Robert E. Wyllie.

Orders, decorations and insignia, military and civil; with the history and romance of their origin and a full description of each online

. (page 2 of 19)
Online LibraryRobert E. WyllieOrders, decorations and insignia, military and civil; with the history and romance of their origin and a full description of each → online text (page 2 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

fight between the "Shannon" and the "Chesapeake,*'
when the American captain, Lawrence, made his historic
remark, "Don't give up the ship."

It should not be forgotten that medals and clasps are
essentially commemorative, and, inasmuch as nations do
not generally desire to commemorate defeats, we would
not expect to find clasps on these medals for such battles
as New Orleans, Lake Erie, and others which were Ameri-


W^tot^ anb ©ebelopment of jMebafe antr ©ecoratimtJf

can victories; and such is the case, the only clasps being
for British victories.

The history of decorations in our own country is remark-
able in its general similarity to the British experience.
With a few exceptions we recognized at first only the
services of the commanders, the rank and file being ig-
nored. The first medal bestowed by our Government was
one in gold to General George Washington, to commemo-
rate the evacuation of Boston by the British in 1776.

Captain John Paul Jones was similarly rewarded after
his famous fight with the "Serapis" in 1779, and the
three men, Paulding, Williams, and Van Wart, who cap-
tured Major Andre in 1780 were given special medals by
Congress. (See Fig. 4, Plate 19.)

We now come to a most interesting episode and one
that shows the breadth of vision and knowledge of human
nature possessed by our great revolutionary leader. On
August 7, 1782, General George Washington issued an
order from his headquarters at Newburgh which read as
follows :

The General, ever desirous to cherish a virtuous ambition
in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species
of military merit, directs that, whenever any singularly meri-
torious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted
to wear on his facings, over his left breast, the figure of a heart
in purple cloth or silk, edged with narrow lace or binding.
Not only instances of unusual gallantry, but also of extra-
ordinary fidelity, and essential service in any way, shall meet
with a due reward. Before this favour can be conferred on
any man, the particular fact, or facts, on which it is to be
grounded, must be set forth to the Commander-in-Chief,
accompanied with certificates from the Commanding Officers


©rbersf, JBttovation^, ant 3fns{ignia

of the Regiment and Brigade to which the candidate for re-
ward belonged, or other incontestible proof; and, upon grant^-
ing it, the name and regiment of the person, with the action
so certified, are to be enrolled in the Book of Merit, which
will be kept at the Orderly Office. Men who have merited
this distinction to be suffered to pass all guards and sentinels
which officers are permitted to do. The road to glory in a
patriot army and a free country, is thus opened to all. This
order is also to have retrospect to the earliest stages of the
war, and to be considered as a permanent one.

This was our first decoration and, so far as the writer
has been able to discover, it was the first in history which
had a general application to enlisted men. Special medals
had been given them before, also commemorative medals
as we have already seen, but until then no decoration
had been established to which the private soldier could
look forward as a reward for special merit. The wording
of the order is worth most careful study. The object
was "to cherish a virtuous ambition" and *'to foster and
encourage every species of military merit." Note also
that Washington appreciated that every kind of service
was important, ''not only instances of unusual gallantry,
but also of extraordinary fidelity and essential service in
any way." And finally that democratic sentence, "the
road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is
thus opened to all."

Even though our present system of decorations is new,
and we have followed behind others in that regard, we
can at least be proud of the fact that our first decoration
was a great way in advance of anything then in existence
in any country.


Jl^fetotp anb JSebelopment of jWebalsi anb ©ecoratiottj^

There is no data now available to tell just how many-
men received the purple heart, nor for how long the deco-
ration existed ; apparently it was never abolished by order,
but merely fell into disuse and oblivion; certainly by the
time of our next war, a generation later, it was forgotten,
not only the decoration itself, but even the motives which
inspired it, as we returned to the idea of rewarding only
the senior officers. Thus several military and naval com-
manders were presented gold medals to commemorate
their victories in the War of 1812, the juniors received
nothing. Generals Scott and Taylor were both given gold
medals for their services in the Mexican War and finally
General Grant had a similar reward after his victory at
Chattanooga in 1863. In these cases the medal conferred
was to commemorate some special victory, it was pre-
sented only to the commanders of the troops or ship in-
volved, and accompanied the thanks of Congress. It was
never worn by the recipient, and was never intended to
be worn; in fact, it might be said that it was really not a
decoration in the sense we now use that word, but was a
material evidence that the possessor had received that
much-prized honour, the thanks of Congress.

In 1847, during the Mexican War, Congress authorized
the President to present a certificate to enlisted men who
specially distinguished themselves. No medal or decora-
tion, however, accompanied this award, and it was not
until 1905 that a medal was authorized to show that the
wearer had received a Certificate of Merit. So in its early
days it was in no sense a decoration, but it was, most
distinctly, a reward.


©rbetiB;, ©ecorationfi;, anb 3fnfi(ignia

In 1 86 1 the United States departed from what had be-
come almost a settled policy against medals and decora-
tions for wear, by establishing the Medal of Honor. This
was by Congressional action, and at first applied only to
enlisted men of the Navy, but this was soon extended.
However, it remained for nearly forty years the sole
American military decoration, the life-saving medals au-
thorized in 1874 not being military in character.

We entered the Spanish-American War in 1898 without
any decorations or medals, other than the few Medals of
Honor which had been bestowed, and they were worn
only on full dress uniforms, the system of wearing small
strips of ribbon on other coats had not then been adopted
by us, so one might be well acquainted with a Medal of
Honor man and be ignorant of the distinction, as full
dress has never been worn very frequently. This condi-
tion presents a marked contrast with that prevailing
now, in twenty years there has been such a change that a
uniform hardly seems complete in these days without a
row of ribbons.

It was undoubtedly the idea of republican simplicity
that operated to retard the growth of this custom in the
United States. The belief existed that decorations were
akin to nobiHty, and not in harmony with true democracy,
but part and parcel of the monarchical system, and this
beHef is not yet entirely obliterated. It is very evident
however, that our first President entertained no such
idea, his order establishing the purple heart breathes the
very essence of democracy, and the fact that it was of
cloth or silk instead of metal does not make it any the


J^ii^totp anb ©ebelopment of iMebate anb ©ecorationjj

less a decoration, the probabilities are that there was then
no other practical solution, as our industries at that time
were not capable of manufacturing medals in quantity.
It should further be observed that Republican France has
managed to preserve the customs of imperial France in
this respect without any sacrifice of democracy.

Portugal swept away all the royal orders when the Re-
public replaced King Manuel, but after six years they
were re-established. China has more orders and decora-
tions as a republic than it had as an empire. All republics
have something of this character, we were the last to fall
in line. It is not contrary to democratic ideals to reward
merit, and that is the purpose of decorations and orders,
not even in imperial nations are they awarded on heredi-
tary grounds, and in no case does the son inherit any of
these distinctions conferred upon the father, they are
given only on account of services performed by the indi-
vidual decorated, and have a wonderful effect on the
morale of the troops, as our experience during the recent
war has abundantly proved. On the other hand, what
can we say for a system which rewards those in command
and gives the others nothing ? That is far from democratic.

In the meantime, during the latter half of the nine-
teenth century numerous patriotic societies were formed
of veterans of wars, of descendants of veterans, of de-
scendants of early settlers, etc., all being modelled largely
after the Order of the Cincinnati, which was established
during the Revolution. The object of these societies was
most laudable, the cultivation of patriotism through the
study of the lives of our great leaders and their followers;


in addition there was the social element caused by their
gatherings, and the natural human desire for distinction.
There can be hardly any doubt that this was the direct
result of the conditions which existed in this country, as
we do not find in any European nation such an assortment
of these societies. That phase of human nature is suffi-
ciently appeased in Europe by the various official titles,
orders, decorations, and medals bestowed by the govern-
ments, so there is no necessity for the organization of
private or semi-private societies for that purpose. All
these societies adopted distinctive badges and ribbons for
wear on suitable occasions, and the custom grew of wearing
them in the Army, notwithstanding the universal prece-
dent which forbids the badges of private societies on the
uniform of a sovereign nation. This became so general
that it was found possible for a soldier to have the right
to wear as many as sixteen different badges by virtue of
inheritance alone ; he might be still a cadet at the Academy
or a recruit in the awkward squad, yet he could shine in
the reflected glory of his ancestors to the extent of sixteen
decorations, on account of the custom which had come into
being of wearing these Society badges generally, instead
of limiting them to the suitable occasions for which they
were intended. This was a situation very different from
the democratic ideal which considers that all men come
into this world on an equality, and it certainly was very
inferior to a system of decoration for merit, but it came
about through a phase of human nature which could not
be repressed, and required some outlet.
The Spanish-American War, which caused so many


li^isitotp anb Bebelopment of iWebafe anb ©etorationfif

changes in the general outlook of this nation, was respon-
sible for overthrowing the old ideas regarding medals and
decorations. On June 3, 1898, a month after the battle
of Manila Bay, the President approved an Act of Congress
which bestowed a sword of honour on Admiral Dewey, and
awarded medals to all the officers and men who took part
in the battle. This was the first medal in the history of
the United States to be presented to all, rank and file,
and it is therefore important in the history of the subject.
This was followed in 1901 by two more medals, author-
ized by Congress; the first, a medal to be given to officers
and men of the Navy and Marine Corps who participated
in any of the naval engagements in the West Indies in
1898; the second, a medal to be given to officers and men
of the same services "who rendered specially meritorious
service, otherwise than in battle," during the war. This
made three medals for all ranks of the Navy and Marine
Corps; the Army was not yet recognized. However,
while the precedent had been set, it was not yet estab-
lished as a principle that services in campaigns should be
rewarded by a medal issued to all the officers and men.
This was done by the Army in January, 1905, when the
War Department by authority of the President, published
an order that "campaign badges and ribbons will be
issued as articles of uniform to officers and enlisted men
in the service to commemorate services which have been
or shall hereafter be rendered in campaign.'* Badges
were at once authorized for the Civil War, Indian Cam-
paigns, Spanish War, Philippine Insurrection, and China
Campaign, and the system of wearing small strips of


ribbon on the service uniform was also adopted. The
Navy fell into line in 1909.

This was the situation at the time of our entrance into
the World War. We had established the system of medals
for the different wars and campaigns, and had two per-
sonal decorations, the Medal of Honor and the Certificate
of Merit, the latter being confined to enlisted men. We
had nothing with which to reward services other than
heroism, nothing corresponding to the decorations which
European countries are wont to bestow on successful gen-
erals and other officers on whose efforts the success of the
fighting man mainly depends. It seems unreasonable to
reward an individual act of bravery which, however gal-
lant and self-sacrificing, really has but an indirect influence
on the result of the war, and neglect the extremely im-
portant work of the master minds on whom the country
depends for victory. Yet that was the actual condition
in this country. In addition, it appeared evident that
something was needed to supplement the Medal of Honor,
some junior reward for gallantry if the Medal of Honor
was to be kept on the high plane to which it had been
elevated. Without some such reward there was danger of
cheapening our primary decoration by bestowing it for
acts which deserved recognition, but which, nevertheless,
did not justify the extreme distinction of the Medal of

Another feature also arose early in the war which de-
manded consideration. It is the custom of other coun-
tries to bestow decorations on diplomatic and military
officers of allied nations who are associated with them or


J^is^torp anb ©ebelopment of MthaU anb ©ecorationjsJ

with their troops during a war, but under our Constitution
officials of the United States Government are forbidden
to accept any rewards or decorations from foreign coun-
tries without the express permission of Congress, and our
legislative body had usually been very reluctant to give
such assent. Very early in the war some of our Allies
indicated their desire that we should recede from our
usual position in such matters, and grant the privilege of
accepting foreign decorations to members of our military
and naval forces.

Several influential citizens, both in and out of Congress,
took up all these questions, and an agitation was started
to cover the points just enumerated, with the result that
in January, 1918, the President, by executive order, es-
tablished two additional decorations, the Distinguished
Service Cross, to be awarded for extraordinary heroism
not justifying a Medal of Honor, and the Distinguished
Service Medal, to be given for specially meritorious service
in a duty of great responsibility. This action was con-
firmed by Congress and enacted into law in the July
following. Congress also gave its consent, by general
blanket provision, for the acceptance of decorations con-
ferred by governments with whom we were associated in
the War, such permission to expire one year after the close
of the War, and the President was authorized to bestow
American decorations on members of the military and
naval forces of our Allies.

The limitation of this law to our Allies should be noted,
for that reason this work does not consider the decora-
tions of other countries, even though a number of civilians


have received some, there being no prohibition on a pri-
vate citizen accepting any decoration which may be con-
ferred upon him, as the constitutional provision applies
only to government officials. The act permitting the
acceptance of decorations from our Allies applied not
only to services rendered in the World War, but also to
those awarded previously, but which could not then be
accepted, and therefore they remained in the archives of
the State Department until this provision of Congress
enabled that department to turn them over to the proper

In February, 19 19, Congress established two decora-
tions for the Navy; the Distinguished Service Medal, cor-
responding exactly to that instituted for the Army, as
described above, and the Navy Cross, to be awarded for
heroism not justifying the award of a Medal of Honor,
or for other meritorious service not warranting a Distin-
guished Service Medal.

The last act in this evolution occurred on the question
of the Victory Medal, which is given to commemorate
the World War. Heretofore it was our custom to bestow
war medals only on those who participated in the cam-
paigns. Those who had the misfortune to remain in the
United States received no recognition, even though en-
gaged on work vital to the success of the oversea forces.
Soon after the Armistice, it became evident that the senti-
ment of the country was against such a discrimination,
and a bill was introduced into Congress to award a medal
to all who served in the Army and Navy, regardless of
whether or not they had oversea service. This bill, due


Certificate presented to each man wounded in action. The same certificate, with appropriate
change in the legend, is given to the nearest of kin of each who died in the service during the
World War

?§is;tor|> anb ©cbelopment of iWebals; ant ^ttoxatiom

to the press of business in the last session of that Congress,
never emerged from the committee, but the principle was
accepted by the War Department, and the order estab-
lishing the Victory Medal gave it to all who served on
active duty during the War, and a system of clasps was
adopted to denote participation in battle operations. As
already related this custom has been in force in Great
Britain since 1813, and under it a much more complete
recognition is given for services performed in wars than
is possible by a medal alone, because the medal itself is
given to all who in any way contributed to the military
operations, and in addition, clasps, to be worn on the rib-
bon above the medal, to show in which battles or cam-
paigns of the war the wearer participated, so the medal
with its clasps gives a fairly complete record of the service

Notwithstanding our recent adoption of European cus-
toms regarding decorations and medals, we have not fol-
lowed blindly in their footsteps, but have succeeded in
developing at least three unique features not possessed
by any other country. These will be referred to and
explained in due course, but the subject is mentioned
here to show that our present system, while based on
methods already existing abroad, is American, not merely
an imitation.



IN all European countries except Switzerland, and in
all the countries of Asia and Africa which are con-
sidered sovereign States, the system of reward for
merit includes membership in Orders. As already nar-
rated these are the descendants of the old orders of chiv-
alry which flourished in mediaeval times, so their evolution
is entirely distinct from that given in the preceding chap-
ter for medals.

It has been claimed that military orders had their
origin in King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table in
the 6th century. The picture presented of a band of
knights, sans peur et sans reproche, specially selected by
the King from his warriors, living generally at his court,
and leading his armies against the Saxon enemy, is cer-
tainly the prototype of the chivalric orders of later cen-
turies, but it must be remembered that we have no record
of these knights in any work written earlier than the 12th
century, at a time when orders of knighthood were in
full bloom and exceedingly popular, so we are unable to
accept the stories as anything but legendary and highly
coloured by the conditions actually existing at the time
they were written, six hundred years after the events


Militate 0thtx9i

they were supposed to record. The historical record of
the military orders commences at the time of the Crusades.

In 8 10 A.D. Charlemagne built a hospital in Jerusalem
for the benefit of Christian pilgrims visiting the holy
places of Palestine. It was located on the reputed site
of the Last Supper and did invaluable service for nearly
two hundred years until destroyed by some fanatical
Mohammedans. At this period, although the Holy Land
was in the hands of the followers of Mohammed, Chris-
tians were permitted to visit and worship in Jerusalem,
and it was not until the First Crusade at the end of the
nth Century, when the nations of Western Europe en-
deavoured to displace the Turks, that such bitter feeling
arose between the two religions in Palestine. Conse-
quently no difficulty was encountered when some Italian
merchants decided to rebuild Charlemagne's hospital in
1023. A permit was readily obtained from the Moham-
medan ruler of Jerusalem, and both a chapel and a hos-
pital were erected, the former being named after St. Mary,
the latter after St. John the Baptist. They were adminis-
tered by a brotherhood of pilgrims and continued their
charitable ministrations during the nth century and
until Jerusalem was captured by the Christian armies of
the First Crusade in 1099.

The Kingdom of Jerusalem was then established with
Baldwin as King, and in 11 13 this brotherhood was for-
mally recognized by Pope Paschal II under the name of
the Brothers Hospitallers of St. John in Jerusalem. The
members took the usual monastic vows of obedience,
chastity, and poverty, they were governed by the rule of


©rber^;, ©ecorations;, anb 3ns(i|jnia

the Augustinian monks and devoted their lives to the
care of the sick. This was the origin of the first of the
chivalric orders, known later as the Knights Hospitallers
of St. John, and better known to readers of the Waverley
novels simply as the Hospitallers.

A few years later the famous Knights Templar had their
origin in an association of knights formed with the object
of acting as guides for pilgrims in and around Jerusalem.
They likewise took monastic vows and eschewed wealth
and power, in marked contrast with the later history of
the Order.

The Teutonic Knights date from the same period and
had their origin in an extemporized hospital for German
crusaders which a German inhabitant of Jerusalem and
his wife made out of their own home during the siege of
that city in 1099. Wealthy Germans contributed prop-
erty and funds to aid the work and in 1 1 19, the year after
the founding of the Templars, the order of the Teutonic
Knights of St. Mary's Hospital was recognized by the

So commenced the three greatest military orders of
the Middle Ages, all having an origin exclusively charita-
ble, monastic in rule, characterized by poverty and sub-
servience and with nothing military in their entire

The Saracens, naturally, were not content to let the
Christians remain in undisturbed possession of Jerusalem,
and the history of Palestine for the next three hundred
years is nothing but a constant repetition of war. New
crusades were formed to assist the Christians in the Holy

iWilitarp ©rbetsi

Land and new armies were raised by the Saracens, and
in the intervals between, the entire country was the prey
of the stronger party for the moment, the lot of pilgrims
visiting the land being precarious. As a result these mo-
nastic orders found it necessary to arm themselves, every
able-bodied Christian was ordered to fight for the defence
of Jerusalem, and of its Christian inhabitants and pilgrims,
and these three orders gradually acquired a military stamp
which finally became dominant, although the monastic
element was never entirely obliterated and they retained
religious features to the end.

The orders became popular and wealthy, knights from
all Christendom joined them, and branches were estab-
lished over Europe, so that the loss of Palestine to the
Saracens in 1291 had no effect on them except to change
the location of their headquarters. The Hospitallers went
to the island of Rhodes, became a maritime power and
for over two hundred years more defied the Turks; suc-
cumbing at last they went to Malta in 1530, still fighting

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryRobert E. WyllieOrders, decorations and insignia, military and civil; with the history and romance of their origin and a full description of each → online text (page 2 of 19)