Of the many thousands of soldiers and seamen serving during the Revolutionary War, only a select few were singled out by the Continental Congress to receive its highest honors. Seventeen men had the distinction of being named, but of them, only seven received the ultimate award, a gold medal.
The names of those seven are familiar to most and have been the subject of countless remembrances by following generations, those who have studied and brooded endlessly over their actions attempting to vicariously understand and commiserate in their travails. In the attempt, we are fortunate to have access to the voices, albeit in limited fashion, of their political leaders through their various resolutions describing what the recipient did leading to their decisions making the award. They range in length from the brief notes concerning Washington’s award in 1776 to those of greater length in subsequent years when the actions of others were also recognized allowing them their silver, sword, and brevet awards.
While the Congress’s summaries of these men’s actions are necessarily abbreviated, they are no less interesting for their choice of words (or absence thereof), the prioritization used in naming various individuals, the types of awards made, and the rapidity in which they did so (often only a few weeks) following a particular event. The summaries serve as a snap shot of these times, “as permanent memorials at once of the historical events which they commemorate, of the spirit of the nation that creat[ed] them, and of the state of the art at the time of their creation.” Consideration of these various elements allows us to try and discern the mindsets of these legislators, and to gain an understanding of their unique perspectives.
General George Washington
GEORGIO WASHINGTON SVPREMO DVCI EXERCITVVM ADSERTORI LIBERTATIS COMITIA AMERICANA (The American Congress to George Washington, commander-in-chief of the armies, the assertor of liberty) for retaking Boson on March 17, 1776, resolved on March 25, 1776:
That the thanks of this Congress, in their own name, and in the name of the thirteen United Colonies, whom they represent, be presented to his Excellency General Washington, and the Officers and Soldiers under his command, for their wise and spirited conduct in the siege and acquisition of Boston; and that a medal of gold be struck in commemoration of this great event, and presented to his Excellency; and that a Committee of three be appointed to prepare a letter of thanks, and a proper device for the Medal.
Major-General Horatio Gates
HORATIO GATES DUCI STRENUO COMITIA AMERICANA (The American Congress to Horatio Gates, a valiant general) for the surrender of the British Army at Saratoga on October 17, 1777, resolved on November 4, 1777:
That the thanks of Congress, in their own name, and in behalf of the inhabitants of the thirteen United States, be presented to Major-General Gates, commander in chief in the northern department, and to Major-Generals Lincoln and Arnold, and the rest of the officers and troops under his command, for their brave and successful efforts in support of the independence of their country, whereby an army of the enemy of ten thousand men, has been totally defeated, one large detachment of it, strongly posted and entrenched, having been conquered at Bennington; another repulsed with loss and disgrace from Fort Schuyler; and the main army of six thousand men, under Lieutenant-General Burgoyne, after being beaten in different actions and driven from a formidable post and strong entrenchments, reduced to the necessity of surrendering themselves upon terms honourable and advantageous to these states, on the 17th day of October last, to Major-General Gates; and that a medal of gold be struck under the direction of the Board of War, in commemoration of this great event, and in the name of these United States presented by the President to Major-General Gates.
Brigadier-General Anthony Wayne
ANTONIO WAYNE DUCI EXERCITUS COMITIA AMERICANA (The American Congress to General Anthony Wayne) for taking Stony Point on July 15, 1779, resolved on July 26, 1779:
That the thanks of Congress be given to His Excellency General Washington for the vigilance, wisdom, and magnanimity with which he hath conducted the military operations of these States, and which are among many other signal instances manifested in his orders for the late glorious enterprise and successful attack on the enemy’s fortress on the bank of Hudson’s River.
That the thanks of Congress be presented to Brigadier-General Wayne for his brave, prudent, and soldierly conduct in the spirited and well-conducted attack of Stony Point.
That Congress entertain a proper sense of the good conduct of the officers and soldiers under the command of Brigadier-General Wayne, in the assault of the enemy’s works at Stoney Point, and highly commend the coolness, discipline and firm intrepidity exhibited on that occasion.
That Lieutenant-Colonel Fleury, and Major Stewart, who, by their situation in leading the two attacks had a more immediate opportunity of distinguishing themselves, have, by their personal achievements, exhibited a bright example to their brother soldiers, and merit in a particular manner the approbation and acknowledgment of the United States.
That Congress warmly approve and applaud the cool, determined spirit with which Lieutenant Gibbons and Lieutenant Knox led on the forlorn hope, braving danger and death in the cause of their country.
That a medal, emblematical of this action, be struck:
That one of gold be presented to Brigadier-General Wayne, and a silver one to Lieutenant-Colonel Fleury and Major Stewart respectively.
That brevets of captain be given to Lieutenant Gibbons and Lieutenant Knox.
That the brevet of captain be given to Mr. Archer, the bearer of the general’s letter, and volunteer aid to Brigadier-General Wayne.
That Congress approve the promises of reward made by General Wayne, with the concurrence of the commander-in-chief, to the troops under his command.
That the value of the military stores taken at Stony Point be ascertained and divided among the gallant troops by whom it was reduced, in such manner and proportion as the Commander in Chief shall prescribe.
Major Henry Lee
HENRICO LEE LEGIONIS EQUIT. PRӔFECTO. COMITIA AMERICANA (The American Congress to Henry Lee, major of cavalry) for the surprise of Paulus Hook on August 19, 1779, resolved on September 24, 1779:
That the thanks of Congress be given to his Excellency General Washington, for ordering, with so much wisdom, the late attack on the enemy’s fort and works at Powles Hook.
That the thanks of Congress be given to Major-General Lord Stirling for the judicious measures taken by him to forward the enterprise and to secure the retreat of the party.
That the thanks of Congress be given to Major Lee, for the remarkable prudence, address and bravery displayed by him on the occasion; and that they approve the humanity shown in circumstances prompting to severity, as honourable to the arms of the United States, and correspondent to the noble principles on which they were assumed.
That Congress entertain a high sense of the discipline, fortitude and spirit manifested by the officers and soldiers under the command of Major Lee in the march, action and retreat; and while with singular satisfaction they acknowledge the merit of these gallant men, they feel an additional pleasure by considering them as part of an army, in which very many brave officers and soldiers have proved, by their cheerful performance of every duty under every difficulty, that they ardently wish to give the truly glorious examples they now receive.
That Congress commend the conduct of Major Clark, Captains Handy, Forsyth, Reed, McClean, Smith, Crump, Wilmot, Bradford and Rudolph, and of Lieutenants Armstrong and Reed, who properly improved the several opportunities afforded them of serving their country, and acquiring Honor themselves.
That Congress justly esteem the military caution so happily combined with daring activity by Lieutenants McAllister and Rudolph, in leading on the forlorn hope.
That a brevet of lieutenant-colonel be given to Major Lee.
That a brevet and the pay and subsistence of captain be given to Lieutenant McAllister and to Lieutenant Rudolph.
That the sum of one hundred dollars for every prisoner be put into the hands of Major Lee, to be by him distributed among the Sergeants, Drums Rank File, non-commissioned officers and soldiers &c. of his Detachment, in such manner as the commander-in-chief shall direct.
That a medal of gold, emblematical of this affair, be struck, under the direction of the Board of Treasury, and presented to Major Lee.
That the brevet, and the pay and subsistence of captain, be given to Lieutenant McAllister and to Lieutenant Rudolph respectively.
That the sum of fifteen thousand dollars be put into the hands of Major Lee, to be by him distributed among the non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the detachment he commanded at the attack and surprise of Powles Hook, in such manner as the commander-in-chief shall direct.
Brigadier-General Daniel Morgan
DANIELI MORGAN DUCI EXERCITUS COMITIA AMERICANA (The American Congress to General Daniel Morgan) for victory at Cowpens on January 17, 1781, determined on March 9, 1781:
Considering it as a tribute due to distinguished merit to give a public approbation of the conduct of Brigadier-General Morgan, and of the officers and men under his command, on the 17th day of January last; when with eighty cavalry, and two hundred and thirty-seven infantry of the troops of the United States, and five hundred and fifty-three militia from the States of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, he obtained a complete and important victory over a select and well-appointed detachment of more than eleven hundred British troops, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Tarleton; do therefore resolve:
That the thanks of the United States in Congress assembled, be given to Brigadier-General Morgan, and the officers and men under his command, for their fortitude and good conduct, displayed in the action at the Cowpens, in the State of South Carolina, on the 17th of January last:
That a medal of gold be presented to Brigadier-General Morgan representing on one side the action aforesaid particularizing his numbers, the numbers of the enemy, the numbers of killed, wounded and prisoners and his trophies and on the other side his bust with his name and this inscription: Ipse agmen, the figure of the General on horseback leading on his troops in pursuit of the flying enemy, with this motto in the Exergue Virtus Unita Valet.
That a medal of gold be presented to Brigadier-General Morgan, and a medal of silver to Lieutenant-Colonel W. Washington, of the cavalry, and one of silver to Lieutenant-Colonel Howard, of the infantry of the United States; severally with emblems and mottos descriptive of the conduct of those officers respectively on that memorable day:
That a sword be presented to Colonel Pickens, of the militia, in testimony of his spirited conduct in the action before mentioned:
That a sword be presented to Lieutenant-Colonel Howard of the infantry, and one also to Lieutenant-Colonel Washington of the cavalry as testimonies of the high sense entertained by Congress of their martial accomplishments.
That Major Edward Giles, aid-de-camp of Brigadier-General Morgan, have the brevet commission of a major; and that Baron de Glasbeech, who served with Brigadier-General Morgan as a volunteer, have the brevet commission of captain in the army of the United States; in consideration of their merit and services.
Ordered, That the commanding officer in the southern department, communicate these resolutions in general orders.
Major-General Nathanael Greene
NATHANIELI GREEN [SIC] EGREGIO DUCI COMITIA AMERICANA (The American Congress to Nathaniel Greene, a distinguished general) for victory at Eutaw Springs on September 8, 1781, resolved on October 29, 1781:
That the thanks of the United States in Congress assembled, be presented to Major-General Greene, for his wise, decisive and magnanimous conduct in the action of the 8th of September last, near the Eutaw Springs, in South Carolina, in which, with a force inferior in number to that of the enemy, he obtained a most signal victory over the British army commanded by Colonel Stewart:
That the thanks of the United States in Congress assembled, be presented to the officers and men of the Maryland and Virginia brigades, and Delaware battalion of continental troops, for the unparalleled bravery and heroism by them displayed, in advancing to the enemy through an incessant fire, and charging them with an impetuosity and ardor that could not be resisted.
That the thanks of the United States in Congress assembled, be presented to the officers and men of the legionary corps and artillery, for their intrepid and gallant exertions during the action.
That the thanks of the United States in Congress assembled, be presented to the brigade of North Carolina, for their resolution and perseverance in attacking the enemy, and sustaining a superior fire.
That the thanks of the United States in Congress assembled, be presented to the officers and men of the state corps of South Carolina, for the zeal, activity and firmness by them exhibited throughout the engagement.
That the thanks of the United States in Congress assembled, be presented to the officers and men of the militia, who formed the front line in the order of battle, and sustained their post with honor, propriety and a resolution worthy of men determined to be free.
That two pieces of field Ordnance be presented to Major General-Greene by the Commander in Chief, with a motte [sic] engraved “from the United States in Congress Assembled to Major Genl. Greene, in honour of the Victory obtained under his Command near the Eutaw Springs in So Carolina on the 8th. September A. D. 1781.”
That a Sword be presented to Col. Williams of the Maryland line for his great military skill and uncommon exertions on this occasion.
That a British standard be presented to Major-General Greene, as an honorable testimony of his merit, and a golden medal emblematical of the battle and victory aforesaid.
That Major General Greene be desired to present the thanks of Congress, to Captains Pierce and Pendleton, Major Hyrne and Captain Shubrick, his aids de camp, in testimony of their particular activity and good conduct during the whole of the action.
That a sword be presented to Captain Pierce, who bore the general’s despatches, giving an account of the victory, and that the Board of War take order herein.
That the thanks of the United States in Congress assembled, be presented to Brigadier-General Marion, of the South Carolina militia, and the officers and men under his Com [sic] for his wise, gallant and decided conduct, in defending the liberties of his country; and particularly for his prudent and intrepid attack on a body of the British troops, on the 30th day of August last; and for the distinguished part he took in the battle of the 8th of September.
Captain John Paul Jones
JOANNI PAVLO JONES CLASSIS PRAEFECTO. COMITIA AMERICANA (The American Congress to naval commander John Paul Jones) for capture of the Serapis on September 23, 1779, resolved on October 16, 1787:
That a medal of gold be struck and presented to the Chevalier John Paul Jones in commemoration of the valour and brilliant services of that officer, in the command of a squadron of French and American ships, under the flag and commission of the United States off the coast of Great Britain, in the late war; and that the Honorable Mr. Jefferson, Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States at the Court of Versailles, have the same executed with the proper devices.
That a letter be written to his Most Christian Majesty, informing him that the United States, in Congress assembled have bestowed upon the Chevalier John Paul Jones this medal, as well in consideration of the distinguished marks of approbation which His Majesty has been pleased to confer upon that officer, as from a sense of his merit; And that as it is his earnest desire to acquire greater knowledge in his profession, it would be acceptable to Congress that His Majesty would be pleased to permit him to embark with his fleets of evolution, convinced that he can no where else so well acquire that knowledge which may hereafter render him more extensively useful.
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 Evening Post (New York), July 1, 1878.
 Interest in the Congressional Gold Medal continues and on January 14, 2015, legislation was introduced in the United States House of Representatives seeking the medal award to the First Rhode Island Regiment. “First Rhode Island Regiment Congressional Gold Medal Act,” H.R. 363 (114th Congress, 2015-2017), https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/hr363/text; see also, Matthew Eric Glassman, “Congressional Gold Medals, 1776-2014, Congressional Research Service, http://www.senate.gov/CRSReports/crs-publish.cfm?pid=%270E%2C*PL%5B%3C%230%20%20%0A
 Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789 (Washington: GPO, 1906), 4:234.
 Ibid., 9:861.
 Ibid., 14:890.
 Ibid., 15:1099.
 Ibid., 19:246.
 Ibid., 21:1083.
 Ibid., 33:687. Six years earlier, on April 13, 1781, a motion was first made on Jones’s behalf, but appears to have failed in carrying the requisite number of votes:
“The United States in Congress assembled taking into consideration the report of the Board of Admiralty respecting John Paul Jones, Esqr. a Captain in the Navy, and being impressed with an high sense of his gallant and military conduct; of his zeal and sensibility for the honor of their flag; of his patriotic and successful enterprise to rescue from captivity and violence the citizens of these States, who had fallen under the power of a vindictive Enemy; and in general of the eminent and unremitted services which have given so much luster to his character as a naval officer, and merited the warmest gratitude of his Country; Do therefore resolve that the thanks of the United States in Congress assembled be given to Captain John Paul Jones for his zealous, intrepid and brilliant services.
Resolved that a golden medal be presented to Capt. John Paul Jones, emblematical of the signal victory obtained by him over the British Ship the Serapis; and that the Board of Admiralty take order herein.” Ibid., 19:386.