation of Major Generals Sherman and Thomas, and faithfully
served as contract surgeon in the service of the United States, and has
devoted herself with much patriotic zeal to the sick and wounded
soliders, both in the field and hospitals, to the detriment of her own
health, and has also endured hardships as a prisoner of war four months
in a Southern prison while acting as contract surgeon; and
Whereas by reason of her not being a commissioned officer in the
military service, a brevet or honorary rank cannot, under existing laws,
be conferred upon her; and
Whereas in the opinion of the President an honorable recognition of her
services and sufferings should be made:
It is ordered, That a testimonial thereof shall be hereby made and given
to the said Dr. Mary E. Walker, and that the usual medal of honor for
meritorious services be given her.
Given under my hand in the city of Washington, D.C., this 11th day of
November, A.D. 1865.
Dr. Mary E. Walker, M.D., a Civil War physician, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1865, upon recommendation of Major General Sherman, and Major General Thomas. Men who remembered the early defeats of the Army of the Potomac in 1861 and 1862, whereas Washington itself became a hospital complex treating 20,000 plus wounded union troops.
Horse-drawn ambulance-trains pressed a never ending demand for new facilities to convert into hospitals. The military used public buildings, including one wing of the Patent Office, which became known as the Patent Office Hospital from 1861 to 1863.
Field hospitals abounded, in which the most common surgery was amputation and embalming. As assistant surgeon, Dr. Mary Walker no doubt experienced her share of horror at human suffering. When captured, she became a prisoner of war in a southern prison in Virginia.
Dr. Mary Walker's Medal of Honor was rescinded in 1917, along with 910 others. Today, some believe her medal was rescinded because of her involvement as a suffragette. Others, discredit that opinion as 909 medals rescinded were awarded to males. The stated reason, and credible one, was government's effort to ". . . increase the prestige of the grant."
For whatever reason, former POW Dr. Mary Walker refused to return the MOH, and wore it until her death in 1919. Fifty-eight years later, the U.S. Congress posthumously reinstated her medal, and it was restored by President Carter on June 10, 1977. Today, Dr. Walker's name is on a plaque in the Pentagon, and she is the only woman of the Civil War, or any war, known to have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
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