|Did You Know?|
leaders of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have gone by various titles,
including Principal Engineer, Commandant, and Chief Engineer, until 28
July 1866, when the U.S. Congress designated the commander of the Corps of
Engineers as the Chief of Engineers.
Of the past fifty leaders of the Corps, only two have received our
nation’s highest award, the Medal of Honor.
valorous citation, often incorrectly termed the Congressional Medal of
Honor, is awarded by the president of the United States, in the name of
Congress, to servicemen who conspicuously distinguish themselves at the
risk of their own lives above and beyond the call of duty during combat
The genesis of the medal began during the early part of the Civil
War, when the U.S. Navy desired to formally recognize individual acts of
heroism with a campaign decoration.
On 21 December 1861, President Abraham Lincoln signed
into law Public Resolution 82 creating a Naval Medal of Valor.
Not to be left behind, the War Department wanted an Army
counterpart, and on 12 July 1862, Lincoln approved such an award. Within
a year, Congress had approved the renamed Medal of Honor as a permanent
M. Wilson was Chief of Engineers from 1 February 1897 to 30 April 1901.
He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1860.
Initially commissioned into the Artillery Corps, he
George L. Gillespie,
Jr., a native of Tennessee, received a commission into the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers upon his graduation from the U.S. Military Academy in 1862.
In spite of his Southern heritage, Gillespie remained loyal to the
Union. He received the Medal
of Honor for actions associated with the Battle of Cold Harbor when on 31
May 1864, he carried dispatches to and from General Philip Sheridan.
In order to ensure that the chain of command’s communications
remained intact, Gillespie endured intense enemy fire.
He faced enemy capture twice during battle, yet managed to escape
occasions. Thereafter, he
became General Sheridan’s military assistant.
Following the war, he worked on port and coastal
improvement projects. He also
served on the Board of Engineers, as president of the Mississippi River
Commission, and as commanding general of the Department of the East.
He received an appointment as Chief of Engineers on 3 May 1901, and
served until 23 January 1904. For
a short time in 1901, he served as Acting Secretary of War.
Gillespie was promoted to major general in 1904 and then served as
the Army’s Assistant Chief of Staff.
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