Editor's note: This is the third in a series of articles.
It is an honor for me to do a story not only about a Civil War veteran from the city of Dunkirk, but also the recipient of our nation's highest award, the Medal of Honor. I was truly amazed by the amount of information that was available on the Civil War.
Information is available on the Internet and there is information I viewed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. It was actually easier for me to track down information on battles and units that fought during the Civil War than it was for me to get some of the final unit battle chronological reports on the units I had actually served with in the Vietnam War.
In obtaining information on Thomas Horan, one had to rely on the Internet, the National Archives, and the local stories that arose every time the topic of the city of Dunkirk's only Medal of Honor winner was discussed. Many stories were told, but not many have actual facts to back them up. As I stated in part one, I started my research in the mid '70s with a trip to Washington. I spent two afternoons in the National Archives building. I was fortunate to see the medical records showing the wound entrance in his left leg. Official records showed his Civil War compensation award of $12 per year. Later, I learned that this compensation was to be lowered to $6.
I can confirm the following: Thomas Horan was born in Ireland in 1839. His family (father Michael and mother Mary) was forced to immigrate to the United States because of the blight (The Great Potato Famine) in Ireland. Also confirmed was that brothers Michael and Patrick, who were also born in Ireland, made the trip from Ireland around the year 1846. Little more was available about this young Irish immigrant until paperwork showed up on May 28, 1861, when this young Dunkirk man enlisted in the Union Army in Dunkirk.
He was officially a soldier in E Company of the 72nd New York Infantry Regiment, also to be known as the Excelsior Brigrade. This new soldier was locked into a three-year military obligation. I obtained a copy of his military records. It was clear that advancement for this young soldier came fast. Within 30 days, this young private was promoted to the rank of corporal. Four months later, he was sewing on his sergeant stripes. It wasn't long before this sergeant would be leading his regiment into numerous battles. It was the day of July 2, 1863 at the famous Battle of Gettysburg. Sergeant Horan and the second division under Gen. Humphries started rallying parts of the Excelsior Regiment to charge back across the battlefield to ground which they had previous withdrawn from in an earlier advancement that had been centered on Florida's 8th Regiment.
With this first advancement being a failure, the regiment had left behind numerous artillery cannons and unlimited supplies of much-needed ammunition. History now tells us that in that second advancement of the 72nd Regiment, it would recapture all cannons, ammunitions and supplies that were left in the withdrawal. It was in that second advancement that Sgt. Horan displayed conspicuous bravery, rushing forward and capturing the regimental flag of Florida's Eighth Infantry Regiment. For this deed of heroism, Sgt. Horan would receive the Medal of Honor. As history also tells us, this brave sergeant would not see this medal for another 35 years. Sgt. Horan left the battlefield at Gettysburg and continued to serve as if the Battle of Gettysburg was just another battle that would go down as a victory for the Union army. Continuing to serve, on May 17, 1864, Sgt. Horan was engaged in the Battle of Wilderness.
His unit faced a large Confederate force. Sgt. Horan was wounded by a rifle round, which entered his upper left leg. Transported from the battlefield, he spent time in an Army Field Hospital. After his recovery, he immediately returned back to his unit and fought until the war's end. Besides his military records, it was also confirmed that Sgt. Horan returned home to Dunkirk.
Returning from the Civil War, Sgt. Horan had no knowledge or indication of receiving any award. He did have knowledge that he would be receiving Civil War Disability Compensation for the loss of some use of his left leg. With the rifle wound, came a limp that would stay with Horan until his death. For the disability from wounds received on the battlefield, Sgt. Horan received a yearly compensation of $12 per year. If ever he decided to marry, his wife would receive a one time benefit of $30 when he passed away.
Records showed that prior to 1870, Horan had left the city of Dunkirk and moved to Illinois. The National Archives records revealed that on March 10, 1870, Thomas Horan married Amelia Holman in Chicago. It was in this part of the National Archive records when I first realized that on March 22, 1898, a letter was sent from the Department of the Army by certified U.S. mail. The letter was addressed to Mr. Thomas Horan, 3230 Ashland Ave., Chicago, Illinois. The letter stated that, "One Medal of Honor Medal and one medal of Honor Ribbon, and Certificate will be sent to this address on or about April Fifth, 1898. Please advise when received." Also in this letter was a request for spouses or children's names. It was now clear to me that not only was the Medal of Honor awarded 35 years after the date it was earned, but I also realized Thomas Horan's wife never realized she would be marrying a Medal of Honor recipient.
I have been so honored to bring my story of this hero. Going back to my research in the '70s I was impressed when I was given the military information that was well over 100 years old.
The complete story on Dunkirk's Medal of Honor winner cannot be completely told until one can find his last resting place. As for now, one must visit the Dunkirk Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum. Last we know was that Horan left Dunkirk after his service, probably for work, maybe for marriage. Those records I could not find.
In closing there was this one entry that caught my eye, it actually was the last entry in Horan's military records. In this last entry in the National Archives office, which clearly stated: Thomas Horan's Civil War compensation for wounds received in his left leg will be reduced from $12 to $6. It was reported by a well respected woman, Thomas Horan was seen running and jumping on a moving train while it was leaving the Dunkirk train station. Reinstatement of a full compensation will be determined by another complete medical physical.
Sgt. Thomas Horan is our hero of the week.