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CDV, General William J. Hardee

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Wounded at the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee in April 1862

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


(1815-73) Born at the Rural Felicity Plantation in Camden County, Georgia, he would become known as "Old Reliable" during his Civil War career. He graduated in the West Point class of 1838, and was commissioned 2nd lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Dragoons upon his graduation. He fought in the Mexican War and was brevetted for gallantry at Medelin, Vera Cruz and St. Augustin. He was second in command to Captain Seth B. Thornton, when they were ambushed and surrounded by Mexican troops and subsequently captured on April 25, 1846, at Carricitos Ranch, Texas, during what would become known as the "Thornton Affair." He was exchanged on May 11th. Now serving under General Winfield Scott, Captain Hardee was wounded in a skirmish at La Rosia, Mexico, in 1847, which was about 30 miles above Matamoros. After the war, he led units of Texas Rangers and soldiers in Texas. Afterwards, he served as the commandant of cadets at West Point, from 1856-60. He wrote the standard textbook, "Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics," at the behest of the U.S. Secretary of War at the time, Jefferson Davis. It was later used by both the Union and Confederate armies and it became the best known drill manual in the Civil War. He is also said to have designed the "Hardee" hat about this time. When his native state of Georgia seceded from the Union, he resigned his lieutenant colonelcy in the U.S. Army, and was appointed brigadier general in the Confederacy on June 17, 1861, and major general on October 7th. His initial assignment was to organize a brigade of Arkansas regiments and he impressed his men and fellow officers by solving difficult supply problems and for the thorough training he gave his brigade. He received his nickname of "Old Reliable" while with this command. General Hardee operated in Arkansas until he was called to join General Albert Sidney Johnston's Army of Central Kentucky as a corps commander. Johnston would withdraw from Kentucky and Tennessee, into Mississippi, before launching a surprise attack at the Battle of Shiloh in the spring of 1862. Hardee was wounded in the arm on April 6, 1862, during the first day of the battle. General Albert Sidney Johnston was killed at Shiloh, and Hardee's corps joined General Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee prior to the Siege of Corinth, Mississippi, until Department Commander P.G.T. Beauregard evacuated the town and withdrew to Tupelo. General Beauregard was replaced by General Braxton Bragg, who subsequently moved his army to Chattanooga before embarking on his Heartland Offensive into Kentucky. That campaign concluded with the Battle of Perryville on October 8, 1862, where Hardee commanded the Left Wing of Bragg's army. He was promoted to lieutenant general to rank from October 10, 1862, becoming one of the first Confederate officers to achieve that rank. In arguably his most successful battle, at Murfreesboro, Tenn., which was fought from December 31, 1862, to January 2, 1863, his 2nd Corps launched a massive surprise assault upon the right flank of General William S. Rosecrans's army, driving it almost to defeat, but again, as had happened at Perryville, General Bragg failed to follow up his tactical success, opting instead to withdraw before the arrival of Union reinforcements. After the Tullahoma Campaign, Hardee lost patience with the irascible Bragg and briefly commanded the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana under General Joseph E. Johnston. General Hardee returned to Bragg's army after the Battle of Chickamauga, taking over the corps of General Leonidas Polk at Chattanooga, Tenn., besieging the Union army there. During the Chattanooga Campaign in November 1863, Hardee's Corps of the Army of Tennessee was defeated when Union troops under General George H. Thomas assaulted their seemingly impregnable defensive lines at the Battle of Missionary Ridge. Hardee renewed his opposition to serving under Bragg and joined a group of officers who finally convinced Confederate President Jefferson Davis to relieve Bragg. General Hardee was then given temporary command of the Army of Tennessee before General Joseph E. Johnston took over command at Dalton, Ga. In February 1864, Johnston was ordered to dispatch Hardee to Alabama, to reinforce General Polk against General Sherman's Meridian Campaign. Following Sherman's withdrawal to Vicksburg, Hardee was once again sent back to Georgia, where he joined Johnston's army for the Atlanta Campaign. As Johnston fought a war of maneuver and retreat against General William T. Sherman, President Davis eventually lost patience with him and replaced him with the much more aggressive General John Bell Hood. Hardee could not abide Hood's reckless assaults and heavy casualties. After the Battle of Jonesboro, Ga., that August and September, he requested a transfer and was sent to command the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. He opposed General Sherman's March to the Sea as best he could with inadequate forces, eventually being forced to evacuate Savannah, Ga. on December 20, 1864. Subsequently Sherman presented the city to President Lincoln as a Christmas gift. As Sherman turned north in the Carolina's Campaign, Hardee took part in the Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina, in March 1865, where his only son, 16 year old Willie, was mortally wounded in a cavalry charge. General Johnston's plan for Bentonville was for Hardee to engage one of Sherman's wings at Averasborough so that Johnston could deal with one wing piecemeal. The plan was unsuccessful, and he surrendered with Johnston's army to Sherman on April 26, 1865, at Durham Station, N.C. After the war, Hardee settled at his wife's Alabama plantation. After returning it to working condition, the family moved to Selma, Alabama, where he worked in the warehousing and insurance businesses. He eventually became president of the Selma and Meridian Railroad. Hardee was the co-author of "The Irish in America," published in 1868. He fell ill at his family's summer retreat at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, and died in Wytheville, Va. on November 6, 1873. He is buried in Live Oak Cemetery, Selma, Alabama.

Wet plate, albumen carte de visite photograph, mounted to 2 3/8 x 4 card. Vignetted bust view wearing a double breasted frock coat with part of an epaulet visible on his shoulder. This view is thought to be of Hardee in his U.S. Army uniform taken just before the start of the war. Since so many Confederate officers wore their old army uniforms into the Civil War, Stonewall Jackson among them, it is impossible to state whether or not this was the uniform he wore during the early days of the Confederacy. This image came 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. Ink inscription written by Irwin on the front mount, Lt. Genl. W.J. Hardee, C.S.A., and on the verso he has written Lt. Genl. W.J. Hardee, C.S.A., Died Nov. 6/63. At 58. (He apparently absentmindedly wrote '63 instead of '73). This is image No. 126 in the Irwin collection as indicated on the reverse of the card. Light surface brushing in the background area. Very fine. 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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