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The Military Order of the Purple Heart

History of the Medal

To determine who should receive the badge, Washington ordered that a board of military officers be convened whenever the Adjutant General had recommendations for them to consider. This board never met because the Adjutant General never supplied any recommendations. Given the brewing mutiny among the officer corps at this time, it is reasonable to speculate that the Adjutant General offered no recommendations because he never received any. Preoccupied with their own pay and pension problems, too many officers had too little time to worry about writing recommendations for this new gallantry medal for their soldiers. By April 1783, when the Commander in Chief had received no recommendations for the “Badge of Military Merit” and when news of the peace agreement reached headquarters, Washington demanded immediate action before the Continental Army began to disband. On 17 April 1783, Washington ordered that a new review board be created and he demanded and got immediate results within days. The new board recommended two candidates: Sergeant Elijah Churchill, Fourth Troop, Second Troop of Light Dragoons and Sergeant William Brown of the 5th Connecticut regiment. A little later, they recommended a third candidate: Sergeant Daniel Bissell of the 2nd Connecticut regiment, one of Washington’s most important and successful spies. It is, however, possible that Washington himself recommended Bissell.
All three were superb choices. The first recipient was Sergeant Elijah Churchill from the 4th Troop, 2nd Regiment of Light Dragoons which had conducted some of the most daring and spectacular raids of the Revolutionary War. Sergeant Churchill received the “Badge of Merit” in recognition of his leadership in two commando-style raids. The first was on 23 November 1780 against Fort St. George on Long Island when he led the advance team. He surprised the British defenders, captured and destroyed the fort. The goal of the mission had been to destroy a storage depot which housed several hundred tons of much needed hay for winter forage for British army horses. Fort St George protected the forage depot and so the capture and destruction of the fort made a vital contribution to the success of the mission. The second raid for which Sergeant Churchill was honored occurred a year later in October 1781 while the main army was at Yorktown. Once again, Sergeant Churchill led the advance party this time against Fort Slongo on the north shore of Long Island. And once again Sergeant Churchill’s bold leadership of the advance party surprised the British defenders and led to the capture of a large quantity of enemy supplies. These and other daring raids not only kept the British off-balance unsure whether Washington was going to try to recapture New York, but also forced British commanders to detach large numbers of troops from their over-stretched army to reinforce isolated and exposed outposts.

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