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May 30, 1863: First Marine to earn new 'Medal of Honor'

May. 30, 2013 - 05:41PM   |  
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Military Times has learned that a former silversmith from Brooklyn will become the first U.S. Marine to earn the nation’s highest honor for bravery.

Just over a year ago, Sgt. John Freeman Mackie was aboard the ironclad U.S.S. Galena, among a flotilla of warships trying to knock out the Confederate stronghold of Fort Darling on the bluffs above the James River, about four miles outside Richmond.

Overpowered by the big rebel guns positioned at the fort, however, it wasn’t long before Galena was only the ship still in the fight.

For four hours, the ship and her crew faced the fort alone with its massive naval guns — known as Parrot rifles — capable of lobbing 100-pound rounds from as much as four miles downriver. The ship’s armor was not enough to protect the crew of one of those cannon, however, when a 10-inch rebel round exploded through.

That’s when Mackie could be heard yelling, “Come on boys, here’s a chance for the Marines,” as he and a team of Marines manned the Parrot and kept the gun in action.

Although initially frowned upon by the War Department as “too European,” medals for valor are now becoming more common. The Navy was the first to establish a Medal of Honor at the end of 1861. Six Union troops become the first soldiers to receive the award last year after hijacking the Confederate steam engine “The General.”

Mackie will be the first Marine to receive the medal in a ceremony slated for July 10 aboard his current ship, the USS Seminole, now serving along the coast of Texas.

The Confederate Congress approved the “Southern Cross of Honor” in October, meant to be on par with the U.S. Medal of Honor, although many of the troops awarded the medal so far have a yet to actually receive the award, because of metal shortages.

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