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The photograph samples available to me for this discussion are limited. However, I feel they are adequate to categorize the different engraving formats used on Army MoHs during the first 15-20 years of the medal's existence. These format designations are mine and mine alone. They represent my conclusions and my opinions.


Format #1 is found on the very first piece to have been presented to a recipient, PVT Jacob Parrott on March 25, 1863. The engraving consists of five lines:


The Congress (in block-style letters)

To (in cursive-style letters)

Rank and Name (in block letters)

Unit (in block letters)

Unit (in block letters)




This is, as you can see, an nice job of engraving. There are several decorative sworls around the name and rank. Company is abbreviated as "Compy" even though there is plenty of room to have spelled out "Company," as well as "Regiment." Just as there would have been enough room to spell out "Volunteer." This is the only example I have where "The Congress" is done in block-style lettering; all of the others for this period use cursive-style letters.


Note, too, that neither this piece, and nor any of the other CW pieces we'll look at, include a date of action.


This is the only photo I have in my collection of an Andrews' Raiders MoH. I know there are others out there as I recall seeing Pittinger's and one of the Wilson's over the years. Perhaps if someone has copies of these, or other Andrews' Raiders MoH engravings, they would be generous enough to post them here for comparison.


As most of us know, the first six Raiders released from captivity were the first recipients of this medal. Available record information indicates that the actual medals were received a very short time before the presentation ceremony. It is unknown if these first pieces were engraved prior to the presentation ceremony, or after. There is even one reference I remember seeing in which Pittinger indicates Parrott was the only one to actually get a medal that day; the others received theirs later. Obviously, there would not have been adequate time for the War Department to formulate a policy or standard for engraving their one and only medal.








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The most popular engaving format used during the CW was Format #2 consisting of 4 lines:


The Congress


Name (sometimes abbrev. rank was used)



All of my four samples of this format are 27th Maine pieces. As most of us know, for a number of reasons which need not be repeated here, every member of the 27th Maine, some 864 men, were granted a MoH for extending their enlistment for a few days when Washington, DC, was threatened during the battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. Through clerical errors even those 27th Maine members who were NOT among the 320-some who actually stayed, had medals issued to them. Only the intervention of the regimental commander prevented a wholesale distribution of these medals. When Col. Mark Wentworth received the medals in January 1865 he was appalled and did his best to issue the medals only to those who actually remained in Washington.


I do not know if the 27th Maine pieces I have photographs of went to someone who stayed or someone who returned home. All I know is that these were more than likely engraved throughout 1864, finished late that year, and shipped off to Wentworth in Maine in January 1865.


With one exception, the engravings are identical. A cursive-style of lettering was used. Arrow-style flourishes were used on either side of "To." "Company" was abbreviated as "Co," "Me" was used as the abbreviation for "Maine," and "Vol" for "Volunteer." I have to assume that some standard for an engraving format was used, perhaps originated/designed by the actual engravers, due to the large volume of medals to be prepared. It wouldn't make any sense to have 4 or 5 engravers using different formats on all of those medals.


I know that these pieces were long held in disdain by collectors since the awards were later revoked by the Army review board. I can remember back in the 1970s when a 27th Maine MoH could be had for a few hundred dollars, $25 or so more if a case was included. They increased in value until the embargo. Never-the-less, these pieces are excellent examples of the engraving format used during the CW.


Here's a sample:




Again, note that no date of the deed is included in the engraving.



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In this one example I have, an abbreviated rank, "Pvt" is added on the third line:




These others have no rank on the third line:






It would be interesting to know how these pieces were distributed to the engravers: By unit, alphabetically within unit, alphabetically, or randomly. This may explain why there are variations, however slight.







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Format #3 consists of 5 lines of engraving, with a slight variation:


The Congress


Rank and Name




Here is a photo of the standard Format #3:




Taylor's piece was issued on November 21, 1864, for capturing a flag a month earlier at Cedar Creek, Virginia.


The major addition here to earlier pieces is the inclusion of some additional engraving flourishes, notably stylized arrows on either side of "Co E," and more elaborate flourishes resembling the letter "S" laying on its sides, flanking the stylized arrows. While the first line is in cursive lettering, the other lines are block style.


Here's an example of Format #3 with a slight variation:




While still five lines of engraving, Fleetwood's rank, "Sergt Major," is on the third line, with his name on the 4th, and his unit occupying the 5th line. This medal was issued April 6, 1865, for a deed at Chapins Farm, VA, on September 29, 1864. This piece does not have the extra engraving flourishes found on Taylor's above.


Again, the first line is in cursive while the balance of the engraving is more a block style. This makes me wonder if "The Congress" was pre-engraved at the mint, which was producing these medals. I do not know for sure.



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These next two pieces represent what was undoubtedly the highlight of my interest in the MoH. Some background: I tracked these pieces down in the late 1980s, long before the Internet. So this involved some old fashioned detective work, based on one clue that I had. After digging through phone books and making a number of phone calls, I found myself speaking to the name sake and, I think, great-great-grand-nephew of the recipient. This man was exceedingly cooperative and willingly and graciously agreed to let me photograph these medals the next time I was in his city. I was there within a couple of weeks.


Now, remember, too, that this was in the days long prior to digital photography. For you younger readers, we used a medium called "film", which actually placed an image of the photographed item on a strip of celluloid that was called a "negative.". It was a great system that produced uncounted excellent results over the years for many, many great photographers. Unfortunately, I was not one of them. Back in those good old days, nearly 30 years ago, one had to actually place and properly position a roll of film in the camera, take the pictures, remove the roll of exposed film from the camera (and I used a Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic that I purchased at a PX on Okinawa during my journey further west), take that to a photograph developer (normally either a camera store or a drug store), assuming you didn't develop the negatives yourself, then wait a week to ten days for the actual pictures to be returned. Then, and only then, could an amateur photographer see the results of his effort. Unfortunately, in my excitement at actually handling these rare and unique MoHs I did not take the best pictures. The lighting was not the best and, thus, the engraving was not clearly visible. However, I had been astute enough to write down the actual engravings on the two medals so I would have a record.


Here, for the first time, are the results of effort:




The engraving on the left medal is: The Congress


Lieut. Thos. W. Custer


Michigan Cavy


The engraving on the right medal is: The Congress


Lieut. Thos. W. Custer

Co. B

6th Michigan Cav


I do not know which medal was for which deed as there are no dates including in the engraving, and it probably doesn't matter.


The engraving flourishes resembling arrows are on both sides of "To" on both pieces.


Soon after I got my photos back I recontacted the family to arrange to retake them but learned that a decision had been made to sell these medals, and other Custer memorabilia, in their possession and were already at an auction house. A short time later Butterfield and Butterfield, out of San Francisco, I believe, had these pieces on the block with a starting bid, if I remember correctly, of $50,000.


A public uproar ensued once word of the auction went out. Historians, museum curators, the army, and many others were appalled that this unique piece(s) of American military history was going to be sold. Under pressure, as I recall, B&B removed the medals as a separate lot from their catalog, and reoffered them as a "bonus" to whomever was the successful bidder on a pistol attributed to Tom Custer. It was my understanding at the time that the pistol, and the medals, went for $65,000, a princely sum then and now.


This is, of course, all hearsay, as I have no first hand knowledge of what actually happened at that auction. Again, this was well before the days of the Internet, so information was available from limited sources.


To the best of my knowledge, these medals have never been seen since the late 1980s. If anyone knows their whereabouts, and cares to share that information, it would be much appreciated.







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Engraving Format #2 was used on a number of post-Civil War earned MoHs, with some minor variations:





Crist's medal was issued on March 3, 1870, for a deed on November 26, 1869 in Arizona. It is the earliest issued example of a post Civil War earned MoH engraving.


While the 4-line is the same as used in CW-era issued MoH's, the biggest change is the fact that the 1st and 4th lines are arced to form a circle-like effect of the engraving. Also, a cursive-style lettering is used on all lines. Again, no date of the deed is included in the engraving.


Here's another example of this format as used for Indian War recipients:




While the flourishes are somewhat different, the arced 1st and 4th lines are still used. Montrose's rank is spelled out, "Private", while Crist's rank is abbreviated, "Sergt."


Montrose's medal was issued on April 27, 1877 for actions against the Sioux in the fall and early winter of 1876.


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Yet, another example of Format #2 being used for an IW recipient:




In this piece to Guide William F. Cody, the 1st line is arced, but the 4th line, which contains Cody's position, is not. Also, cursive-style letters were used on all four lines.


Here's another example of a Cody MoH:




Is this a replacement medal, or a made up medal? I'm not sure. I cannot even remember where this photo came from. I believe this first medal is in the Cody museum near Denver. I'm not sure about the location of the second medal.


I hesitate to call the second Cody medal an outright fake. It does contain a place of action and the date of the action, information not contained in early engraving formats. However, the engraving for "The Congress" closely resembles others I have seen. And Line 1 is arced. His first name is spelled out "William" as opposed to abbreviated "Wm" on the first Cody piece. The word "GALLANTRY" in all caps is used in one other example I know of. A combination of cursive and block lettering is used. There are no engraving flourishes used on the second Cody piece and every early army MoH I have seen used a minimum of the arrows on either side of the word "To." This could be a second medal officially issued to Cody for wear, but I cannot definitively state that. My gut reaction is that the first medal is Cody's original piece, issued in May 1872 for the action on April 26, 1872. The origins of the second Cody medal remain a mystery. If anyone has any information they are willing to share it would greatly enhance our body of knowledge on this topic.







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Format #4 consists of 9 lines of engraving:





I won't write a line-by-line description of the engraving format because there is so much going on.


First of all, this piece is on an 1896-style ribbon, as was Fleetwood's. I consider both of these pieces to be the original medals because it has always been my understadning that, upon request, the army issued a new ribbon and not a replacement medal with the new ribbon. I may be wrong on that, so if anyone knows for sure I would appreciate the information.


The most striking feature of this engraving format is the inclusion of the word "Medal of Honor" on the very first line. Why this is there, I don't know. I've not seen this on any other piece, 7th Cavalry or not, so I just don't know why its there. Perhaps this is a replacement, although it has always been my understanding that Bancroft was one of the Custer Battle recipients who never actually received his medal. Again, if anyone can shed light on this it would be most appreciated.


Once again, there is a combination of cursive-style and block-style lettering in the engraving. The 2d line is arced, as is the 7th line. There are engraving flourishes around the 1st, 2d, and 3d lines which leads me to believe that it is all original engraving, and that MEDAL OF HONOR was not added later for identification purposes. The engraving of THE CONGRESS on the 2d line bears a strong resemblance to that verbiage on the second Cody piece.


This is also the earliest piece I have seen that includes a brief statement of the action, line 6 and 7, and capitalizes 'GALLANTRY" also as on the second Cody piece. Its also the earliest piece that includes the date of action, as does Cody's second example.


There are more questions here than answers. I know there are other Custer Battle MoH's out there. If anyone has a photograph of a Custer Battle MoH engraving and would care to share it for comparison purposes, it would be most appreciated. It would be nice to clear up this little mystery.




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Last in this thread are two pieces for the Milk River, CO battle in Sept-Oct 1879:




Format #5 consists of either 6 or 7 lines of engraving, depending on the placement of the year.


This 7 line variation of Format #4 includes a brief statement of the action. All of the engraving uses cursive-style lettering. Line 1 is arced. Line 5 contains the statement of the action and is arced reverse of Line 1. There are numerous examples of engraving flourishes, including the ubiquitous arrows flanking the word "to" on Line 2.


Murphy's medal was issued April 23, 1880.



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This is a 6-line variation of Format #5:




The biggest variation of Poppe's piece with Murphy's begins on Line 5. On Poppe's engraving the statement is on a straight line. The dates of action are essentially on one line, but each date, separated by the word "to" are on a slant. There are also major differences with the flourishes, with Poppe's having some unique embellishments.


Poppe's piece is on a 1904-style ribbon, again reinforcing my believe that this is the original medal with a replacement ribbon, probably the second replacement. I am speculating that the variation in the engraving of the date is because Poppe's action spans those dates while Murphy's was for one specific date.


I also note that Poppe's medal shows as more of a "brassy" tone rather than the chocolate brown seen on Murphy's I believe this may be have been the lighting as a photograph of Poppe's medal's obverse shows the more traditional chocolate brown.




Again, if anyone has samples of this, or other formats, please post them to help us add to our knowledge of this subject.


Thank you for looking.



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A couple of error corrections:


In Post 9 the second paragraph below the photo should read : "This 7 line variation of Format #5....."


In Post 10 the second sentence in the third paragraph under the first photo should read: "I believe this may have been due to lighting as a photograph of the full reverse of the medal shows the more traditional chocolate brown tone."



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Reference post #7, the 2nd Cody MOH you have a picture of is at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West Museum in Cody, Wyoming. I asked them about his MOH years ago and they sent me a very nice B&W photo of it, but stated I couldn't use the photo without their permission. The pic is first rate.


As always, thanks for posting the engravings. A lot of the Medals of Honor have some nice and ornate engraving in the first 90 years!

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  • 1 month later...

What I see as the real shame in all this, is the fact that all this engraving is a "Lost Art" today. There where jewelers all over the world just 100 years ago who could engrave like this. All of it by hand without using any electric machines. It was done by hand on a rotating wheel mount with cutting knives. Today, it is rare to find anyone who knows how to do anything like this anymore. If they can not put in into a lazer cutting computer, it will not get done. No real engraving art being done anymore.

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  • 4 months later...

I just finished my very first week-long class in metal engraving. I can assure everyone that this skill is very much not a "lost art". While not necessarily concentrating on engraving military medals, the engraving community is more vibrant than ever. Our instructor, Sam Alfano, a master engraver, said that this field is thriving and has seen an amazing renaissance due to the vast information sharing that the internet has provided.


While having only been engraving for a week,.... my plan is to practice, practice, practice and then offer my engraving services to members of our military and provide an elegant option as opposed to the machine engraving that is available to them today.


Kevin Beyer, future engraver.

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