Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


The highest military award is such a prestigious honor that the President of the United States himself bestows the medal upon the recipient, who has earned this rare distinction for gallantly and bravely risking his life beyond the call of duty.

The Army was the first to present the Congressional Medal of Honor, according to Palimpsest, State Historical Society of Iowa, Vol. LIII, No. 4, April, 1972, and Time Almanac 2004 concurs. The award was approved by Congress in 1861 and originally, the Army and the Navy each issued their own medals. The medals were nearly identical, except that the Navy ones had an anchor as part of the decoration.

Palimpsest says that the first medals by the Navy were issued on April 3, 1863. Time Almanac 2004 agrees that the Army was first to award these medals, which were given to the six survivors of Mitchell’s Raiders on March 25, 1863: Jacob Parrott, Robert Buffum, William Bensinger, Elihu Mason, William Pittenger, and William Reddick (my great-grandfather.)

Disagreement over the date of issue exists, and whether or not the first recipients were Army or Navy servicemen. Some claim that two navy medals were issued ahead of these first Army awards. In The General, an account by one of the survivors, it says that President Lincoln presented the medals to the men on March 27. This is still a week before the official date of the Navy’s first award of this medal (April 3, 1863.)

Eleven percent of Iowa’s population served in the Civil War, and Iowans came away from this bloodshed with 29 Congressional Medals of Honor. One of these was bestowed upon Van Buren County’s own Voltaire P. Twombly, who was from Pittsburg.

Twombly was a Corporal of Company F, 2nd Iowa Infantry. His service began on February 15, 1862 at Fort Donelson, Tennessee and was completed early in 1865.

"After three members of the color guard had fallen, Twombly took the colors, was almost instantly knocked down by a spent ball, immediately arose and bore the colors to the end of the engagement." This was the citation that won him the Congressional Medal of Honor. Twombly accompanied Sherman through Georgia in his famous "march to the sea" in November, 1864. Shortly after that campaign, he was discharged.

When Voltaire Twombly returned to Iowa he studied at the Burlington Business College. For awhile he was a flour merchant in Ottumwa, then engaged in the milling business at Pittsburg and was a merchant in Keosauqua. For four years, Twombly was Van Buren County Treasurer, served as mayor of Keosauqua for nine months, then went on to serve as Treasurer of the State of Iowa for three terms. He was president of a bank he organized in Des Moines from 1891-1908. Twombly died February 25, 1918 and is buried at Pittsburg Cemetery. Photo

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick