Joachim Pease's early Congressional Medal of Honor
- Published: Oct 3, 2017, 5 AM
Visitors to the National Museum of the United States Navy have the opportunity to see on display one of the earliest examples of the Medal of Honor, one awarded — but never presented — to its recipient.
The medal awarded in 1864 for gallantry under fire to Seaman Joachim Pease, a loader on Gun No. 2 aboard the USS Kearsarge, is on exhibit at the museum, located in the former Breech Mechanism Shop of the old Naval Gun Factory on the grounds of the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.
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The medal is absent any suspension ribbon, although holes are included at the top for such suspension.
The reverse of the medal is engraved with the citation: PERSONAL VALOR / JOACHIM PEASE / COLORED SEAMAN / U.S.S. KEARSARGE / DESTRUCTION ON THE ALABAMA / JUNE 9, 1864.
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Pease is recorded as having enlisted in the U.S. Navy on Jan. 12, 1862, for a three-year enlistment. While aboard the sloop-of-war USS Kearsarge on June 19, 1864, the warship and its crew encounted the Confederate sloop-of-war CSS Alabama off the coast of Cherbourg, France. Within an hour of the Kearsarge's first salvo, the Alabama was reduced to a floating wreck.
For his gallantry under fire, Pease was recommended for the Medal of Honor by the divisional officer.
Pease left the Navy upon completion of his enlistment, never having been awarded his Medal of Honor.
First Medal of Honor
The first Medals of Honor awarded were those designed for the Navy, predating the Army’s version. They were the first approved and the first designed. The reverses were plain in order to receive the engraving of the recipient's citation.
According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society:
“The initial work was done by the Philadelphia Mint at the request of Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles. The Mint submitted several designs for consideration, and the one prepared by the Philadelphia firm of William Wilson & Sons was the design selected.
“The selected Medal of Honor design consisted of an INVERTED, 5-pointed STAR. On each of the five points was a cluster of LAUREL leaves to represent victory, mixed with a cluster of OAK to represent strength. Surrounding the encircled insignia were 34 stars, equal to the number of stars in the U.S. Flag at the time in 1862. ... one star for each state of the Union including the 11 Confederate states. The stars are also symbolic of the ‘heavens and the divine goal which man has aspired to since time immemorial’ according to Charles Thompson, Secretary of the Continental Congress back in 1777.
“Inside the circle of 34 stars were engraved two images. To the right is the image of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and war. On her helmet is perched an owl, representing WISDOM. In keeping with the Roman tradition, her left hand holds a bundle of rods and an ax blade, symbolic of authority. The shield in her right hand is the shield of the Union of our states (similar to the shield on our seal and other important emblems.)
“Recoiling from Minerva is a man clutching snakes in his hands. He represented DISCORD and the insignia came to be known as ‘Minerva Repulsing Discord.’ Taken in the context of the Civil War soldiers and sailors struggling to overcome the discord of the states and preserve the Union, the design was as fitting as it was symbolic.
“The ribbon that held the medal was originally a blue bar on top and 13 red and white stripes running vertically. The 13 represents the original 13 colonies. The color white represents purity and innocence, red represents hardiness, valor and blood, blue signifies vigilance, perseverance and justice. The stripes also represent the rays of the sun.”
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