Medal of Honor: Thomas Evans

Thomas Evans, Bethel Baptist Church Cemetery

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.

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I was in the Ebensburg area to visit the grave of a man who was honored for his bravery during the U.S. Civil War. The cemetery where he rests is a couple miles west of Ebensburg, at a very busy intersection on the southern side of Route 422.

I had studied a map of the area and pictures of the small cemetery beforehand, but received a major disappointment when I arrived at the intersection of Route 422 and Cardiff Road. I initially believed there was a place to pull safely off into the grass once I had turned onto Cardiff Road, but realized the embankment was a little steeper than I had thought. Without having a place to safely pull off the road, I turned around and returned to Route 422. Turning west again, I noticed a gravel lot near the cemetery. Not sure if I was permitted to park there, I turned around in it and found a place next to the cemetery where I could pull far enough off the busy Route 422 to visit the cemetery.

I turned on the hazard lights and – when I found a break in the traffic – stepped out of the vehicle. As I hurried around the vehicle, I could see the veteran’s stone I had come to visit and carefully made my way to the monument. It stood at the rear of the Bethel Church in remembrance to the military service of Thomas Evans, whose bravery was recognized with the Medal of Honor.

Very little is known about Evans’ early life, but it is known he was born in Wales in the United Kingdom in 1824. In the “Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866” in the Pennsylvania State Digital Archives, he is listed as being a heater, or the person who tended the fire in an iron furnace.

On February 9, 1864, at the age of forty, Evans enlisted in Cambria County and was mustered in the same day at Johnstown as a private in Company D of the 54th Pennsylvania Infantry. Evans had only been in service for a couple months when he captured the battle flag of a Confederate unit. On June 5, 1864, the 54th Pennsylvania Infantry was part of an engagement in the Shenandoah Valley known as the Battle of Piedmont. The 54th Pennsylvania was a part of the brigade lead by General David Hunter who had been given the objectives of: 1) clearing the Shenandoah Valley of all Confederate forces 2) capturing Staunton and stopping the Confederate Army from using it as a supply point and 3) cross the Blue Ridge Mountains to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad.

On the morning of June 5, the Union troops under the direction of General William Jones and General John Imboden’s cavalry encountered the Confederate army. The two armies clashed on the Staunton Road near the community of Piedmont, and it was during this conflict that Evans managed to capture the battle flag of the 45th Virginia Infantry.

Late in the battle, General Jones was shot and killed. General John Vaughn took command of the collapsing Confederate line and called a retreat. The following day, General Hunter marched his men into Staunton.

On November 26, 1864, Evans was honored for the capture of the Confederate battle flag. The citation for his Medal of Honor is: “The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Private Thomas Evans, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 5 June 1864, while serving with Company D, 54th Pennsylvania Infantry, in action at Piedmont, Virginia, for capture of flag of 45th Virginia (Confederate States of America).”

Evans was mustered out of service on May 31, 1865. He returned to Ebensburg where he died the following year.

And then Evans was forgotten about. It would not be until 2007 a marker was placed for him in the Bethel Baptist Church Cemetery.

I stood remembering the bravery shown by Thomas Evans, thankful his service had not been forgotten and is still remembered to this day. I finished honoring the Medal of Honor recipient, before respectfully leaving the cemetery to those resting at the busy intersection.

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