Dr. Mary E. Walker, M.D., a Civil War physician, was awarded the Congressional
Medal of Honor in 1865. Dr. Walker's Medal of Honor was rescinded in 1917,
along with some 900 others. Some believed her medal was rescinded because
of her involvement as a suffragette. Others discredit that opinion as 909
other medals rescinded were awarded to men. The stated reason was to ".
. . increase the prestige of the grant."
whatever reason she refused to return the Medal of Honor and wore it until
her death in 1919. Fifty-eight years later, the U.S. Congress posthumously
reinstated her medal, and it was restored by President Carter on June 10,
She is the only woman of the Civil War, or any war, to have been
awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Citation for the Congressional Medal of Honor:
Whereas it appears from official
reports that Dr. Mary E. Walker, a graduate of medicine, "has rendered
valuable service to the Government and her efforts have been earnest and
untiring in a variety of ways," and that she was assigned to duty
and served as an assistant surgeon in charge of female prisoners at Louisville,
Ky., upon the recommendation of Major Generals Sherman and Thomas, and
faithfully served as contract surgeon in the service of the United States,
and has devoted herself with much patriotic zeal to the sick and wounded
soldiers, both in the field and hospitals, to the detriment of her own
health, and has also endured hardships as a prisoner of war four months
in a Southern prison while acting as contract surgeon; and Whereas by reason
of her not being a commissioned officer in the military service, a brevet
or honorary rank cannot, under existing laws, be conferred upon her; and
Whereas in the opinion of the President an honorable recognition of her
services and sufferings should be made: It is ordered, That a testimonial
thereof shall be hereby made and given to the said Dr. Mary E. Walker,
and that the usual medal of honor for meritorious services be given her.
Given under my hand in the city of Washington, D.C., this 11th day of November,
A.D. 1865. Andrew Johnson, President
in uniform Dr Mary Walker was controversial - she added trousers under
her skirt, wore a man's uniform jacket and carried two pistols at all times.
Her military career was not actually military in that she was never commissioned.
She was refused a commission as an army surgeon, but served on a volunteer
basis at a Washington D.C. hospital. She worked as a field surgeon near
the Union front lines for almost two years (including Fredericksburg and
in Chattanooga after the Battle of Chickamauga), then was appointed assistant
surgeon of the 52nd Ohio Infantry. After spending four months in a Richmond
prison, she was released back to the 52nd Ohio as a contract surgeon, but
spent the rest of the war practicing at a Louisville female prison and
an orphan's asylum in Tennessee. During her stay with the 52nd Ohio it
is implied that she also served as a spy while wandering out in to the
civilian community to treat the sick and starving.
Her official "service record" reads as follows:
Dr. Mary E. Walker (1832 - 1919)
Rank and organization: Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon (civilian), U.
S. Army. Places and dates: Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861 Patent Office
Hospital, Washington, D.C., October 1861 Following Battle of Chickamauga,
Chattanooga, Tennessee September 1863 Prisoner of War, Richmond, Virginia,
April 10, 1864 - August 12, 1864 Battle of Atlanta, September 1864. Entered
service at: Louisville, Kentucky Born: 26 November 1832, Oswego County,
M. Stanton, Secretary of War, wrote of Dr. Walker: "She
lived a life of determined unconventionality; being a bloomerite from her
younger years, she preferred to dress in pants. Later on in life, still
practicing medicine, she could be seen wearing men's top hats and top coats
as well as pants."
Dr Mary Walker was a bright and determined female patriot who was way
ahead of her time. She fought to save lives, fought to gain approval, and
met with resistance not unlike that being heaped upon women in the military
today. The war left her scarred both physically and emotionally - but she
continued to strive for women's rights for many years. And sadly she died
alone, and almost penniless, at the age of eighty seven - and was not remembered
for her service to her country as much as she was remembered for being
"that shocking female surgeon in trousers!"