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CDV, General William W. Averell

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Item Number: cdv9691
 

 



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Colonel of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry

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


(1832-1900) Born in Cameron, New York, he graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1855. His pre-war army career included garrison duty at Jefferson Barracks, Mo., a tour at the Cavalry School in Carlisle, Pa., and two years of rugged service fighting the western Indians, during which time he was severely wounded and put out of action from 1859 until the outbreak of the Civil War. He took part in the 1st battle of Bull Run, Va., and was commissioned colonel of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry. He fought in the 1862 Virginia Peninsular campaign, the Seven Days Battles, at Kelly's Ford, Va., Antietam, Fredericksburg, and various skirmishes of the mounted branch of the Army of the Potomac. President Abraham Lincoln appointed Averell a brigadier general of volunteers on September 26, 1862. His 2nd Cavalry Division earned much respect at Kelly's Ford, Va., in March 1863, an action said to have been the turning point of cavalry fighting in the eastern theater. Averell took part in the famous, but ill fated 1863 Richmond raid during the Chancellorsville campaign, and he was employed in numerous skirmishes in western Virginia and in General Philip H. Sheridan; 1864 Shenandoah Valley campaign. In the summer of 1864, when Confederate General Jubal A. Early had invaded Maryland, and defeated a series of Union commanders, Averell proved to be the only Union commander to achieve victory against the Confederates in the Shenandoah Valley before the arrival of General Sheridan. He routed Confederate General Stephen D. Ramseur at the Battle of Rutherford's (Carter's) Farm on July 20, 1864, inflicting 400 casualties and capturing a four-gun battery, in spite of Averell's being significantly outnumbered. When General John McCausland burned Chambersburg, Pa., to the ground on July 30, 1864, General Averell tracked him down near Moorefield, West Virginia. Using scouts disguised as Confederates in his vanguard, Averell routed McCausland in a sunrise attack upon the Confederate camp, capturing hundreds of prisoners and another four-gun battery in the Battle of Moorefield. On July 17, 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominated Averell for appointment to the grades of brevet brigadier general and brevet major general in the Regular Army, to rank from March 13, 1865 which the U.S. Senate confirmed. The latter appointment was in recognition of Averell's actions at the Battle of Kelly's Ford. Following the Civil War, President Johnson appointed Averell as U.S. consul general to British North America; he served from 1866 to 1869, through the rest of that administration. In 1888, during Grover Cleveland's presidency, Averell was appointed as Assistant Inspector General of Soldiers Homes, serving from 1888-98. Averell was among career officers who wrote memoirs and histories of military units: he wrote "Ten Years in the Saddle," and co-authored "History of the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry, 60th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers." General Averell died in Bath, New York, on February 3, 1900, and is buried there. General Averell was one of the first class of ten inductees into the Steuben County, New York, Hall of Fame.

Wet plate, albumen carte de visite photograph, mounted to 2 3/8 x 4 card. Bust view in uniform with rank of brigadier general. Period ink inscription on the front mount, Major Genl. W.W. Averell, U.S.A. Written in period ink in Irwin's hand on the reverse is, Maj. Genl. W.W. Averell, U.S.A., Cavalry Army Potomac. Genl. B.J.D. Irwin album, No. 136 is written in another hand in pencil at the bottom. Bottom of the card mount is bumped. Very fine image. Rare with this provenance literally making this image "one of a kind."

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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