Cpl. Samuel J. Churchill was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1897 for his actions at the Battle of Nashville, December 15, 1864. While the men of his detachment sought shelter from an enemy barrage, Churchill “stood manfully at his post,” singlehandedly loading and firing 11 rounds from his cannon before help arrived. An impressive task for any man, this action is particularly remarkable when one considers that a fully staffed Civil War artillery piece had a crew of 8 men to conduct loading, aiming, and firing procedures.
– – IN HIS OWN WORDS – –
excerpted from his book, _Genealogy and Biography of the Connecticut Branch of the Churchill Family in America_ (Lawrence, KS: Journal Publishing, 1901), pp. 75-76.
This material is in the public domain.
[The Union army began to engage Southern forces just outside of the city of Nashville, Tennessee.]
On December 14, 1864, the Union line advanced and attacked the rebel army in their fortifications. We had to march for some distance under a galling fire from the enemy before we could get our battery in position. Number one, of my gun detachment, seemed very anxious to get into the fight. He would hug the cannon with both arms and say, “We’ll give it to ’em, won’t we, old Bett?” Old Bett was his pet name for the gun. Our battery was ordered in position on high ground in plain view of two rebel batteries, on to our right and the other directly in front, about 240 yards distant, which were doing their best to dislodge the Union forces, and several men and horses were killed before we could get our battery in position. My gun, a 12-pound Napoleon, was located about eight feet to the right of a large brick house. At the command “load!” number one of the cannoneers (referred to above) took the sponge staff, sponged the gun, and while waiting for number five to come up with the ammunition, a volley from the rebel batteries caused him to become terror stricken. He dropped his sponge staff and ran behind the brick house. His terror spread to the other cannoneers, who also fled, and neither command or entreaty could move them to return to their gun. It was there that I won my medal of honor. In the face of a terrible rain of shot and shell from the enemy I loaded and fired my gun eleven times alone before assistance came. The rebel batteries were silenced and driven back and the Union forces took an advanced position.
– – ARMY CITATION – –
from _War of the Rebellion: The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies_,
Series I, Vol. XLV, part I, p.492.
Report of Col. E.H. Wolfe,
Commanding Third Brigade, Second Division, Army of the Tennessee Detachment.
Near Columbia, Tenn., December 23, 1864
Inasmuch as all the batteries of this division were placed under the immediate control of Captain Lowell, G Battery, Second Illinois, acting as chief of artillery, during the two days, I have not referred to the action of my [brigade’s] battery during either day, though I have personal knowledge of the valuable services rendered and the crushing execution done by this battery. The battery was engaged constantly during the two days, and the conduct of the officers and men at all times was such as to merit approval. Corpl. Samuel J. Churchill, of this battery, commanding one gun detachment, is highly commended for distinguished bravery displayed on the first day. At a time when two of the enemy’s batteries opened upon his guns, compelling for a short time the men of his detachment to seek the protection of the ground, this young soldier stood manfully up to his work, and for some minutes worked his gun alone.
– – AWARD LETTER – –
– – FROM THE WAR DEPARTMENT – –
as excerpted from Samuel J. Churchill’s book, _Genealogy and Biography of the Connecticut Branch of the Churchill Family in America_ (Lawrence, KS: Journal Publishing, 1901), pp. 76-77.
This material is in the public domain.
WAR DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON CITY, January 20, 1897
Mr. Samuel J. Churchill, Late Corporal Battery G, Second Illinois Light Artillery:
SIR: I have the honor to inform you that, by direction of the President and in accordance with the act of Congress, approved March 3, 1863, providing for the presentation of medals of honor to such officers, non-commissioned officers and privates as have most distinguished themselves in action, the Assistant Secretary of War has awarded you a medal of honor for most distinguished gallentry in action at the battle of Nashville, Tennessee, December 15, 1864.
. . . .
This non-commissioned officer, commanding one gun detachment, and when the enemy’s batteries opened upon his gun compelling the men of his detachment for a short time to seek shelter, stood manfully at his post and for some minutes worked his gun alone.
– – A COMRADE – –
– – COMES TO HIS ASSISTANCE – –
excerpted from the book, _Genealogy and Biography of the Connecticut Branch of the Churchill Family in America_ by Samuel J. Churchill, (Lawrence, KS: Journal Publishing, 1901), pp. 77-79.
This material is in the public domain.
LAWRENCE, KANSAS, January 25, 1897
Chief of the Record of Pension Office, War Department, Washington, D.C.:
DEAR COLONEL: Yours of January 20 was received the 22d, and the medal was received the 23d. I am very happy to be accounted worthy to receive such an honor, and I assure you that I appreciated it very highly and thank you most sincerely. I just want to say to you that there was a private soldier in my battery that deserves a medal of honor as much or more than I did. It was at the battle of Nashville, December 15, 1864; he was the wheel driver of the caisson and his position at the time was comparitively out of danger. He saw my situation as I was manning the gun alone, and asked permission of the lieutenant to come and help me, which was given and he came boldly up where the missiles of death were flying thick and fast and said to me, “Let me help you; the lieutenant says I can.” I never was so glad to see a man as I was to see him. He took the sponge staff and went to work like an old warrior, and he was ever after that my number one of the gun detachment, and the number one that left me had to take his place as driver. That was true gallantry. His name was J.A. Thorp, private, Battery G, Second Illinois Light Artillery. I have not heard from him since the war, and know not if he is dead or alive. I shall always hold him in grateful remembrance as a true and brave patriot.
Thanking you again for your kind remembrance, I am very truly,
SAMUEL J. CHURCHILL
This letter was published and copied by many papers all over the country, and finally I received the following letter from the man himself:
MONTROSE, KANSAS, February 6.
Samuel J. Churchill:
FRIEND AND COMRADE: In reply to your letter of inquiry, which has been published, will say that J.A. Thorp is still in the land of the living and well. I came to Kansas in the spring of 1883, and settled here in Jewell county. My occupation is farming. For a good many years I have been trying to locate some of the Battery G boys, but never have succeeded in hearing from any of them until I saw your letter, and it came to me in such a way that it does me lots of good it revives old memories. I congratulate you for the medal of honor that has been awarded you for your heroism at the battle of Nashville, Tennessee, December 15, 1864. It was the men that stood by their guns in the heat of battle that won the victory, not the skulkers. And when number one dropped the sponge staff and skulked to the rear and you were left alone, I could hardly wait for my relief to come, and when I took that sponge staff there wasn’t a man on earth that felt any better than I did. If you remember I pulled my jacket off and rolled up my sleeves as if I was going to chop wood. I really thought for a while that we were going to get the worst of it, but the victory was ours, and the old battle stained flag Stars and Stripes looked brighter than ever before.
I must say that words are inadequate to express my gratitude for the part that you have taken in my behalf, and if I should succeed in obtaining a medal it will be through your kindness. Give me the address of as many of the battery boys as you know, as I would like to hear from every one of them. Hoping to hear from you soon, I remain as ever,
JAMES A. THORP
Formerly of Battery G, Second Illinois Light Artillery
I have seen this comrade several times since and have done my best to get him a medal, but have failed for the reason that no “special mention” was made in the offical war records of what he did.
Medal of Honor awarded to Samuel J. Churchill
posted here with permission of Taylor Owen, a descendent.
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