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Bernard John Dowling Irwin


U.S. Army
Medal Of Honor, Indian Campaigns

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When Cochise, Chief of the Chiricahua Indians, was pursued into Apache Pass, Arizona by 2d Lieutenant George Bascom and 60 men early in 1861, the cavalry was trapped in the pass by a large number of Indians. Being early in the year, the pass became snow-bound, and three days of intermittent negotiation and combat followed. One of Bascom's men managed to escape and take word of the ordeal to Fort Buchanan. While troops from Fort Breckinridge were being dispatched, Assistant Surgeon Irwin volunteered to depart from Fort Buchanan with an immediate rescue party of 14 hand-picked soldiers in a relief effort. No horses were available for his column, but with mules the intrepid surgeon led his force over 100 miles of hostile territory, in the middle of a winter storm, to arrive within two days to support and ultimately rescue Lieutenant Bascom's beleaguered soldiers.

Though Bernard J.D. Irwin's Medal of Honor was not presented until 1894, his action on February 13, 1861 (a year before the Army Medal of Honor was created and prior to the Civil War) was the first Medal of Honor action in history.

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