The Medal of Honor symbolizes the ideals of patriotism, courage, sacrifice, and integrity and is the highest award presented for military valor in action. Those recipients have shown bravery in combat, going above and beyond the call of duty, risking – and often sacrificing – their lives for the welfare of others.
First introduced for the Department of the Navy in 1861, the Medal of Honor would be created for the Department of the Army’s Medal of Honor in 1862. The Department of the Air Force, which originally used the same Medal as the Department of the Army, introduced their own Medal of Honor in 1965. Since its inception during the U.S. Civil War, more than 3500 recipients have been honored with the Medal of Honor.
This is the story of a Medal of Honor recipient.
Although I had visited Ohiopyle State Park a number of times and I was familiar with the old cemetery located along Campground Road, but was not aware of the other cemeteries in the immediate area. However, just to the northeast of the community rests another cemetery that is hidden from the casual visitor who comes to visit the numerous waterfalls that grace the state park.
This journey to Ohiopyle was not to visit the waterfalls, but to explore a number of cemeteries to pay respects to the regional figures resting in the mountains of Fayette County. We left town in a northeasterly direction and had barely left town when I turned onto King Road. The pavement quickly ended and roughly a mile later, the cemetery came into sight on the right side of the road. I parked in the small parking area opposite the cemetery and stepped out to study the sacred grounds – from where I stood, I could see the first of the two graves I sought about three-fourths of the way up the steep hillside.
“Want to go get my pictures?” I asked my parents who both declined my offer.
I crossed the dirt road and paused at the sign near the entrance to the Sugar Grove Cemetery. The sign noted the connection of the cemetery to the Falls City Baptist Church and beneath it was noted the resting place of not one, but two medal of honor recipients: Francis Morrison and Francis Cunningham.
I carefully made my way up the hillside, pausing to study the variety of older and newer stones. Although the cemetery is away from the community and surrounded by forest, it is well kept and I personally could not image having to mow the hillside. I arrived at the family plot which was surrounded by a short stone wall that – to my surprise – did not level out the plot much, leaving it sloping on the hillside.
Near the top of the plot, with a stone marked by a flag flapping lazily in the breeze was the final resting place of Medal of Honor recipient Francis Morrison.
Morrison was born January 15, 1845 in Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania. At the age of sixteen, he traveled to Uniontown to enlist in the Union Army as a private in Company H of the 85th Pennsylvania Volunteers.
Morrison’s time as a soldier during the Civil War was one marked with great service. Morrison was wounded during the Battle of Seven Pines, which was a part of the Peninsular Campaign to take Richmond. During the battle – which was May 31 and June 1, 1862 – Morrison was wounded the first of three times.
Morrison was involved in the Siege of Fort Wagner on Morris Island, a part of the defense of Charleston, South Island. The Confederate army knew they could not keep the fort and were in the process of smuggling supplies out of the fort and into Charleston. Union generals asked for volunteers for hazardous night duty. This mission was to intercept rebels moving the supplies and the group Morrison was with captured thirty-six men, including a Confederate Major. At some point during the siege, Morrison was wounded by an exploding shell.
In the early summer of 1864 Morrison’s unit was involved in a series of battles known as the Bermuda Hundred Campaign. This campaign was a series of battles in an attempt to take Petersburg and Richmond from the east. On June 17, 1864, the unit was retreating from battle when Morrison witnessed Jesse Dial fall from enemy fire. Morrison risked his life to rescue the fallen soldier. By the time Morrison returned with Dial, Dial had died, but Morrison’s actions would be remembered.
It would be this act of courage that Morrison would be nominated for the Medal of Honor. On August 2, 1897, Morrison was honored with the Medal. Private Morrison’s Medal of Honor reads: “The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Private Francis Morrison, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 17 June 1864, while serving with Company H, 85th Pennsylvania Infantry, in action at Bermuda Hundred, Virginia. Private Morrison voluntarily exposed himself to a heavy fire to bring off a wounded comrade.”
The final time Morrison was wounded during the war was on August 16, 1864 during the Second Battle of Deep Bottom, Virginia. He was wounded by a musket ball that passed through his right lung and left a hole in his shoulder that never healed. On July 17, 1865, Morrison was discharged from the army while at the White Hill Hospital in Maryland.
After the war, Morrison returned to Ohiopyle and later graduated from the Edinboro State Normal School where he gained his certificate to teach. In 1870, he married Eliza Jane Daniels and the couple had six children. Morrison taught for ten years before leaving education to become actively involved in regional politics. On April 30, 1913, Morrison passed at his home in Ohiopyle.
Morrison’s medal was passed down to his son, but was almost lost three years after his death. In 1916, a fire destroyed the family homestead and the medal was thought to have been lost. After digging through the remains of the house, the medal was discovered. After digging through the ashes for a couple of days, the fob part of the medal was recovered minus the ribbon and clasp, In 1955 the ribbon and clasp were replaced by the War Department.
I finished paying my respects, remembering the bravery of Francis Morrison and remembered his service during the U.S. Civil War. I paused to scan the hillside, searching for the location of another Medal of Recipient who was buried on this sacred hillside. Note: Francis Cunningham’s story can be found here: Francis Cunningham.