On this day in history, Feb. 13, 1861, U.S. Army assistant surgeon Bernard John Dowling “J.D.” Irwin rescued a kidnapped boy and 60 soldiers surrounded by legendary Apache warrior Cochise.
Irwin’s valiant volunteer effort in the Arizona Territory has gone down in American military history as the first Congressional Medal of Honor action.
It happened before the award even existed.
During the Civil War the following year, the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest recognition of valor, was established.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN IS BORN IN KENTUCKY ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY, FEBRUARY 12, 1809.
In 1894, Irwin was awarded the Medal of Honor.
During the rescue effort, the surgeon volunteered to lead 14 men and a mule train on a 100-mile trek through a blizzard.
On February 13, 1861, Bernard “J.D.” Irwin rescued 60 men and a kidnapped boy from Apache warriors. It was the first action in American military history to receive a Medal of Honor.
On February 13, 1861, Bernard “J.D.” Irwin rescued 60 men and a kidnapped boy from Apache warriors. It was the first action in American military history to receive a Medal of Honor. (In the public domain)
According to multiple sources, the dramatic encounter began days earlier when a band of Apaches kidnapped a young boy who had settled in Arizona Territory with his family.
The kidnapping sparked a mad dash by American troops from Fort Breckenridge, who were then surrounded by Apaches.
“Assistant Surgeon Irwin voluntarily took command of troops and attacked and defeated hostile Indians he encountered on the way,” reads Irwin’s Medal of Honor citation, which was issued more than 30 years later.
“Irwin was adamant that he would now use his military skills to save his comrades.” — http://HomeOfHeroes.com/
“Surgeon Irwin volunteered to go to the aid of Second Lieutenant George N. Bascom of the 7th Infantry, who was trapped with 60 men by Chiricahua Apaches led by Cochise… Irwin and 14 other men began the 100-mile march on mules because they lacked horses. He reached Bascom’s column and helped break his siege after fighting and capturing Indians and recovering stolen horses and cattle.”
HomeofHeroes.com, a website dedicated to Medal of Honor history, provides a more dramatic account of the historical day.
MEET CHARLES ‘CHIEF’ ANDERSON, THE AMERICAN WHO TEACHED THE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN TO FLY.
“Used to using his medical skills to save lives, Irwin was determined to now use his military skills to save his comrades,” according to the outlet.
Due to limited resources at Fort Breckenridge, he was only permitted to bring mules and a few men.