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Badge of Military Merit

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Badge of Military Merit

Badge of Military Merit

The Badge of Military Merit is considered the first military award of the United States Armed Forces. Although the Fidelity Medallion is older, after being issued to three soldiers for a specific event in 1780 it was never awarded again, so the Badge of Military Merit is often considered the oldest.[1] The Purple Heart is the official successor decoration of the Badge of Military Merit.


The Badge of Military Merit was first announced in General Continental Army issued on August 7, 1782 at the Headquarters in Newburgh. Designed by Washington in the form of a purple heart, it was intended as a military order for soldiers who exhibited, "not only instances of unusual gallantry in battle, but also extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way."[2]

First awards

The writings of General Washington indicate that three badges, two Honorary Badges of Distinction[3] and a Badge of Military Merit, were created on August 7, 1782. This is thought to be the first time in modern history that military awards had been presented to common soldiers. The practice in Europe was to honor high-ranking officers who had achieved victory, rather than honoring common soldiers.[4] But in America, as General Washington said, the "road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is…open to all."[2]

Of the Badge of Military Merit, Washington said:


Most historians indicate that only three people received the Badge of Military Merit during the American Revolutionary War, all of them noncommissioned officers, and the only ones who received the award from General Washington himself. Those soldiers are as follows:

On May 3, 1783

On June 10, 1783

While these three soldiers were most likely the first to receive the Badge of Military Merit, discharge certificates of other Revolutionary War soldiers indicate that they also received the "Badge of Merit" for their years of faithful service. Microfilmed images of these discharges bearing Washington's signature can be found in the individual records of soldiers at the National Archives.

George Washington's papers show that he also referred to the Badge of Military Merit as the Badge of Merit. This is evident in his orders to award the above-mentioned Sergeants Brown, Churchill and Bissell.[6][7] The "book of merit" or orderly book mentioned by Washington in his general orders of August 7, 1782 in which the awards were to be recorded has never been found.[8]

Other recipients

Some examples of other soldiers who were awarded the "Badge of Merit" for faithful service, according to their discharges (it is unclear whether the badges referred to are Honorary Badges of Distinction or the Badge of Military Merit):

Status of original badges

Daniel Bissell Jr.'s badge was discovered in an unidentified barn in Deerfield, New Hampshire in the 1920s by Captain William Willey, according to the American Independence Museum in Exeter, New Hampshire, who displayed the framed item at their historic site. This information was reported in an article, by quilt historian Patricia L. Cummings, which was written for.[13] The publication is a newspaper for the antiques market. An image of the badge appears in a re-publication of the article on Cummings' business website page:

[14][15] Other sources say that Brown's badge was reported missing in 1924, and further, that the badge from New Hampshire belongs to an unknown fourth recipient.[16] The photograph above shows Sergeant Churchill's badge, which is owned by New Windsor Cantonment, National Temple Hill Association.[17] Churchill's badge was discovered when a Michigan farmer who was the great grandson of Churchill wrote to a New York historical society saying he possessed the badge. It was proven authentic and now is on display at the National Temple Hill Association in Vails Gate, New York.[18] Sergeant Bissell's badge was lost in an 1813 house fire.[8]


After the Revolutionary War, the Badge of Military Merit fell into disuse although it was never officially abolished. In 1932, the United States War Department authorized the new Purple Heart Medal for soldiers who had previously received either a Wound Chevron or the Army Wound Ribbon. At that time, it was also determined that the Purple Heart Medal would be considered the official "successor decoration" to the Badge of Military Merit.[17]

Notes and references

  1. ^ Phoenix, J. (August 7, 2007). "The 225th Anniversary of the Purple Heart".  
  2. ^ a b c "The George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799". George Washington, August 7, 1782, General Orders. August 7, 1782. Retrieved October 1, 2006. 
  3. ^ Honorary Badges of distinction are to be conferred on the veteran Non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the army who have served more than three years with bravery, fidelity and good conduct; for this purpose a narrow piece of white cloath [ ^ Moran, Donald N. "Medals and Awards of The Revolution". Sons of Liberty Chapter, Sons of the American Revolution. Retrieved May 26, 2010. 
  4. ^ Fitzpatrick, John C. The Writings of Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1931-1944; reprint, New York: Greenwood Press, 1970. 
  5. ^ a b c "The George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799". George Washington, April 27, 1783, General Orders. April 27, 1783. Retrieved October 1, 2006. 
  6. ^ a b "The George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799". George Washington, June 8, 1783, General Orders. June 8, 1783. Retrieved October 1, 2006. 
  7. ^ a b "The Badge of Military Merit" article from the Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution
  8. ^ Rees, John U. The music of the Army...", An Abbreviated Study of the Ages of Musicians in the Continental Army""". (Originally published in The Brigade Dispatch, Vol. XXV, No. 4, 2-12). 
  9. ^ "Pension Records: John Pasko". Fold3. Retrieved April 21, 2011. 
  10. ^ Tice, Joyce M. "Tri-Counties Genealogy & History: 1897 Tioga County History". Retrieved February 8, 2012. 
  11. ^ "Pension Records: William Dutton". Westford Colonial Minutemen. Retrieved June 22, 2007. 
  12. ^ "UnRavel the Gavel" newspaper, Volume 16, Number 4, May 20-June 16, 2005, front page, 7A, 8A, and 10A
  13. ^ Note: A photograph of Sergeant Brown's badge appears on page 423 (Plate VII) of the National Geographic publication Insignia and Decorations of the U.S. Armed Forces
  14. ^ , Vol. 5, No. 3 (Autumn, 1941), pp. 211-214Military AffairsFirst page of "For Military Merit" by Allen Pennell Wescott in from JSTOR, the Scholarly Journal Archive
  15. ^ Military Order of the Purple Heart (2001). The Legacy of the Purple Heart.  
  16. ^ a b "The Institute of Heraldry". Purple Heart.  
  17. ^ Orders, Decorations and Medals: United States Purple Heart referencing Live Wire Fayetteville Online Saturday, September 16, 2000
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