Biden to award Medal of Honor to two Civil War soldiers


President Biden on Wednesday will posthumously award the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor, to two Civil War soldiers for their part in one of the earliest special operations in U.S. Army history.

Biden will award Pvt. Philip G. Shadrach and Pvt. George D. Wilson “for their gallantry and intrepidity while participating in a covert military operation 200 miles behind Confederate lines on April 12, 1862,” according to a White House official.

During what later became known as the Great Locomotive Chase, the Union Army soldiers infiltrated the Confederacy while dressed as civilians, hijacked a train in Georgia and drove it north for 87 miles, destroying the rebel’s infrastructure along the way by tearing up railroad tracks and cutting telegraph wires.

Shadrach and Wilson were among the 22 men involved in the mission — also known as Andrews’ Raid – six of whom became the Army’s first recipients of the then-newly created Medal of Honor. 

It is unknown why Shadrach and Wilson, who were both captured and killed after the event, were not originally recommended for the Medal of Honor. The House in 2008 passed a bill that would retroactively award the honor to them, but the legislation had not been acted upon until Wednesday.

Thought up by James J. Andrews, a Kentucky-born civilian spy and scout, the Great Locomotive Chase was meant to degrade the railway and communication lines that supported the Confederacy stronghold of Chattanooga, Tenn. Andrews and 23 other men infiltrated the South in small groups, meeting north of Atlanta in Marietta, Ga. 

On April 12, 1862, 22 of the men hijacked a locomotive known as the General and were pursued by Confederate soldiers. Just 18 miles from Chattanooga, the men abandoned the train after it ran out of fuel, but all were caught within two weeks.

Andrews was found guilty of spying and was executed by hanging June 7, 1862, in Atlanta. Seven others, including Shadrach and Wilson, were also convicted as spies, hanged in Atlanta on June 18, and buried in an unmarked grave. They were later reburied in Chattanooga National Cemetery. 

Shadrach, a native Pennsylvanian and orphan, was only 21 years old and part of the Union Army’s K 2d Ohio Infantry Regiment when he volunteered for the raid. Wilson, born in Belmont County, Ohio, was originally a shoemaker when he enlisted in the Union Army’s Company B, 2nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry at about 32 years old.

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