In July 1862 President Abraham Lincoln signed law into law the Army version of the Medal of Honor. Jacob Wilson Parrott (July 17, 1843–December 22, 1908) was the first recipient of the Medal of Honor, the new military award presented by the United States Department of War to Parrott and other Union Army soldiers who participated in the Great Locomotive Chase in 1862 during the American Civil War (1861–1865).
Under the command of civilian scout/spy James J. Andrews, a group of Union soldiers stole the “General” locomotive in what is now Kennesaw GA and headed north toward Chattanooga TN with the intent of cutting Huntsville AL off from military reinforcements by rail. They were captured and all the prisoners were tried in military courts, or courts-martial. Fourteen were hanged. The remaining raiders worried about also being executed attempted to escape and eight succeeded.
The remaining six were held as prisoners of war and exchanged for Confederate prisoners on March 17, 1863. Parrott was taken to Washington, D.C. where he met President Abraham Lincoln. Parrott who had been physically abused as a prisoner, was awarded the first Medal of Honor. He was presented with the Medal of Honor by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. He served with the Union Army for the rest of the war. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1863 after the Battle of Stones River and as a first lieutenant in 1864. Later, all but two of the other soldiers also received the medals, with posthumous awards to families for those who had been executed.
Parrott’s Citation Read: One of the 19 of 22 men (including 2 civilians) who, by direction of Gen. Mitchell (or Buell) penetrated nearly 200 miles south into enemy territory and captured a railroad train at Big Shanty, Ga., in an attempt to destroy the bridges and tracks between Chattanooga and Atlanta. Date of issue: March 25, 1863.
Parrott returned to Kenton, Ohio after the war and worked as a cabinet maker and ran a stone quarry out south of Kenton, Ohio. Parrott suffered a heart attack and died while walking home from the county courthouse in Kenton, Ohio in 1908.
Tomorrow, the Great Locomotive Chase. Rita Bay