In the collection of the Norway Museum and Historical Society is a small item of great significance: The Medal of Honor. This is the highest medal awarded by the United States to members of the military for “acts of valor”. This medal was first authorized in 1861 during the Civil War to recognize members of the Navy and Marines. In 1862 the medal was adopted by the Army to honor distinguished service. Both medals were made of bronze coated copper. Initially, the award was intended for enlisted men and volunteers, but was expanded to include officers in 1863. The medal now is presented to deserving members of all the armed forces.

Currently, the President of the United States, at a formal ceremony, presents the medal on behalf of the Congress and the American people. The Army, Navy and Air Force each developed their own unique design for the award while retaining the five-pointed star as the central image. On the back of the award presented by the Army are the words “The Congress to” followed by the name of the recipient. The inscription on the reverse of the Navy award is “Personal Valor.” Until the Air Force developed its own design in 1965, they awarded the Army version.

In 1917 the Medal of Honor Review Board determined that over 900 of the medals had been awarded “inappropriately” by the Army during the Civil War and removed those names from the official list. It seems that the medal had, at times, due to vague wording of the establishing act, been awarded for reenlisting as opposed to the original intent. It’s easy to see how the standard could be generously interpreted: “shall distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldierlike qualities.” The requirement of actual contact with the enemy and brave action was added as a result. Congress reviewed a number of these cases and in1989 restored the names of Buffalo Bill Cody and four other scouts to the list.

At the time of its establishment, there was no other medal to acknowledge meritorious service in the military.

The name on the back of the medal in the Society’s collection is Civil War Veteran Charles Cobb, a private and member of Company A, 27th Volunteers. Thanks to research done by Charles Longley of the Norway Historical Society, we know that the 27th Maine Volunteers was mustered in at Portland for a period of nine months on September 30, 1862 with a total enlistment, including officers, of 949. Charles Cobb is shown as being 25 years of age and from Limerick, Maine. Cobb and the 27th Volunteers mustered out on July 17, 1863. Records show that Charles Cobb, age 26, still of Limerick mustered into Maine Company L, 2nd Cavalry Regiment on January 7, 1864 under Captain Samuel H. Libby, also of Limerick. In November of 1864 the regiment is shown stationed at Barrancas, Florida. When the company was mustered out under Lt. Schryver on December 6, 1865, the records indicate that Charles Cobb was absent on furlough. Was he wounded? We don’t know. Maybe one of our readers has more information on this Medal of Honor recipient.

Since its inception, the Medal of Honor has been awarded to over 3,500 members of the military.

Until we are again able to be open to the public, visit us at

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: