Biden awards 2 Union soldiers posthumous Medals of Honor

Washington — President Biden awarded posthumous Medals of Honor on Wednesday to two Army privates who were part of a plot to hijack a train and destroy Confederate infrastructure during the Civil War. Mr. Biden said the honor was a “long time coming.” 

The president honored Philip Shadrach and George Wilson for their “gallantry and intrepidity” in carrying out a covert operation called the “Great Locomotive Chase,” which played out 200 miles behind Confederate lines in Georgia in 1862, the White House said. Union soldiers dressed as civilians infiltrated the Confederacy, hijacked a train and drove it north for 87 miles, destroying Confederate infrastructure along the way.

“For Philip and George and their brothers in arms, serving our country meant serving our country, our country, fighting and even dying to preserve the Union and the sacred values it was founded upon — freedom, justice, fairness, unity,” the president said. “George and Philip were willing to shed their blood to make these ideals real.” 

The descendants of Wilson and Shadrack accepted the medals on behalf of their ancestors. 

The operation, one of the earliest special operations in U.S. Army history, was hatched by James Andrews, a Kentucky-born civilian spy and scout. He proposed penetrating the Confederacy with the goal of degrading their railway and communications lines to cut off Chattanooga, Tennessee, from Confederate supplies and reinforcements. 

Andrews, together with 23 other men, infiltrated the South in small groups, coming together north of Atlanta. On April 12, 1862, 22 of the men commandeered a locomotive called The General and ventured north, tearing up railroad tracks and cutting telegraph wires as they went. The men became known as the Andrews’ Raiders. 

Shadrach, originally from Pennsylvania and orphaned at a young age, was just 21 when he volunteered for the mission. On Sept. 20, 1861, he left home and enlisted in a Union Army Ohio Infantry Regiment. Wilson, born in Ohio, was a journeyman shoemaker before he enlisted in a Union Army’s Ohio Volunteer Infantry in 1861. He also volunteered for the Andrews’ Raid. 

After the operation, both men were captured, convicted as spies and hanged.

“Ladies and gentlemen, until the very end, George and Philip believed in the United States of America, the only nation on earth founded on an idea,” Mr. Biden said. “Every other nation in the history of the world is based on geography, ethnicity, religion or some other attribute. But we’re the only nation founded on an idea. That idea is that all men are created equal and deserve to be treated equally throughout their lives. We haven’t always lived up to that, but like George and Philip, we’ve never walked away from it, either. Their heroic deeds went unacknowledged for over a century, but time did not erase their valor.” 

The ceremony comes as questions mount over Mr. Biden’s future as the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, with his public appearances under intense scrutiny following his halting performance at last week’s presidential debate. After the Medal of Honor ceremony, the president is meeting with Democratic governors to address their concerns and chart his path forward.

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