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CDV, General Roger W. Hanson

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Colonel of the 2nd Kentucky Infantry

Captured at Fort Donelson, Tennessee in February 1862

Mortally wounded on January 2, 1863 at the Battle of Murfreesboro while leading a charge which cost his brigade 400 casualties

General Hanson's dying words: "I die in a just cause, having done my duty."

From the personal collection of Surgeon & General Bernard John Dowling Irwin. Irwin has the distinct honor of being the first recipient of the Medal of Honor in U.S. military history by date of action, February 13, 1861


(1827-63) Born in Clark County, Kentucky, he served as 1st lieutenant of the 4th Kentucky Volunteers in the Mexican War, and was cited for bravery at the Battle of Cerro Gordo. After the war he returned home to Kentucky and studied law in Lexington, where he engaged in a duel with a classmate. He was shot in the leg just above the knee, making him lame for the rest of his life. In 1853 and 1855 he was a member of the Kentucky State legislature, and in 1860 he stumped the state for the Presidential election ticket of Bell and Everett. Hanson was a colonel in the Kentucky State Guard in 1861, and on September 3rd of that year was commissioned colonel of the 2nd Kentucky Infantry, C.S.A. Captured at the Battle of Fort Donelson, Tennessee, in February 1862, by Union General Ulysses S. Grant, he was exchanged 7 months later for General Michael Corcoran. Hanson was presented with a new horse by admiring friends, and his regiment reenlisted for the war, and Hanson was promoted to brigadier general on December 13, 1862. He commanded his old regiment, the 2nd Kentucky Infantry, as well as the 3rd, 4th, 6th and 9th Kentucky Infantry Regiments, serving in General John C. Breckenridge's division, and Lieutenant General William J. Hardee's corps. He led the Kentucky Brigade, known as "The Orphan Brigade," in his first battle as a general, at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on January 2, 1863. General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate army, ordered General Breckenridge's division to take a hill occupied by Union forces several hundred yards in his front, that was well protected by massed Union artillery. General Breckenridge and his brigade commanders, including Hanson, agreed that this mission was impossible, and Hanson was so furious that he had to be physically restrained from attempting to kill General Bragg. The attack began at 4 p.m., and moving in good order the Confederates seized the hill, but then the Union guns opened up with a devastating fire on the Rebs. While leading a charge which cost his brigade 400 casualties, General Hanson was mortally wounded when he was struck above the left knee by a fuse from an artillery case shot that severed his artery. General Breckenridge, the original commander of "The Orphan Brigade," rode among the survivors, crying out repeatedly, "My poor Orphans! My poor Orphans," They vainly tried to stop the bleeding in General Hanson's leg, and nursed by his wife, he died two days later in a house near the battlefield. His last words were "I die in a just cause, having done my duty." Hanson was considered to be a dependable subordinate who could be counted on to have his troops ready for battle, and to carry out his orders in a timely manner. General Breckenridge remarked in his official report, "Endeared to his friends by his private virtues and to his command by the vigilance with which he guarded its interest and honor, he was, by the universal testimony of his military associates, one of the finest officers that adorned the service of the Confederate States." Temporarily buried in Nashville, he was reinterred in Lexington, Kentucky, on November 11, 1866. In 1895, the survivors of the "Orphan Brigade," dedicated a monument to General Hanson's memory.

Wet plate, albumen carte de visite photograph, mounted to 2 3/8 x 4 card. Standing view wearing a double breasted Confederate frock coat with braiding on his sleeves and the rank of colonel while wearing his sash around his waist. He strikes a Napoleonic pose and stands next to a table at his side with a vase of flowers on it. Back mark: Published by E. & H.T. Anthony, 501 Broadway, New York. Very minor corner wear. This is the best known war time image of Hanson and was probably taken just before he was captured at Fort Donelson, Tennessee in 1862. This image came from the Surgeon and General Bernard J.D. Irwin collection. Written in period ink in Irwin's hand on the front mount is, Major Genl. Roger Hanson, C.S.A. This is image No. 155 in the Irwin collection as indicated on the verso of the card. Excellent photograph. Very desirable. Rare.

History of United States Surgeon & General Bernard John Dowling Irwin

Surgeon & General Irwin was the first United States Medal of Honor Recipient by date of action, February 13, 1861.

(1830-1917) Born in County Roscommon, Ireland, he immigrated with his parents to the United States in the 1840s. He attended New York University from 1848 to 1849, and then served as a private in the New York Militia. In 1850, he entered Castleton Medical College, and he later transferred to New York Medical College, where he graduated in 1852.

He served as a surgeon and physician at the State Emigrant Hospital on Ward's Island, NYC, until his appointment as assistant surgeon in the U.S. Army in 1856. He was an assistant army surgeon during the Apache Wars, and was the first Medal of Honor recipient chronologically by date of action. His actions on February 13, 1861, at Apache Pass, Arizona, are the earliest for which the Medal of Honor was awarded! The citation on his medal of honor reads; "Voluntarily took command of troops and attacked and defeated hostile Indians he met on the way. Surgeon Irwin volunteered to go to the rescue of 2d Lt. George N. Bascom, 7th U.S. Infantry, who, with 60 men, was trapped by Chiricahua Apaches under Cochise. Irwin and 14 men, not having horses, began the 100-mile march riding mules. After fighting and capturing Indians, recovering stolen horses and cattle, he reached Bascom's column and helped break his siege."

Cochise, the Apache Indian chief, and a group of Apache warriors were accused of kidnapping a boy and a small group of U.S. soldiers in the Arizona Territory after the Army had captured Cochise's brother and nephews. When the Army refused to make a prisoner exchange, Cochise killed his prisoners. Soldiers then killed Cochise's brother and nephews. 2nd Lieutenant George Nicholas Bascom led a group of 60 men from the 7th U.S. Infantry after Cochise but was soon besieged, prompting a rescue mission by the army. In response to the siege of Bascom and his men, Irwin set out on a rescue mission with 14 men of the 1st U.S. Dragoons. He was able to catch up with the Apaches at Apache Pass in present day Arizona. He strategically placed his small unit around Cochise and his men, tricking the Apache leader into thinking that he had a much larger army with him. The Apaches fled and Bascom and his men were saved. Bascom and his men joined Irwin and together they were able to track Cochise into the mountains & rescued the young boy that Cochise had captured.

The Medal of Honor did not exist during the time of the "Bascom Incident," and would not be established until a year later in 1862. However, the actions of Irwin were well remembered, and he was awarded the Medal of Honor just prior to his retirement. Irwin's actions were the earliest for which the Medal of Honor was awarded, predating the outbreak of the American Civil War.

Irwin subsequently served with the Union army during the Civil War, and was promoted to captain in August 1861, and the next year was appointed medical director under Major General William "Bull" Nelson. He improvised one of the first field hospitals used by the U.S. Army at the Battle of Shiloh, on April 7, 1862. He was captured during the Battle of Richmond, Ky., while attempting to save the wounded General Nelson. He was promoted to major in September 1862, and after his release from a Rebel prison he became medical director in the Army of the Southwest. From 1863 to 1865, he was superintendent of the military hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and in March of 1865, he was brevetted to the rank of colonel. He was a companion of the California Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, and the Order of the Indian Wars of the United States. After the Civil War, Irwin served as a senior medical officer at several U.S. army posts, including West Point from 1873 to 1878. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in September 1885, to colonel in August 1890, and to brigadier general in April 1904. He died in Ontario, Canada, on December 15, 1917, and is buried in the West Point Cemetery, at the U.S. Military Academy, New York.

His son George LeRoy Irwin, graduated from West Point in 1889, and served in World War I, becoming a Major General in the U.S. Army.

His grandson Stafford LeRoy Irwin, graduated from West Point in 1915, and served in World War II, and became a Lieutenant General in the U.S. Army.

His daughter, Amy Irwin Addams McCormick, was a nurse with the American Red Cross and served during World War I.

General Irwin was an admirer and collector of photographs, and he put together a very large, and superb collection of Union and Confederate images. Interestingly, he collected photographs of both Rebel and Yankee alike. I have owned several famous military photograph albums before and never came across one that collected images from both sides of the rebellion. He numbered each individual image, and wrote a brief historical notation on each one. The collection was split up by another dealer, and by the time I found out about it, I was still very fortunate to be able to acquire about one third of his superb Civil War image collection. Each image is rare because it is "one of a kind" having come from the Irwin collection!

The image of B.J.D. Irwin pictured here is a copy photograph from the "Find a Grave" website and is used here for illustration purposes only.



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