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No Medals for Scouts

5/17/2016:

The First North Dakota Volunteer Infantry played a crucial role in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War that followed. Eighteen out of twenty-five members of the unit known as Young’s Scouts came from North Dakota. While virtually unknown today, the Scouts were hailed as heroes in their day. They won fame for their absolute fearlessness in the face of enemy fire. The Grand Forks Herald noted that “No similar body of men in the Philippines performed more heroic acts or with greater valor than did the members of Young’s scouts.” So, it is no wonder why on this date in 1904, North Dakotans were outraged at the news coming out of Washington. There would be no medals for the Scouts.

There was no shortage of praise for the Scouts. Their commander, General Henry Ware Lawton, declared that they were superior to any unit he had ever commanded. In one engagement, the Scouts charged 350 enemy soldiers and drove them off. In another, they routed 200 enemy soldiers. In their most famous action, the enemy had set a bridge on fire to prevent the Americans from crossing a river. The Scouts faced an overwhelming force as they saved the bridge and held it until reinforcements arrived.

The newspaper asserted that, had General Lawton lived, he most certainly would have seen that his scouts were properly recognized for their heroism. But Lawton had been killed in the Philippines. The Scouts did, however, have an advocate. North Dakota Senator Henry C. Hansbrough had been lobbying on their behalf for two years. In 1902, Hansbrough introduced a bill directing the Secretary of War to issue the medals. But the Secretary was able to convince enough Congressmen to oppose the measure, and it never became law. Hansbrough was undeterred. On May 6, 1904, he personally delivered a letter to the Secretary of War. He noted that the defense appropriation bill contained a provision authorizing the awarding of medals to non-commissioned officers and enlisted men who distinguished themselves in action.

Hansbrough dogged efforts finally paid off when eleven Scouts from North Dakota were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on March 3rd, 1906.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher

Sources:

Grand Forks Herald. “No Medals for Scouts.” 17 May, 1904

Cooper, Jerry with Glenn Smith. Citizens as Soldiers: A History of the North Dakota National Guard.” Fargo, ND: Institute of Regional Studies, 1986.

Durand, John. Young’s Scouts: A Complete History. Elkhorn, WI: Puzzlebox Press, 2004.

Linn, Brian McAllister. The Philippine-American War, 1899-1902. Kansas City: University Press of Kansas, 2000.