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Assistant Surgeon Bernard JD Irwin

Date of Award: January 24, 1894
Conflict: Indian Wars
Branch: U.S. Army

Assistant Surgeon Bernard J.D. Irwin portraitBernard Irwin was the first recipient of the nation’s highest military honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor. During the Indian Wars, Irwin served as an assistant surgeon, and was credited with performing the first surgery in the state of Arizona and inventing the first tent hospital during the Civil War. Irwin was also an exceptional commander who, along with 14 other men, volunteered to rescue 2nd Lt. George Bascom and 60 other men of the 7th Infantry who were trapped in Chiricahua Apache territory.

Irwin and his men embarked on a 100-mile march on mules, because there were no horses for them to ride. After engaging in battle with Indians along the way, Irwin managed to take prisoners, and recover stolen horses and cattle. Although Irwin's bravery in this conflict was the earliest Medal of Honor action, it would be 30 years before he would officially be honored with the distinguished medal.

Citation: “Voluntarily took command of troops and attacked and defeated hostile Indians he met on the way. Surgeon Irwin volunteered to go to the rescue of 2d Lt. George N. Bascom, 7th Infantry, who with 60 men was trapped by Chiricahua Apaches under Cochise.”

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