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Bernard John Dowling Irwin
Bernard J D Irwin.jpg
Bernard J. D. Irwin, Medal of Honor recipient
Born (1830-06-24)June 24, 1830
Died December 15, 1917(1917-12-15) (aged 87)
Place of birth Ireland
Place of burial West Point Cemetery
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Department of the Army Seal United States Army
Years of service 1856 - 1894
Rank US-O8 insignia Major General
Battles/wars Apache Wars
Awards Medal of Honor

Bernard John Dowling Irwin (June 24, 1830 – December 15, 1917) was an assistant army surgeon during the Apache Wars and the first (chronologically by action) Medal of Honor recipient. His actions on February 13, 1861 are the earliest for which the Medal of Honor was awarded.

Irwin was also interested in natural history and while at Fort Buchanan, Arizona in 1858-1860 he collected reptile specimens for the Smithsonian Institution.[1] In 1857 Irwin donated a meteorite to the Smithsonian Institution that came to be known as the Irwin-Ainsa (Tucson) meteorite.[2]

Cochise and the ArmyEdit

Cochise, the Chiricahua Apache chief, and a group of Apache warriors had kidnapped a boy and a small group of U.S. soldiers in the Arizona Territory after the army had captured his brother and nephews. When the army refused to make a prisoner exchange, Cochise killed his prisoners with exception to the boy. The U.S. army then killed Cochise's brother and nephews. Second Lieutenant George N. Bascom led a group of men of the U.S. Seventh Infantry after Cochise but was soon captured and taken prisoner along with 60 other soldiers prompting a rescue mission by the army.

February 13, 1861Edit

In response to the capture of Bascom and his men, Irwin set out on a rescue mission with 14 men. He was able to catch up with the Apaches at Apache Pass in present day Arizona. He strategically placed his small unit around Cochise and his men, tricking the Apache leader into thinking that Irwin had a much larger army with him. The Apaches fled and Bascom and his men were saved. Bascom and his men joined Irwin and together they were able to track Cochise into the mountains and rescued the young boy that Cochise had captured previously.

The Medal of HonorEdit

The Medal of Honor did not exist during this event. The medal was not established until 1862. However, the actions of Colonel Irwin were remembered and he was awarded the Medal of Honor just prior to his retirement on January 21, 1894.


His son George LeRoy Irwin served in Great War and became a Major General in the Army and his grandson Stafford LeRoy Irwin also served in the army, becoming a general in World War II.

His daughter, Amy Irwin Addams McCormick, was a nurse with the red cross during WWI and married Robert R. McCormick in 1915.[3]

See alsoEdit


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