Valor Friday

| January 20, 2023 | 8 Comments

Continuing from last week’s look at Senators who have earned the country’s highest honor, we now turn to the House of Representatives. As with the Senate, there are some trends. Sixteen Congressmen have received the Medal of Honor. One of those later became a Senator and was discussed at length in last week’s article.

  • 13 men were in the Army, only three were Navy.
  • 12 men were officers, four were NCOs, none were privates (all of the Navy recipients were officers between the rank of Lieutenant and Commander).
  • Four were generals, three were colonels, and two were sergeants major.
  • 12 were awarded for action during the Civil War, one the Spanish-American War, two for World War I, and one for World War II.
  • Only the two awards made for World War I (both Navy) were received contemporaneously. The other awards were delayed 28-55 years. One was awarded by a special Act of Congress.
  • 10 were Republicans, five Democrats, and one third party.

Newton Martin Curtis

Newton Curtis was a week shy of his 26th birthday when he enlisted into the Union Army from his home state of New York. He was commissioned a captain in Company G, 16th New York Infantry after raising the company himself.

Standing 6’7” and weighing more than 200 pounds, he was a very large man for the time. His size led his family to worry that he’d be an easy target for the Rebels. Even President Lincoln (himself famously tall) quipped, “Mr. Curtis, how do you know when your feet are cold?”

Fighting in the Peninsula Campaign, he was wounded in a minor engagement near West Point, Virginia. In October 1862 Curtis transferred to the 142nd New York Volunteer infantry, serving as a lieutenant colonel until a promotion to colonel in 1865. He received a brevet promotion to brigadier general for bravery in battle at the Battle of New Market Heights in September 1864.

In December 1864, at Fort Fisher, North Carolina, Curtis’ brigade was one of the few to make it ashore in the First Battle of Fort Fisher. The Union was repulsed from the Confederate fort. The Union attacked again in January 1865, during which Curtis was the first man to make it through the stockade. He personally led several charges, being wounded at least four times in the process, and losing his left eye.

During the battle an order came up to Curtis to dig in. Angrily, he grabbed a handful of shovels, tossed them over the traverse, and yelled to the Rebels, “Dig Johnnies! I’m coming for you!” He made good on the promise and pressed the attack forward.

For his actions at the Second Battle of Fort Fisher Curtis was promoted to substantive brigadier general of volunteers and a brevet major general. In 1891 he received the Medal of Honor for his actions that day.

Leaving the Army in 1866, Curtis returned to New York. He worked as a customs officer and then an agent for the Treasury Department before running for state legislature. In the coming several years he was a state lawmaker or working for the Treasury Department.

In 1890, Curtis was elected to the US House of Representatives as a Republican. He was twice re-elected. He took a hardline stance against the death penalty and introduced legislation during every session to outlaw the practice.

In his retirement, he wrote a book, From Bull Run to Chancellorsville (1906). In good health during his later years, he died suddenly in 1910 at the age of 74 from a stroke.

Byron M. Cutcheon

Byron Mac Cutcheon was 26 when he enlisted in 1862 to fight in the Civil War. He was orphaned as a young boy and had worked at a cotton mill to pay for his own secondary education. At age 17 he became a teacher at the school.

Originally from Massachusetts, at age 19 he relocated to Michigan. Two years later he was hired to be the principal of a school while he began college to further his own studies. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1861. By the time he’d graduated he was principal and teaching ancient languages at Ypsilanti High School.

At the outbreak of the War Between the States, Cutcheon resigned from his teaching position to raise a company of men for the 20th Michigan Infantry. He was mustered into federal service as a second lieutenant, but was elected captain in short order. By October he was promoted to major.

The 20th Michigan saw significant action in the coming months at Fredericksburg, the Siege of Vicksburg, the Battle of Jackson, and several battles through Tennessee.

On 10 May 1863 Cutcheon and about 400 of his men were in the area of Horseshoe Bend on the Cumberland River in Kentucky. They were attacked by about 4,000 Confederates. The Union men were under the command of Colonel Richard T Jacob. When the Confederate general called to Jacob to surrender, he told them to “come and take [me]!”

During the battle Cutcheon led, from horseback, his men in a charge on an enemy occupied house. This earned him a Medal of Honor in 1891. The Union troops eventually were forced to retreat by the superior enemy numbers.

Cutcheon and his men served in several more battles, including Spottsylvania Court House. In that battle he was seriously wounded leading a charge of his 20th Michigan and the 51st Pennsylvania. His wounds forced him into hospital for two months. For his gallant conduct he was brevet promoted to colonel.

They saw still more action before the war’s end. By the end of the conflict, Cutcheon was commanding a brigade. Upon his resignation, he was brevet promoted to brigadier general of volunteers.

Post-war, Cutcheon returned to Ypsilanti and entered his brother’s law practice. He graduated law school and was admitted to the bar in 1866. His brother was a state assemblyman, and with his wartime record, Cutcheon entered the world of politics at the local and state level. He served in some appointed positions, including as an elector for the 1868 presidential election. He entered elective offices at the local level in 1870.

In 1882 Cutcheon was elected to the US House from Michigan’s 9th Congressional District as a Republican. He was re-elected thrice, serving until 3 March 1891. He received the Medal of Honor three months later.

Cutcheon had married in 1863, fathering four sons and a daughter. After serving in Congress, he returned to the practice of law. He died in 1908 at the age of 71.

John Henry Moffitt

John Moffitt was 18 when the Civil War started. He enlisted just two weeks after the opening salvos of the war were fired at Fort Sumter. He mustered into Company C, 16th New York Volunteer Infantry.

They were first called into action at West Point, Virginia. Then on 27 June 1862, the regiment fought at Gaines’ MIll in Virginia. About 34,000 Union men were isolated from the rest of the battle line. Though they’d dug in a good defensive position, the Confederates under General Lee outnumbered them two-to-one. During a day of battle, the Rebels finally broke the Union line in the evening. The 16th New York Volunteers lost 200 men killed or wounded on that one day.

By now a corporal, Moffitt saw the color bearer for the regiment fall. The unit’s flag was an important part of battles at the time. The colors would be the rallying point for the men, and their movement would indicate whether they should be advancing or retreating. Back to the time of the Roman Legions, the loss or downing of a unit’s colors were severely detrimental to unit morale and combat effectiveness. The position of carrying the colors was so important, the rank of color sergeant was a senior NCO placed in charge of the flag. That rank still exists in many armies of the world. At the beginning of the US Army, the lowest commissioned rank was ensign, and an ensign, as the name implies, would be charged with the flag. It was that important.

The colors of the 16th New York Volunteers had fallen several times. Each time, one of the men would pick them up to prove that the line was holding. Each time, the enemy would shoot the carrier, to drive down the flag.

Having seen it fall several times, Corporal Moffitt took up the colors until he too was soon injured. For that action he was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1891. The 16th New York Volunteers saw action in several battles in the coming months before they were mustered out of service in May 1863.

After the war, Moffitt returned home and went into industry. He was elected a town supervisor in 1877 and then to the US Congress from New York as a Republican in 1886 and 1888. He then managed a street car company, ran his city’s water department, and finally was president of a local bank. He remained active in politics and was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1912.

Moffitt died in 1926 in Plattsburg, New York. He was 86 years old.

Henry Harrison Bingham

Henry Bingham of Pennsylvania was only 20 when he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 140th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in August 1862 to serve in the Civil War.

The 140th Pennsylvania Volunteers wintered for 1862 into 1863. They first saw combat at Chancellorsville, where Confederate General Lee saw a decisive victory over the much larger Union force.

Next the 140th Pennsylvania saw action in their native state at Gettysburg. Bingham was by now a captain and serving as judge advocate (he would later go into practicing law) on the staff of Major General Winfield Scott Hancock.

During the battle, Bingham was a witness to Pickett’s famous charge. He was near the “Angle” at which the Rebel forces were at their furthest. He also helped attend to the mortally wounded Confederate Brigadier General Lewis Armistead. He fulfilled Armistead’s dying wish to give his personal effects to General Hancock, as the two men were friends pre-war. Bingham was wounded in action on the final day of the battle.

The 140th Pennsylvania would see action throughout the remainder of the war, right up until the final battle at Farmville near Appomattox Courthouse where Lee would surrender to General Grant.

In 1864, during the Battle of the Wilderness, Bingham was an aide-de-camp to Major General Gouverneur Warren. On 6 May Bingham was in command of Company G, 140th Pennsylvania. The regiment was on the extreme left flank of the action. His company had sustained a heavy brunt from the enemy and were giving way and would soon break.

Bingham rallied his men and led them in a charge against the enemy, forcing the Union line to hold. For this he would receive the Medal of Honor in 1893. Just days later at Spotsylvania he was wounded again. Shortly thereafter he was promoted to major and made the judge advocate of the 1st Division.

At the Battle of Fair Oaks & Darbytown Road he was captured on 27 October 1864, but escaped later that day. He was wounded a third and final time at the Battle of Farmville, just days before the end of the war.

He was mustered out of the Army in 1866 and returned to Pennsylvania. In 1867 President Johnson nominated him for a brevet promotion to brigadier general of volunteers, which Congress confirmed, in honor of his gallant wartime service.

The president also appointed him the Postmaster of Philadelphia in 1867. From there Bingham went into politics. He was elected to the US House as a Republican from Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District. He was re-elected and held that post until his death in 1912 at the age of 70.

John Charles Black

John Black was 22 when he mustered into the 11th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment with his brother on 14 April 1861. This was just two days after the Civil War’s start. Eleven days later the young man was made a sergeant major.

Three months later Black and his brother were mustered out to raise their own company. They organized Company K, 37th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. On 5 September Black was made major of the regiment.

Wounded at the Battle of Pea Ridge in May 1862, Black was promoted to lieutenant colonel in July. He took command of the 37th Illinois Volunteers at the same time.

On 7 December 1862 the regiment took heavy casualties at the Battle of Prairie Grove in Arkansas. A pyrrhic victory for the Union, colonel Black was at the head of his regiment, leading them in a charge against an enemy battery. Two Union regiments had already been repulsed, but with Black’s commanding charge, they captured the enemy guns. In the process Black was seriously wounded.

For this action, Black would receive the Medal of Honor in 1896. His brother Captain William Black, commanding Company K in his brother’s regiment, would also receive the Medal of Honor during this battle. Captain Black single-handedly stood with only a rifle and faced down 100 Confederates, halting their advance. His Medal of Honor was awarded in 1893. They are one of only five sets of brothers to have received the Medal of Honor.

On 31 December 1862 John Black was promoted to full colonel. He held a series of brigade commands in the Department of the Gulf for the remainder of the war. He resigned his commission in August 1865.

Post war, Black returned to Chicago and practiced law. He was made a brevet brigadier general of volunteers in 1866 for gallant services in the assault on Fort Blakeley, Alabama in 1865. He was elected as a Democrat to the US House in 1892, sitting for one term.

Black continued in public service until his death in 1915 at the age of 76. His brother William died the following year at the age of 73.

 

I’ll be back next week to explore some more Congressmen of valor.

Category: Army, Historical, Medal of Honor, Valor, Veterans in politics, We Remember

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ninja

These are great, Mason…and Interesting.

Newton Martin Curtis…

“Standing 6’7” and weighing more than 200 pounds, he was a very large man for the time. His size led his family to worry that he’d be an easy target for the Rebels. Even President Lincoln (himself famously tall) quipped, “Mr. Curtis, how do you know when your feet are cold?”

Now THAT was very interesting!!

Thank You for sharing more stories of Valor, especially those of Unsung Heroes.

Looking forward reading your book!

David

I’m not a big fella myself, but I’d say 6’7″ and 300 lbs. qualifies as a bloody big man ANY time.

RGR 4-78

Spam.

CDR D

BZ, Mason. Your research is appreciated. These folks deserve to be remembered.

AW1Ed

Thanks again, Mason.

Messkit

Who else read all those, using the narrative
voice of Dick Winters?

Just me?

yeah…well.

KoB

Warriors that became politicians beats politicians that became millionaires all to hell.

Great write up, again, Mason. You da Man!

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