In commemorating this year’s Veterans Day, I’d like to reprint an article from the Summer 1986 Quarterly Newsletter of the Kent-Delord House Museum .
Reverend Hall and the Medal of Honor
By James J. Reh
The Reverend Francis Bloodgood Hall (1827-1903), husband of Fannie Delord Hall, was the second chaplain in the history of the United States to be awarded the Medal of Honor. The medal is on display in the Kent-Delord House Museum.
“He who possesses the Medal of Honor is the holder of the highest military award for bravery that can be given to any individual in the United States of America.” (From the official publication of the Department of the Army, The Medal of Honor.)
The Medal of Honor was first authorized by Congress and approved by President Abraham Lincoln on December 21, 1861 for enlisted men of the United States Navy. The authorization was later amended to include officers as well as enlisted men of the army and navy, with eligibility for award retroactive to the beginning of the Civil War. The medal was to be awarded only to those who most distinguished themselves by their gallantry in action. This first official badge of honor authorized in the United States eventually became fixed at the apex of a “Pyramid of Honor,” after additional medals were authorized to be awarded in ascending degrees of service or valor. Because the medal is presented in the name of the Congress of the United States, it is often referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor.
“Voluntarily exposed himself to a heavy fire during the thickest of the fight and carried wounded men to the rear for treatment and attendance.
Salem Heights, Virginia, 3 May 1863.”
So reads the formal citation for Reverend Hall’s Medal of Honor. He was 36 years of age when he performed his heroic feat in the Civil War during the Chancellorsville Campaign, and was serving the last few weeks of his brief service as Chaplain of the 16th New York volunteer Regiment. In fact, the Battle of Salem Heights was the Regiment’s last battle. Organized soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, the 16th New York, composed of men from Clinton, Franklin and St. Lawrence Counties, was officially activated in May, 1861 for a two year tour of duty. It became part of General McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. The Regiment saw a great deal of action during the war, including the battles of 1st Bull Run, West Point, Gaines’ Mill, Glendale, Crampton’s Pass, Antietam and Salem Heights.
Reverend Hall was actually the Regiment’s third chaplain. He was preceded by Royal B. Stratton and Andrew M. Millar, both of whom resigned due to ill health. Nominated as a replacement in October, 1862 by his friend, Lt. Colonel Franklin Palmer of C Company, Hall reported for duty at White Oak Church, Virginia in early December,1862. At the time of his nomination, he was pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Luzerne, New York. The Battle of Salem Heights represented his only engagement under fire; he was mustered out of service along with the regiment on May 22, 1863. His brief but distinguished service made a lasting impression on many of his comrades for in addition to his gallantry inaction, he was an outdoorsman who did not mind sharing the privations of military camp live with them. He also won their respect by his sincere and tireless efforts in the administration of his duties, and he refused all pay for his services. Reverend Hall especially impressed the man who recommended him for the Medal of Honor 33 years after the battle.
John C. Gilmore was a major in F Company, 16th New York volunteers. Later promoted to Lt. Colonel of the 93rd New York, he was mustered out of service in 1866. Gilmore re-entered the regular army as a 2nd Lieutenant and after a long and distinguished career, he retired as a Brigadier General. During the late fall of 1896, he was a lt. Colonel, serving in Washington, D.C., as Assistant Adjutant General. In his letter of recommendation to Colonel Frederick Grayton Ainsworth, Record and Pension Division, War Department, Washington, D.C., dated December 15, 1896, Gilmore chronicled Reverend Hall’s actions during the Battle of Salem Heights and explained the reason for his belated recommendation:
I have the honor to recommend that Reverend Hall, late Chaplain, 16th New York Volunteers Infantry, be granted a Medal of Honor for his brave conduct at the Battle of Salem Heights, Virginia, May 3, 1863. Chaplain Hall did voluntarily come, during the hardest fighting with his horse, to the left of the regiment and carried wounded men upon his horse to the rear for proper care and attendance. I saw him do this several times during the engagement, and it is possible that he did more than I noticed for I was busy with other matters.
Major Gilmore was indeed “busy with other matters.” The citation for his Medal of Honor, awarded for his actions during the same battle reads, “seized the colors of his regiment and gallantly rallied his men under a very severe fire.”
After documenting the severity of the battle that cost the 16th New York 154 casualties, Gilmore concluded his letter by stating:
I therefore earnestly recommend him for a Medal of Honor and trust that it will meet with approval. This only occurred to me a few days since as I read in a newspaper that a chaplain had been awarded a Medal [of Honor] for service in battle. I have never mentioned this matter to chaplain Hall in any way whatsoever, and knowing him as I do, he is the last man in the world who would ever think of being rewarded for his act.
Late Major, 16th New York
Now Lt. Colonel, A.A.G.
Before he read the newspaper article, it apparently had not occurred to Gilmore that persons designated as non-combatants might be eligible to receive the Medal of Honor. The chaplain Lt. Colonel Gilmore read about was the Reverend Milton L. Haney of the 55th Illinois Infantry, who “voluntarily carried a musket in the ranks of his regiment and rendered heroic service in retaking the Federal works…”at Atlanta, Georgia on July 22, 1864. He was awarded the Medal of Honor on November 3, 1896.
A third army chaplain was also awarded the Medal of Honor during the Civil War. The Reverend John M. Whitehead of the 15th Indiana Infantry rescued wounded comrades under fire at Stone River, Tennessee on December 31, 1862. His medal was awarded on April 4, 1898.
On February 16, 1897, Reverend Hall received the following letter from the Record and Pension Office, War Department, Washington, D.C.:
I have the honor to inform you that, by direction of the President and in accordance with the Act of Congress approved March 3, 1863 providing for the presentation of Medals of Honor…the Assistant Secretary of War has awarded you a Medal of Honor for distinguished gallantry in action at the Battle of Salem Heights, Virginia, May 3, 1863…The Medal has been forwarded to you today by registered mail. Upon the receipt of it, please advise this office thereof.
Colonel U.S. Army
Chief, Record and Pension
After his military service, Reverend Hall and his wife Fannie made their home in Plattsburgh in the Delord house. He founded the Peristrome Presbyterian Church in 1864 and served as its only pastor until his death in 1903. He was also unofficial chaplain of the local army barracks for a time, and, along with Fannie, performed various social services for the community. As a minister and civic leader, he served his community well in peace time, but amid the carnage of battle one spring day in 1863, Reverend Francis Bloodgood Hall also served his country well and richly deserved “the highest award for bravery that can be given to any individual in the United States of America.”