The Medal of Honor is the highest military award for bravery that can be given to any individual in the United States of America. This medal is presented to the recipients in the "name of the Congress of the United States." The first medal presented was during the Civil War in 1863. Sergeant Leopold Karpeles was only one of the six Jews who received the Congressional Medal of Honor in the Civil War for bravery.
Benjamin B. Levy was a drummer boy and a private in Company B, 40th New York Infan- try, stationed in Newport News, Virginia. He was aboard a steamboat carrying dispatches from General John Mansfield when it was attacked by a Confederate gunboat.
Levy's boat was being held up because it was towing a water schooner and the Confederate gunboat was gaining the advantage. He had the presence of mind to use his pocketknife to cut the tow to allow his steamboat to pick up speed and escape.
In the Battle of Charles City Crossroads, he rescued two standards (flags) dropped by their wounded color bearers. He unfurled them because his outfit was covered with dirt and the men couldn't be distinguished from the Confederates, and he wanted to stop the other Union regiment from firing at them.
Levy was severely wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness in January 1864. He recovered in time to be present at General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox. Before he returned to his regiment, he received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Henry Heller was a sergeant in Company A, 66th Ohio Infantry, and he received his Congressional Medal of Honor for his daring in the battle of Chancellorsville. He was in a party of four and they were under heavy fire from the enemy. They came across a wounded Confederate officer and they volunteered to go through heavy gunfire to return him to their lines. The Union Army obtained much needed information from this officer which saved many lives.
Abraham Cohn was the sergeant major of Company K, 4th Vermont Infantry. He received his Congressional Medal of Honor for two different acts of bravery. At the Battle of the Wilderness, he rallied and reformed the disorganized fleeing troops from several regiments and established a new line of defense that held. At the battle of Petersburg, Virginia, on July 30, 1864, he bravely and coolly carried orders to the advanced Union line under severe fire from the Confederate troops.
David Orbansky was a private in Company B, 58th Ohio Infantry. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry in many actions, which included the battle of Shiloh and Vicksburg.
Isaac Gause was a corporal in Company E, 2nd Ohio Cavalry. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor for capturing the colors of the 8th South Carolina Infantry in hand-to-hand combat while on a reconnaissance along the Berryville and Winchester Pike in 1864.
There were six Jewish recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor in the Civil War. They were the forerunners of the many Jewish military heroes who were to receive this prestigious medal in the future wars of our country.
This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.
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Last updated 12 May 2011