There were 28 Medals of Honor awarded to Federal soldiers for valor in the Campaign. 5 in the Battles at Crampton's, Fox's, and Turner's Gaps on South Mountain on September 14, one at Harpers Ferry on the 15th, 21 at Antietam on the 17th, and one for Shepherdstown on the 20th. There were also at least 100 other men with the Army of the Potomac that September who had already or would later receive Medals of Honor at other engagements in the War.
Official records of these awards were first gathered together from "dusty archives" at the request of the US Senate in 1973, and are currently maintained by the US Army's Center for Military History (CMH). We dug through the approximately 1200 citations for the Civil War period in an attempt to determine which of the men were also likely to have been at Antietam.
All of these citations are listed on our MoH Index page.
"Early in the Civil War, a medal for individual valor was proposed to General-in-Chief of the Army Winfield Scott. But Scott felt medals smacked of European affectation and killed the idea. The medal found support in the Navy, however, where it was felt recognition of courage in strife was needed. Public Resolution 82, containing a provision for a Navy medal of valor, was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on December 21, 1861".
"Shortly after this, a resolution similar in wording was introduced on behalf of the Army. Signed into law July 12, 1862, the measure provided for awarding a medal of honor 'to such noncommissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldierlike qualities, during the present insurrection'. Although it was created for the Civil War, Congress made the Medal of Honor a permanent decoration in 1863".
(from Armed Forces Decorations and Awards, a publication of the American Forces Information Service)
Although authorized by legislation of the Confederate Congress, and approved by President Davis in October 1862, no Confederate Medals of Honor were ever issued to soldiers. Due to financial pressures, metal and other shortages, and opposition from some persons in authority (probably including General R. E. Lee), nominations were not acted upon. There is no question that there were many Southern soldiers who would have qualified, and should have been recognized with such a medal.
As an alternative, a Roll of Honor was established by legislation. This Roll was to contain the names of deserving soldiers selected one-per-company by their peers at each engagement. This was apparently only sparingly utilized, notable exceptions being Chickamauga and Murfreesboro in the West. There appear to be only 3 Regiments represented in the Roll published after Sharpsburg.
In the more recent past, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), an organization of descendents of Confederate Veterans, has reintroduced the Confederate Medal of Honor, and has awarded about 50 [ list ] since beginning in about 1968. These are, obviously, not official, war-era recognition.
Of the 28 medals awarded for valor in the Maryland Campaign, 5 were for action on the 14th of September, one on the 15th, 21 at Antietam on the 17th, and one on the 20th. Of the 21 for Antietam, 8 were awarded for bravery in either defending or capturing colors. These flags were the heart and soul of any Civil War military unit - the guiding symbols for the men in battle, literally and figuratively - and they were often defended to the death. 5 of the awards were for selfless devotion to help save their comrades, 5 for performing critical acts at great personal risk, and the remaining three for exceptional leadership under fire. Three of the five citations for actions at the South Mountain Gaps were for singlehandedly capturing groups of Southern soldiers, in two cases while wounded. The fourth was for personal leadership in rallying and leading a brigade of troops, and the fifth for bravery in scouting the enemy positions.
The youngest and most junior of the 26 recipients was Bugler John Cook, at 15 years old, who manned a cannon near the Miller Cornfield when all of the officers and most of the gunners had been killed or wounded. The most senior was Brigadier General John Hatch, who personally led a brigade of his Division in the assault on Turner's Gap on South Mountain on the 14th.
See more about ... all recipients present on the Campaign