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Home : News : News Features
NEWS | Jan. 5, 2017

Medal of Honor history: Ohioan who belonged to Guard predecessor was first recipient

By Katie Lange DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Pvt. Jacob Parrott, a member of the Ohio Volunteer Militia – the predecessor to the Ohio National Guard – has the distinction of being the first person to receive the Medal of Honor, on March 25, 1863.

Parrott is featured online in a new history of the Medal of Honor, posted by the Defense Department.

Congress authorized the Medal of Honor in December 1861, specifically for the Department of the Navy, but within two months it was adapted for Army recipients as well.

The medal is now bestowed on individuals serving in any branch of the armed forces who have performed a personal act of valor above and beyond the call of duty in action against an enemy force. There are currently three variations of the medal.

Since January is the first month of the year, DoD said, it's going to highlight some of the "firsts" this month. So it's fitting to start with the very first recipient to ever receive the medal: Parrott.

Parrott was born on July 17, 1843, in Fairfield County, Ohio. He enlisted in the Army as part of Company K, 33rd Ohio Voluntary Infantry, during the Civil War.

In April 1862, Parrot and nearly 24 other volunteers were given orders to go deep into enemy territory and destroy bridges and railroad tracks between Chattanooga, Tennessee and Atlanta. Once they reached the Atlanta area, the Union soldiers hopped on a train heading north.

When the train stopped at Big Shanty, Georgia, the passengers and crew got off for breakfast, but the raiders stayed on and began their covert mission by uncoupling the engine, fuel car and three boxcars and steaming out of the station.

The raiders gained a little bit of distance and were able to damage a few bridges, but it wasn't long before Confederate soldiers got a hold of another train and were hot on their trail. The Union Soldiers uncoupled more of the stolen cars to slow their pursuers, but the move was to little effect.

Eventually, the train ran out of fuel near the Georgia-Tennessee border, and all of the Union Soldiers tried to get away on foot. They were all captured, including Parrott.

Parrott was eventually returned to the Union in a prisoner exchange in March 1863. For his part in the raid, he was awarded the very first Medal of Honor that same month, with five of his comrades receiving the same distinction shortly thereafter.

In the more than 150 years since then, 3,498 service members of all different backgrounds and branches have earned the medal, including 88 African-Americans, 59 Hispanic-Americans, 33 Asian-Americans and 32 Native Americans. Only one woman has received the distinction, while nine unknown Soldiers have earned it. Just 19 people have achieved the rare distinction of earning it twice.