Valor Friday

| November 8, 2019

civil moh
Mason’s out of pocket this week, but he was thoughtful enough to forward the following Valor Friday to me, and then then on to you. Here are the stories of Major General Frank Baldwin, USA, and Fireman John Lafferty, USN, and their feats of incredible valor. during and after the Civil War


Part two in our series examining the short list of men who have received two Medals of Honor will first highlight two men who received their first during the Civil War and their second for actions postbellum.

Nearly forgotten today, Frank Baldwin was born in Michigan in 1842 and would have a military career that would span from the Civil War through World War I.

When the Civil War started in 1861 he was of prime military age. Enlisting with the Chandler Horse Guards of the Michigan Volunteers, he was commissioned a second lieutenant on Sept 19th, 1861 at just 19 years old. The Guards disbanded in 1862 and Baldwin took a commission with the 19th Michigan Volunteer Infantry as a first lieutenant. He remained with the 19th Michigan Volunteers for the remainder of the war.

The 19th Michigan’s first combat action was at Brentwood, Tennessee on March 25, 1863. They were part of the union force under Lt Col Bloodgood, who held the town and commanded about 400 men there.

Confederate Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest, in command of a large column of troops, was sent to seize the city from the Union forces. On the 24th, he’d ordered his 2nd brigade to move around the city, cut the telegraph lines, tear up railroad track, and set it up so the Northerners had no chance for retreat.

On the morning of the 25th, as Bloodgood was told that Forrest’s troops were about to attack, he attempted to notify his superiors only to find that the telegraph wires had been cut. Bloodgood refused Forrest’s demand for a surrender. Within the hour Forrest had artillery pieces in place to shell Bloodgood’s position.

Surrounded by a much larger force with no hope of retreat or reinforcement, Bloodgood surrendered the men under his command. The loss of the city was significant for the Union.

Thus 1st Lt Frank Baldwin was captured by the Confederates as a prisoner of war on his very first day of combat. Sent to the infamous Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. This prison, originally a building meant for food storage, was home to 1,000 prisoners stuffed into crowded, unsanitary conditions with barred windows that left the men exposed to the weather. Libby is remembered as one of the worst Confederate prison camps, behind only Andersonville Prison in Georgia.

Luckily for Baldwin, his stay at Libby was short. He was released as part of a large prisoner exchange. However, on October 5th, 1863, he was again captured by Confederate forces along with the rest of his men in Company D, 19th Michigan. However his second time as a prisoner was much shorter. He was released that same day.

Baldwin’s brigade commander recommended him for the Medal of Honor for his actions on Oct 5th, but the award was denied. He was recommended for his valiant defense of a railroad bridge near Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Promoted to captain in early 1864, Baldwin commanded Company D on July 20th of that year in the Battle of Peachtree Creek near Atlanta, Georgia. This battle was a continuation of a series of conflicts between union forces under William Tecumseh Sherman against Confederate forces which had started in Tennessee and saw the Confederates having retreated to the very doorstep of Atlanta, Peachtree Creek.

The Confederate forces had replaced their conservative commander here just days before. Political leaders in the Confederacy thought they needed to go on the offensive and not the defense as they had already given up significant ground to the Union.

On the morning of the 20th, the Union soldiers crossed the creek. Here they would be vulnerable to an attack. Seizing the moment, the Confederate commander attacked as the Union soldiers were working on defensive earthworks after crossing over.

During the battle that day, Baldwin charged ahead of his men. Under a hail of enemy fire, Baldwin singly ran ahead and entered the Confederates’ lines. He was able to capture two Confederate officers (still fully armed) and the guidon of a Georgia regiment. These battle flags being important communication devices and sources of great pride for the unit, so the capture of one was a significant boon. In light of his heroism that day, he received the Medal of Honor. One of only three awarded that day to the more than 21,000 Union men present.

Baldwin’s unit continued with Sherman on his famous “March to the Sea” campaign. Baldwin mustered out of the US Volunteers at the end of the Civil War in 1865. He entered the regular army in 1866 as a second lieutenant with the 19th United States Regular Infantry.

In 1869 Baldwin joined the 5th Infantry Regiment in the American West. He’d spend more than 30 years fighting in skirmishes with Indian forces across the West.

As a first lieutenant in 1874, on November 8th, Baldwin was in command of a scout company on escort duty when they conducted a surprise attack on the camp of Grey Beard, a Southern Cheyenne chief and medicine man. Grey Beard’s band of people, numbering about 500, had been in hiding in Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma). His group had come into possession of two abducted white girls after the girls’ family had been slaughtered by the Indians.

Baldwin’s attack, consisting of two companies of soldiers against the much larger force of Grey Beard’s, would see the band of Indians scattered and the two white hostages freed. Since Baldwin undertook this attack of his own accord against a superior force well entrenched, when waiting for reinforcement certainly would have been warranted but may have seen the Indian’s escape, he was awarded his second Medal of Honor.

The successful attack caused all of the hostile Indians in Grey Beard’s tribe to either leave the area or surrender, virtually ending Indian conflicts in the area.

Transferred to Montana after the disastrous Battle of the Little Bighorn (in which one of the subjects of last week’s part 1 perished), Baldwin was again cited for gallantry in action. On Dec 18th, 1876, Baldwin led an attack on Sitting Bull’s camp at Red Water River. He again drove off Crazy Horse’s forces at Wolf Mountain on Jan 8th, 1877. Recommended for brevet promotions on for both actions individually, he received a single brevet for gallant conduct to the rank of captain.

He continued to serve in the West for the remainder of the 19th Century, serving in many conflicts as well as peaceful resolutions with Indian tribes across the Great Plains. Baldwin also served the requisite staff assignments required of field grade officers, even back then, which took him to Europe as a judge advocate. He also rose steadily through the ranks.

As a colonel in 1901 Baldwin took command of the new 27th Infantry Regiment headed for the Philippines. The mission of the 27th was to make it to Lake Lanano, which had never before been seen by westerners. Protected the indiginous Moro people, the 27th came under attack as soon as they entered their territory in January, 1902. In May of that year his men finally pushed through the last of the Moros forces, crushing their resistance, and arriving at the lake. A month later Baldwin was made a brigadier general in recognition of his victory.

Baldwin retired from the Army in 1906. He was later advanced to major general on the retired list in 1915. During World War I he served as the Adjutant General of the Colorado National Guard from 1917 until 1919. He died in 1923 at age 80. A true legend of the West, Baldwin had even been close friends with Willian “Buffalo Bill” Cody, serving as a pallbearer at his funeral in 1917.


John Lafferty, who also received two Medals of Honor, is more of a mystery. As happened with many men involved in the Civil War, his records are spotty at best.

He is believed to have been born in Ireland, most likely in 1842, though reports (including one of his MoH citations) list him as being born in New York City and give year of birth as 1845 or 1849. His name is also spelled differently (Laverty) on one his two award citations, something found with regularity when dealing with foreignborn servicemembers during that period.

What is known is that Lafferty was a brave man. As a sailor in the United States Navy, he was a fireman who had enlisted from Pennsylvania for service during the Civil War. Aboard USS Wyalusing in the spring of 1864, he and his ship were part of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron posted in the area of Albemarle Sound, North Carolina.

CSS Albemarle, a confederate ironclad ramming gunboat, had made her first appearance in battle in April 1864, meeting Wyalusing on May 5th 1864. Wyalusing was a side wheel double-ended gunboat of wood construction, the exact type of ship that Albemarle was designed to ram and sink.

In this early battle, Wyalusing sparred with Albemarle and two Confederate steamers. During the engagement, Albemarle and her sister ships were able to succeed in fighting off Albemarle and captured one of the steamers. As evening drew in, Albemarle slunk away.

On the 25th of May a daring plan was hatched. Five sailors from Wyalusing would row up the river to Albemarle’s docking place at Plymouth, North Carolina with two 100-pound torpedos. Lafferty volunteered to be among these men.

The men paddled their way up the Middle River, a tributary of the Roanoke that in the area of Plymouth runs largely parallel to Roanoke. Getting as close as they could to the Albemarle’s mooring, the men hand carried the two 100-pound torpedoes by stretcher across the swampland that separates the Middle and Roanoke Rivers.

Once at the edge of the Roanoke River, one man was to swim across with the two torpedoes, placing them next to the ironclad where they would be remotely detonated by one of the men on the shore. As the sailor (Coxswain John W Lloyd) crossed the river with the weapons in tow the other men, including Lafferty, remained at the water’s edge to serve as a sentry. When Lloys was only a few yards away from his goal he was discovered by a Confederate guard. Lloyd cut the line and swam back to his compatriots under a hail of rifle fire.

The five men scattered. Lafferty and two other men returned to Wyalusing on the 28th and the remaining two on the 29th after being rescued by another ship. By the time Lafferty returned to the ship he’d spent more than 24 hours in the wet, rainy swamp.

Lafferty and his four cohorts in the daring raid received the Medal of Honor. The Albemarle would eventually be destroyed in a raid not unlike that undertaken by Lafferty in October 1864.

At some point after the war, Lafferty remained in US Navy service. Re-enlisting under the spelling Laverty, he was a first class fireman aboard USS Alaska in 1881. Alaska was a wooden-hulled sloop of war.

On September 14th 1881, there was a stop-valve failure in one of the boilers aboard Alaska in Callao Bay, Peru. As a fireman, Lafferty would have been part of the crew manning the fires that kept the boilers running. Fireman was considered a skilled position, roughly equivalent to one of the ship’s mates, what we would call a non-commissioned (petty) officer now, who oversaw coal heavers and worked below the engineers (who were officers). In a rare moment in which the Navy used a word or phrase in a way normal people can comprehend, coal heavers did exactly that. It was heavy, hard, unskilled labor.

After the stop-valve failed, Lafferty rushed into action. The only way to stop the release of steam when a valve ruptures like on that day on Alaska is to douse the fires. This is exactly what Lafferty did, by running under the boiler and manually hauling the burning coal out from under the boiler.

Anyone who’s worked with steam can attest to the power and danger inherent with the medium. Similarly, fire is not something to be taken lightly. When the two are combined, rushing into the breach and separating the two takes considerable lack of self-preservation instincts. Either one is more than capable of killing a man in short order. In light of this the Navy awarded him a second Medal of Honor.

We now return to where there’s little to no biographical information on Lafferty. It’s not known if he had any family that survived him when he passed in 1903 at the age of 60 (or perhaps 61) in Philadelphia.

Hand Salute. Ready, Two!

Thanks again, Mason.

Category: Guest Post, Politics, Valor

Comments (5)

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  1. 5th/77th FA says:

    I Salute the exploits of these Warriors.

    Another good history lesson. Thanks Mason!

  2. just lurkin says:

    The history of CSS Albemarle is worth explaining so that it can be understood how important it was for the Union to sink her. She had a sister ship, CSS Neuse, and they went into action on the same day. The Neuse on her namesake river and the Albemarle on the Roanoke, they were to coordinate with the division of MG Robert Hoke in an offensive meant to push Union forces out of eastern N.C. in 1864. The ultimate goal was to take the federal stronghold of New Bern.

    Neuse ran aground not long after she launched and was essentially useless for the rest of the war. Albemarle was able to make her way down the river and fought an action on the Roanoke near Plymouth N.C. defeating a small Union flotilla and sinking USS Southfield. After driving off the federal navy she shelled Union positions in Plymouth until the federals surrendered (Plymouth is sometimes referred to as the “last Confederate victory” of the war).

    However, the rebel offensive still had to figure out how to take New Bern and without the Neuse there would be no naval support in any action there. Due to this fact it was decided that the Albemarle must try to sail down the Roanoke and out into the Albemarle sound and try to press on to New Bern that way. Near the mouth of the river the Albemarle encountered the federal fleet in the action described above. The Union fired hundreds of rounds at the Albemarle, but inflicted no casualties. The primary damage to the ironclad was to her smokestack which was riddled with holes such that it was difficult to maintain the fires in her boilers and her crew had to throw butter and meat into her fires to keep them stoked.

    The Albemarle was sunk by Will Cushing, who I talked about in one of the previous posts. In the action near Plymouth Union officer Charles Flusser, a close friend of Cushing’s, had been killed and he was at least partially motivated in undertaking his raid by a desire for revenge.

    • Mason says:

      Thanks for sharing more information. I’ve been enjoying this series. One thing that’s been interesting to me is learning more about the naval half of the Civil War. Not as well known.

  3. ninja says:

    Another great History lesson about our Warriors.

    Thank You, Mason, for sharing these stories of Valor.

  4. aGrimm says:

    Mason: I really enjoy these articles.

    Salute to you and the MOH recipients.