Today’s Medal of Honor Moment for 3 June

There are fifteen Medals awarded for actions on this day, spanning the Civil War to WWII, including a lot of fights over colors, a too-clever naval officer and the ratings who broke the cardinal rule and volunteered, and a Colonel who went in harm’s way and caused one of his Sergeants to earn the Medal.

Medal of Honor recipient Richmond P Hobson. Courtesy the CMOHS.

Civil War and the Battle of Cold Harbor. The last major “victory” (gained at such cost as to ensure that the Army of the Potomac was going to essentially grind the Army of Northern Virginia to ineffectiveness) of the Army of Northern Virginia. This day, June 3, was the bloodiest of many bloody days of the two weeks of fighting that culminated Grant’s Overland Campaign. Unit colors, as they often do, loom large here, and bearing those colors was a very dangerous, if sought-after, duty. Lastly, I may dig around to try and find out why Sergeant William’s dead colonel was perambulating close to the enemy’s lines – not a usual location to find the commander of the Heavy Artillery unit.

BEGLEY, Terrence RANK: PRIVATE UNIT/COMMAND: COMPANY D, 7TH NEW YORK HEAVY ARTILLERY DATE: JUNE 3, 1864 PLACE: COLD HARBOR, VIRGINIA, USA
CITATION: Shot a Confederate color bearer, 26th Virginia Infantry, rushed forward and seized his colors, and although exposed to heavy fire, regained the lines in safety.

BOSS, Orlando P RANK: CORPORAL UNIT/COMMAND: COMPANY F, 25TH MASSACHUSETTS INFANTRY DATE: JUNE 3, 1864 PLACE: COLD HARBOR, VIRGINIA, USA
CITATION: Rescued his lieutenant, who was lying between the lines mortally wounded; this under a heavy fire from the enemy.

CASEY, David P RANK: PRIVATE (HIGHEST RANK: CORPORAL) UNIT/COMMAND: COMPANY C, 25TH MASSACHUSETTS INFANTRY DATE: JUNE 3, 1864 PLACE: COLD HARBOR, VIRGINIA, USA
CITATION: Two color bearers having been shot dead one after the other, the last one far in advance of his regiment and close to the enemy’s lines, this soldier rushed forward, and, under a galling fire, after removing the dead body of the bearer therefrom, secured the flag and returned with it to the Union lines.

SEITZINGER, James M RANK: PRIVATE (HIGHEST RANK: SERGEANT) UNIT/COMMAND: COMPANY G, 116TH PENNSYLVANIA INFANTRY DATE: JUNE 3, 1864 PLACE: COLD HARBOR, VIRGINIA, USA
CITATION: When the color bearer was shot down, this soldier seized the colors and bore them gallantly in a charge against the enemy.

TINKHAM, Eugene M RANK: CORPORAL (HIGHEST RANK: SERGEANT) UNIT/COMMAND: COMPANY H, 148TH NEW YORK INFANTRY DATE: JUNE 3, 1864 PLACE: COLD HARBOR, VIRGINIA, USA
CITATION: Though himself wounded, voluntarily left the rifle pits, crept out between the lines and, exposed to the severe fire of the enemy’s guns at close-range, brought within the lines two wounded and helpless comrades.

WILLIAMS, Leroy RANK: SERGEANT (HIGHEST RANK: FIRST LIEUTENANT) UNIT/COMMAND: COMPANY G, 8TH NEW YORK HEAVY ARTILLERY DATE: JUNE 3, 1864 PLACE: COLD HARBOR, VIRGINIA, USA
CITATION: Voluntarily exposed himself to the fire of the enemy’s sharpshooters and located the body of his colonel who had been killed close to the enemy’s lines. Under cover of darkness, with four companions, he recovered the body and brought it within the Union lines, having approached within a few feet of the Confederate pickets while so engaged.

Spanish-American War, in the harbor entrance at Santiago. There is essentially one citation for all them, so I’ve listed the citation with the first sailor, and then the names and ranks. Being alphabetic by name – you should know that this whole thing was Lieutenant Hobson’s idea, and, fortunately, failed. Showing that once upon a time the US military wasn’t a “zero defects” environment, Hobson went on to earn the cuff stripes of a Rear Admiral.

Here’s an excerpt from this post at the Spanish American War Centennial website:

“One of the most dramatic events of the Spanish American War, and one which caught the public imagination, was that of the deliberate sinking of the collier MERRIMAC. The MERRIMAC was a collier (coal supply vessel) that had suffered continual breakdowns when serving with Schley’s Flying Squadron. She had been commanded by Commander James M. Miller. However, with Assistant Naval Constructor Richmond Hobson’s plan for using her on a “suicide” mission, Miller was replaced by Hobson, over Miller’s objections. Hobson modified the broken-down collier to be operated by a skeleton crew of eight men, and rigged with explosives to be blown at his command. The plan was to take the ship into the narrow channel leading into Santiago Harbor and sink it, blocking the channel. This would block the Spanish fleet within the harbor, therefore basically nullifying its existence. The crew was all volunteer, since the mission was virtually a suicide mission, with little chance for the crew to escape, though an attempt would be made. During the attack, the vessel was exposed to gunfire from the batteries surrounding the channel entrance, mines in the channel, and the guns and torpedoes of the Spanish vessels REINA MERCEDES and PLUTON.
The mission itself was a failure. The MERRIMAC’s steering gear was damaged by enemy fire and though the vessel sunk, it did not block the channel. Hobson and his crew were captured. They were all eventually exchanged, with Hobson becoming an overnight celebrity nationwide.

In hindsight, the U.S. forces were lucky that the effort did fail, as the Spanish fleet would have been trapped in the harbor with crews and guns still able to defend Santiago itself. For Spain, the situation would have been better if the effort had succeeded, perhaps resulting in much less loss of Spanish life and a better bargaining position in peace negotiations.

Also, in an ironic twist, after the loss of the Spanish naval squadron in the Battle of Santiago, the Spanish themselves attempted to block the harbor entrance by sinking the REINA MERCEDES in the same area where the U.S. Navy attempted to sink MERRIMAC. This attempt was also a failure.”

CHARETTE, George RANK: GUNNER’S MATE FIRST CLASS (HIGHEST RANK: LIEUTENANT) UNIT/COMMAND: U.S.S. MERRIMAC ASSIGNED TO THE U.S.S. NEW YORK
DATE: JUNE 3, 1898 PLACE: SANTIAGO DE CUBA HARBOR ENTRANCE, CUBA
CITATION: In connection with the sinking of the U.S.S. Merrimac at the entrance to the harbor of Santiago de Cuba, 2 June 1898. Despite heavy fire from the Spanish batteries, Charette displayed extraordinary heroism throughout this operation.

The other seven commando sailors were:
CLAUSEN, Claus K RANK: COXSWAIN (HIGHEST RANK: LIEUTENANT) UNIT/COMMAND: U.S.S. MERRIMAC ASSIGNED TO THE U.S.S. NEW YORK
DEIGNAN, Osborn W RANK: COXSWAIN (HIGHEST RANK: BOATSWAIN) UNIT/COMMAND: U.S.S. MERRIMAC
HOBSON, Richmond P RANK: LIEUTENANT (HIGHEST RANK: REAR ADMIRAL) UNIT/COMMAND: U.S.S. MERRIMAC
KELLY, Francis RANK: WATERTENDER (HIGHEST RANK: CHIEF MACHINIST’S MATE)
MONTAGUE, Daniel RANK: CHIEF MASTER-AT-ARMS (HIGHEST RANK: CHIEF BOATSWAIN) UNIT/COMMAND: U.S.S. MERRIMAC ASSIGNED TO THE U.S.S. NEW YORK
MURPHY, John E RANK: COXSWAIN UNIT/COMMAND: U.S.S. MERRIMAC ASSIGNED TO THE U.S.S. IOWA
PHILLIPS, George F RANK: MACHINIST FIRST CLASS (HIGHEST RANK: CHIEF MACHINIST) UNIT/COMMAND: U.S.S. MERRIMAC

World War II – the second day of the fighting that garnered two of yesterday’s Medals give us our last, and only posthumous, Medal for this day thus far in our history.

First – some context, provided by the US Army pamphlet on the Rome-Arno campaign:

Yet on the evening of 27-28 May, patrols of the 36th Division scored a major coup when they discovered a gap between the 362d Infantry and Hermann Goering Divisions atop Monte Artemisio. In a move which more than made up for the 36th Division’s earlier failure on the Rapido, the 141st, 142d, and 143d Infantry regiments quickly occupied the heights, and artillerymen soon brought High- way 6, the main German supply line, under fire at Valmontone. To General Truscott this was the turning point in the Allied drive to the north. Kesselring was furious with Mackensen for allowing the ridgeline to fall and ordered it retaken at all costs. But all of the German counterattacks failed, and when Valmontone became untenable because of American artillery fire, Mackensen was relieved of command and replaced by Lt. Gen. Joachim Lemelsen.

The new Fourteenth Army commander could do little to reverse the tide of events. When units of the II and VI Corps began to exploit the gap made by the 36th Division, and when the FEC and Eighth Army renewed their attacks (north of Frosinone), Kesselring was forced on 2 June to order all German units to break off contact and withdraw north. Declaring Rome an open city on 3 June, the Tenth and Fourteenth Armies conducted an orderly retreat through the city. Only the suburbs were contested. On orders from Hitler, the wholesale vandalism and demolitions that had characterized the evacuation of Naples the previous fall were not repeated.

During the night of 4 June elements of the 1st Special Service Force, 1st Armored Division, and the 3d, 34th, 36th, 85th, and 88th Infantry Divisions entered Rome and quickly moved north. On the following morning large numbers of Romans poured into the streets to give the long columns of American soldiers still passing through Rome a tumultuous welcome. The American troops who actually liberated the city, however, had passed through Rome during the early morning hours in darkness and near silence and were again engaging the Germans along a twenty-mile front on the Tiber River.

The liberation of Rome made headlines around the world and was greeted by the Allies with great joy. Yet the capture of this first Axis capital had a high price. Since the start of DIADEM on 11 May, the Fifth Army had suffered a total of 17,931 American casualties: 3,145 killed, 13,704 wounded, and 1,082 missing—30 percent of the total casualties suffered by the Americans since Salerno in September 1943. French and British Fifth Army casualties numbered 10,635 and 3,355 respectively. The Eighth Army counted casualties of 11,639, bringing total Allied losses during the campaign to over 43,000. German losses were estimated at 38,000, for both Tenth and Fourteenth Armies, not including 15,606 prisoners of war.

Among those 3,145 killed have been three of our Medal of Honor holders highlighted here.  Private Nakamine, and Private Herbert Christian yesterday, and today, Private Elden Johnson, both of the 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.  Wars are lost by Generals.  They are won by such men.

*JOHNSON, ELDEN H.

Rank and organization: Private, U.S. Army, 15th Infantry, 3d Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Valmontone, Italy, 3 June 1944. Entered service at: East Weymouth, Mass. Birth: Bivalue, N.J. G.O. No.: 38, 16 May 1945. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. Pvt. Johnson elected to sacrifice his life in order that his comrades might extricate themselves from an ambush. Braving the massed fire of about 60 riflemen, 3 machineguns, and 3 tanks from positions only 25 yards distant, he stood erect and signaled his patrol leader to withdraw. The whole area was brightly illuminated by enemy flares. Then, despite 20mm. machineguns, machine pistol, and rifle fire directed at him, Pvt. Johnson advanced beyond the enemy in a slow deliberate walk. Firing his automatic rifle from the hip, he succeeded in distracting the enemy and enabled his 12 comrades to escape. Advancing to within 5 yards of a machinegun, emptying his weapon, Pvt. Johnson killed its crew. Standing in full view of the enemy he reloaded and turned on the riflemen to the left, firing directly into their positions. He either killed or wounded 4 of them. A burst of machinegun fire tore into Pvt. Johnson and he dropped to his knees. Fighting to the very last, he steadied himself on his knees and sent a final burst of fire crashing into another German. With that he slumped forward dead. Pvt. Johnson had willingly given his life in order that his comrades might live. These acts on the part of Pvt. Johnson were an inspiration to the entire command and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the armed forces.

*Indicates a posthumous award.

Published by The Armorer

A grumpy old Cincinnatus who feeds goats, dogs, cats, ducks, peafowl, a horse, and sundry avians, especially in the winter. From time to time you will see guns. Until such time as the Progressives repeal the 2nd Amendment, everything you see is legal, Federal, State, Local, where I live. Your progressive paradise may have different rules. Don't project them onto me. Federalism still exists, even if it is but a shadow of what the Framers intended.

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2 Comments

  1. If I had to guess, I’d venture that the 7th NY Heavy Artillery was one of the units of ‘heavies’ that were pulled out of the Washington forts to strengthen the Army of the Potomac prior to Grant launching his offensive.

  2. It looks like they fought more often as infantry than artillery: “Few regiments in the service achieved a higher reputation for hard fighting and efficiency than this splendid organization. Says Col. Fox, who includes it among the three hundred fighting regiments: “The regiment performed garrison duty until May, 1864, when it was sent with the other heavy artillery commands to the front to reinforce Gen. Grant. It was in action for the first time at Spottsylvania. Va., where it lost 8 killed, 21 wounded and 4 missing. At Cold Harbor the 8th lost 80 killed, 339 wounded and 86 missing; total, 505—it having twelve large companies engaged there. In that battle Col. Porter led the regiment in its grand charge upon the enemy’s works and fell dead in the extreme advance. Eight officers were killed in that action. In the assault on Petersburg the regiment made another gallant attack on the Confederate lines, in which Col. Bates and Maj. Blake fell mortally wounded .In the actions around Petersburg in June, 1864, the regiment lost 42 killed, 261 wounded and 5 missing, a total of 308. Though known as an artillery regiment, the men carried rifles and were drilled as infantry. When they took the field, their full ranks—twelve companies of 150 men each—made them a very efficient organization, but their heavy losses in action soon reduced their long lines, until but few were left to witness the last fight at Appomattox.”

    https://museum.dmna.ny.gov/unit-history/artillery/8th-artillery-regiment

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