Union Army Uniforms and Insignia of the Civil War

Medals and Decorations

Kearny Cross 1 Kearny Cross 2
Kearny Cross Obverse Kearny Cross Reverse

Recovered: Stafford County Va, Winter Camp Army of the Potomac 1862-1863
Courtesy: Harry Ridgeway

Major General Philip Kearny was killed in action on September 1, 1862 at Chantilly, Virginia after accidentally riding into Confederate lines. Kearny was an outstanding soldier, a true warrior, and his loss was deeply felt by the men of his division. The officers of the First Division of the Third Army Corps established a commemorative medal, called the Kearny Medal, on November 29, 1862. It was a gold Maltese cross hung from a red silk ribbon with the motto "DULCE ET DECORUM EST PATRIA MORI" (Sweat and proper, it is to die for one's county). The medal was manufactured by the firm of Ball, Black and Company of New York City and about 317 of them were distributed to officers of the division.

The Kearny medal was only given to officers and David Bell Birney, who succeeded Kearny in command of the division, believed that worthy enlisted men also required recognition. On March 13, 1863 he issued General Orders Number 25 that established a medal called the "Kearny Cross." This second medal associated with Kearny's memory is the one pictured above and was manufactured at Birney's expense. They were awarded to members of the division that distinguished themselves in action and not to those who had engaged in unsoldierly conduct. The initial award ceremony was held on May 27, 1863 and saw 463 of the crosses awarded. The total number of these medals manufactured and awarded during the war is uncertain. Interestingly enough, two women who served as nurses in the division hospital were included among the initial recipients.

The medal was designed and the dies cut by Peter Jacobus of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and his name appears as "Jacobus, Phila." in small letters on the reverse (not visible on our example). It was hung from red ribbon with two retangular clasps on the top and bottom. The upper clasp had a pin to fix the medal to the left breast. The lower clasp had a suspension ring that connected to the cross by a small ring seen on the top of our example.

The only decoration having an official status during the Civil War was the Medal of Honor. However, a number of other unit decorations, such as the Kearny Cross, were established by unit commanders and awarded to member of their commands during the war. Among these are the Ely Medal (23rd Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment), Gillmore Medal (Tenth Army Corps), 17th Corps Medal of Honor, Butler Medal (25th Army Corps). These were all created and manufactured privately.

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