Cpl. WILSON SMITH
Battery H, 3rd New York Light Artillery
6 September 1862
“General Order #37: Then general commanding this department desires to express his approbation of the conduct of Captain Riggs’s battery of light artillery of the Third New York Volunteers, in the attack on Washington, NC and particularly the conduct of Corporal Wilson Smith and the gunners manning the gun at the intersection of First and Bridge Streets, who stood to their guns until every man was shot down” By command of Major-General J.G. Foster, James H. Strong, Lieutenant and acting Assistant Adjutant-General.”
During the early days of US military heraldry the best one could hope for was to be mentioned in a dispatch or General order.
The concept of Medals for the individual soldier is actually a relatively new thing.
In July of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law a measure authorizing a “Medal of Honor” to be awarded in the name of Congress. It was to become our Nation’s highest award for bravery in the face of an enemy. Cpl. Smith was honored with both a dispatch and then later the Medal of Honor.
On the evening of Sept. 5, 1862 H – Battery packed up and began to march. Unbeknownst to them, Confederate troops were in position and attacked the town as soon as the main body left.
An order was given to stop the march and turn around, and go back to help the troops in battle. During the initial battle, Corporal Smith realized his Commanding officer had simply disappeared in the confusion and his position was in jeopardy of being captured by the enemy.
Smith took command and engaged the enemy. Confederate troops momentarily over-ran the gun emplacements at one point but ferocious hand to hand fighting took place with the Confederates finally retreating.
A Confederate attack was imminent; Smith noticed an enemy force approaching his position. He proceeded to fire 15 canisters in a record amount of time – in matter of just minutes, then relocated his gun to a better position.
Confederates swarmed the gun position forcing Smiths crew to engage the enemy in knuckle to knuckle and bayonet to bayonet. Although badly wounded during hand to hand combat, Cpl. Smith remained in command and continued to fire on the advancing Confederates repelling the attack and allowing the main body of his unit to regroup.
Of the six men in Smith’s crew, four of them were killed in hand to hand combat with attacking Confederates.
SMITH, WILSON: Rank and organization: Corporal, Battery H, 3d New York Light Artillery. Place and date: At Washington, N.C., 6 September 1862. Entered service at: Madison, N.Y. Birth: Madison, N.Y. Date of issue: 24 April 1896. Citation: Took command of a gun (the lieutenant in charge having disappeared) and fired the same so rapidly and effectively that the enemy was repulsed, although for a time a hand_to_hand conflict was had over the gun.