Medal of Honor Recipients’ Ties to Washington

Published 3:27 pm Thursday, June 29, 2023

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By Clark Curtis, For Washington Daily News

On April 24th, 1896, Wilson Smith was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Grover Cleveland. The award came 34 years after his heroic acts one bloody morning here in Washington. “About a year ago while doing some research, I learned of an individual who had been awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions here in Washington,” said Brown Library historian Stephen Farrell. “After digging a bit deeper, I determined that individual was Corporal Wilson Smith, of the 3rd New York Light Artillery. He had been recognized for his gallantry on September 6, 1862, while helping to defend Washington one early foggy morning as Confederate troops tried to recapture the town. Though gravely wounded from a gunshot to the leg, he was also able to save one of his fallen comrades.”

“He threw his arms about me and I carried him on my back to the bridge stairs, hobbling along with the aid of my saber. How it was possible to reach the edge of the water alive, is a mystery to me,” recounted Wilson of that fateful day.

Added Farrell, “We often times hear or read of Medal of Honor recipients from foreign wars, but to learn this act of heroism actually took place on Main St., is quite astonishing.”

Because of the Washington connection, Farrell continued his research which led him to a small business in Salem, Tennessee. The owner had in his possession a field artillery manual from 1860 that had belonged to a Wilson Smith. “We were able to confirm it was the same Smith through the Veterans Widows Pension files,” said Farrell. “Because of the historical significance to Washington, I said, “We have to have it!” So with the help of the Historic Port of Washington Project’s board and its president Ray Midget, we were finally able, after several months, to raise the necessary funds and purchase the book just last week.”

The slightly worn leather-bound book, has Smiths’ name inscribed in the cover, a piece of “period” scrap paper that had been used as a bookmark, and hand-drawn field artillery drawings in the back. “We are quite confident this book would have served as his reference guide during the battle here on the streets of Washington,” said Farrell. “He would have relied on this book and his instincts to have loaded and fired the 12lb. field howitzer on more than one occasion, as he stared directly into the muzzles of charging Confederate troops at the foot of the bridge.”

As Farrell pointed out, this is just another example of being able to see and touch of piece of history. And having artifacts such as this helps to give people a personal connection to the story. “Wilsons’ actions in 1862 helped to shape the towns’ history forever,” said Farrell. “We have no idea what may have happened had the Confederates taken over the city. This book helps to shed light on who this person was. And knowing that it would have been here with him as he battled to protect Washington, is very special. That is why it is so important to house and preserve this artifact and others, for future generations to come and enjoy.”

Farrell cannot thank Midget enough for all of his help throughout this entire effort. “I really want to thank Ray for collaborating together and making all of this happen,” said Farrell. “With his help, we were able to bring this historic artifact back home to where Wilsons’ gallant actions took place, so it can be commemorated and shared. The artillery manual connects us with a piece of our past that can’t be done by just reading a book.”