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Sunday, July 14, 2024 - 03:26 AM


First Published in 1994


An astonishing 421 Medals of Honor 1867-1898

Brigadier General Ernest A Garlington

Brigadier General Ernest A. Garlington,  ca. 1907; Medal of Honor, 1890

American colonists and later the United States Army were engaged in frequent conflicts with Native American tribes from the very beginning of North American settlement. Over 1,000 skirmishes and battles occurred during the 25 years following the Civil War, from the Commanche War from 1867 to 1885 to the Pine Ridge Campaign in 1890 and 1891. The latter included the infamous Battle and Massacre at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota on December 29, 1890, involving the Lakota Sioux.

Icelandic Norse sagas, including the Vinland Saga and the Saga of Eric the Red, tell of violent conflict between Viking explorers and the North American tribes they encountered, which they called “Skraelings.” In 1003, according to the Vinland Saga, initial contact with the Skraelings resulted in a battle in which Thorvald Erikson was wounded by an arrow and later died. In Erik’s Saga, an event occurring in about 1010, Thorfinn Karlsefni’s encampment was attacked, which later resulted in a battle in which two Vikings and many Skraelings were killed. As a result, the encampment was abandoned about 1011, when Karlsefni (Erik’s nephew) returned to Iceland.  

On March 22, 1662, Powhatan Chief Opechancanough led an attack on the English Jamestown Colony in Virginia that left nearly 350 of some 1,200 colonists dead. The English retaliated by attacking Native American villages and raiding and destroying their crops and forcing them from their land.

“King Philip’s War.” From July 4, 1675, to August 12, 1676, in just over 13 months, Chief Metacom of the Wampanoag, also known as “King Philip,” waged the bloodiest war in American history in terms of the percentage of people killed, on New England colonists in Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Over 2,500 colonists died, estimated to be near 30 percent of the English population of New England. At least 5,000 Wampanoags were killed. This traumatized New Englanders so much that it is sometimes claimed to be a mentally destabilizing factor in the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. “King Philip’s War” is also known as the Great Narragansett War.

As I wrote last week, since the inception of the Medal of Honor in 1861 by the United States (Union) government, approximately 3,527 Medals of Honor (MoH) have been awarded. Nearly half of these (43%), 1,522, were awarded for action during the Civil War.  

Last week I also listed MoH numbers for major wars beginning with World War 1 in 1914 through the Afghanistan War from 2001 to 2021. Here are the results for 1914 through 2021: WW1, 126; WW2, 472; Korea, 146; Vietnam, 261; Iraq, 6, Afghanistan, 18; for a total of 1,029 from 1914 through 2021.

Astonishingly, my count for the Indian Wars was 421. This was a period of 25 years, but the average size of the U.S. Army for those years was only 26,000.

Here are the major U.S. Army Indian War campaigns from 1790 to 1891:

Before Civil War

Old Northwest War—1790-1795; Tippecanoe—1811; Creek—1813-1814, 1836; Seminole—1817-1819, 1835-1842, 1855-1858; and Black Hawk—1832.

During the Civil War in 1862, 500 to 800 Minnesota white settlers were killed in a Dakota Indian uprising. President Lincoln sent Union General John Pope to put down the rising and punish the Dakota Indians responsible. About 150 Dakota were killed and another 38 hanged.  

In 1861 and 1862, the Cherokee, Creeks, Seminoles. Choctaws, and Chickasaws seceded from the Union and supported the Confederate cause and Army to the end of the War.   

After Civil War

Comanche—1867-1835; Modoc—1872-1873; Apache—1873, 1885-1886; Little Big Horn—1876-1877 (including “Custer’s Last Stand; Nez Perce—1877; Bannock—1878; Cheyenne—1878-1879; Ute--1879-1880; and Pine Ridge—1890-1891, including Wounded Knee.

The Battle of Little Big Horn occurred on June 25-26, 1876, where 268 of the 700 soldiers and scouts of George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry were killed in battles with 1,500 to 2,500 Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. Custer and 5 of 12 companies of the 7th, 210 men were surrounded and completely wiped out. Indian KIA were reported by the Lakota to be 136.

Wounded Knee, on December 29, 1890, was both a battle and massacre of over 200 disarmed men, women, and children. Thirty-one U.S. soldiers were either KIA or died of wounds. About 90 Lakota warriors were KIA. Estimates of Indians killed vary widely.    

Medals of Honor given before World War 1 are not strictly comparable with later awards of the Medal. Several historical societies have pointed out that prior to revisions of MoH standards and procedures in 1916, previous MoH awards were much more liberal. In 1918, the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) was introduced for extraordinary heroism not meeting the new MoH standards. This now has its equivalents in the other Services as the Navy Cross, Air Force Cross, and Coast Guard Cross. In 1932, the Silver Star Medal for gallantry in action was made retroactive to July 1918 to cover World War 1 heroes whose actions did not measure up to increasingly higher standards for the Medal of Honor or DSC. Similarly, the Bronze Star and Bronze Star with Valor, were introduced to cover World War 2 military actions effective December 7, 1941. The Air Force equivalent of the Bronze Star is the Air Medal. The Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), which can be awarded for heroic combat valor or extraordinary achievement was introduced in July 1926, retroactive to actions back to April 6, 1917, for World War 1 heroism in flight. Charles Lindbergh received the first DFC from President Calvin Coolidge on June 11, 1927, for the first trans-Atlantic flight. The DFC ranks between the Silver Star and Bronze Star/Air Medal in its degree of merit or heroism. The Purple Heart is usually ranked just below the Bronze Star/Air Medal. The combat medal ranking is now: first Medal of Honor, second DSC or service equivalent, third Silver Star, forth Distinguished Flying Cross, firth Bronze Star (most prestigious with the V for valor) and Air Medal. Sixth is the Purple Heart for combat related wounds or injuries.

Of the 421 Medals of Honor given during more than 25 years of Indian Wars, 19 were awarded for individual gallantry at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890.  This was part of a total of 31 given during the Army’s Pine Ridge Campaign from 1890 to 1891. Here are the 19:

Sergeant William Austin, cavalry, directed fire at Indians in ravine at Wounded Knee.

Private Mosheim Feaster, cavalry, extraordinary gallantry at Wounded Knee.

Private Matthew Hamilton, cavalry, bravery in action at Wounded Knee.

Private Joshus Hartzog, artillery, rescuing commanding officer who was wounded and carried him out of range of hostile guns at Wounded Knee.

Private Marvin Hillock, cavalry, distinguished bravery at Wounded Knee.

Sergeant Bernhard Jetter, cavalry, distinguished bravery at Wounded Knee for "killing an Indian who was in the act of killing a wounded man of B Troop.

Sergeant George Loyd, cavalry, bravery, especially after having been severely wounded through the lung at Wounded Knee.

Sergeant Albert McMillan, cavalry, while engaged with Indians concealed in a ravine, he assisted the men on the skirmish line, directed their fire, encouraged them by example, and used every effort to dislodge the enemy at Wounded Knee.

Private Thomas Sullivan, cavalry, conspicuous bravery in action against Indians concealed in a ravine at Wounded Knee.

First Sergeant Jacob Trautman, cavalry, killed a hostile Indian at close quarters, and although entitled to retirement from service, remained to close of the campaign at Wounded Knee.

Sergeant James Ward, cavalry, continued to fight after being severely wounded at Wounded Knee.

Private Herman Ziegner, cavalry, conspicuous bravery at Wounded Knee.

Musician John Clancy, artillery, twice voluntarily rescued wounded comrades under fire.  Lieutenant Ernest Garlington, cavalry, distinguished gallantry.

First Lieutenant John Chowning Gresham, cavalry, voluntarily led a party into a ravine to dislodge Sioux Indians concealed therein. He was wounded during this action.

Second Lieutenant Harry Hawthorne, artillery, distinguished conduct in battle with hostiles. Private George Hoboday, cavalry, conspicuous and gallant conduct in battle.

First Sergeant Frederick Toy, cavalry, bravery.

Corporal Paul Weinert, artillery, taking the place of his commanding officer who had fallen severely wounded, he gallantly served his piece, after each fire advancing it to a better position.

Note the number of times a ravine is mentioned. U.S Army troops also used four Hotchkiss M1875 light 1.5-inch, two-pounder cannons located on a nearby hill.

Because of the massacre that developed from the threat of disarmament and resulting battle, many politicians have recommended that the Wounded Knee Medals of Honor be withdrawn. The latest attempt has been driven by Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. However, few of the Wounded Knee MoH recipients can be connected to the massacre, which was not premeditated, but grew out of the state of fear and panic that combat often produces. Massive cancelling of medals, especially for recipients no longer around to defend themselves, would set a terrible political precedent likely to become a manipulative tool for academic presentism and political tyranny. That would destroy any meaningful recognition of courage, merit, or justice in the military.  Such a precedent would also reap a whirlwind of social and political destruction dividing and weakening the nation.    

For example, First Lieutenant Ernest Garlington, an 1876 West Point graduate from South Carolina, was assigned with ten men to defend a crossroad just beyond a ravine that bordered   the Wounded Knee Camp. The first shots he heard were coming from Lakota Sioux warriors coming from the wooded ravine right at him and his men. The Indians poured a hellish fire on them from just 30 yards. He was apparently one of the first casualties, his arm being shattered by a bullet while returning fire. He would have died from loss of blood had not an experienced medic stopped the bleeding.  Although three of his men were killed and another two wounded, the small detachment was able to hold their position. Although he did not receive a recommended promotion to Captain for another two years, he advanced quickly in staff positions and by 1906 was Inspector General of the Army and a Brigadier General. He served as Inspector General until February 1917 and then on the General Staff until September 21, 1917. Garlington was also the author of four books. He died in 1934 at the age of 81 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. His father, Albert Garlington, was a Brigadier General of South Carolina troops in Civil War. His son, Cresswell Garlington (1887-1945) also became an Army Brigadier General and is also buried at Arlington.

In my opinion and many others, the whole idea of surrounding and disarming over 400 Lakota Sioux was a monstrous mistake highly likely to result in disaster. The Lakota Sioux and other Plains Indians had already been pushed to their psychological limit by terrible economic circumstances and living conditions and broken U.S. treaties. There is much more that could be said about conditions, responsibilities, treaties, and the unusual religious awakening among the Sioux. This involved a prophetic dream, called the Ghost Dance Religion, that all the white men would disappear, and the buffalo would return. Wounded Knee was a horrendous tragedy evidencing some poor military judgment trying to implement bad political policy. But to make it worse, modern politicians have risen up to exploit its political potential for future votes. Here is a very brief summary on Wounded Knee by Richard W. Stewart, General Editor, Center for Military History, United States Army, in 2007, updated in 2023:

“The last gasp of the Indian Wars occurred in 1890 and grew out of the zeal of the Ghost Dance religion, The Sioux were particularly susceptible to the emotional excitement and the call of the old way of life represented by these ceremonies. Their wild involvement frightened the agent on the Sioux Reservation into calling for military protection. The 7th Cavalry now commanded by Col. James W. Forsyth moved to Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Agency where, on December 29, 1890, the regiment attempted to disarm Big Foot’s band. An Indian’s rifle was discharged into the air as two soldiers disarmed him., precipitating a battle where more than 150 Indians, including women and children were killed and a third as many wounded.  In comparison, 25 soldiers were killed and another 37 wounded.” [Six of the wounded died, bringing the total dead to 31.]

The last Medal of Honor of the Indian Wars was awarded to Private Oscar Burkard of the 3rd U.S. Infantry for action at the Battle of Sugar Point at Leech Like, Minnesota,  on October 5, 1898.


Mike ScruggsMike Scruggs is the author of two books: The Un-Civil War: Shattering the Historical Myths; and Lessons from the Vietnam War: Truths the Media Never Told You, and over 600 articles on military history, national security, intelligent design, genealogical genetics, immigration, current political affairs, Islam, and the Middle East.

He holds a BS degree from the University of Georgia and an MBA from Stanford University. A former USAF intelligence officer and Air Commando, he is a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and holds the Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and Air Medal. He is a retired First Vice President for a major national financial services firm and former Chairman of the Board of a classical Christian school.

Click the website below to order books. http://www.universalmediainc.org/books.htm.