Biden awards Medal of Honor to 2 Civil War heroes who helped hijack a train

President Joe Biden presents a Medal of Honor to Gerald Taylor (C), the Great, Great Nephew of Private Philip G. Shadrach, Posthumous Medal of Honor Recipient in the East Room of the White House on July 03, 2024 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Anna Mon

President Joe Biden awarded a Medal of Honor Wednesday afternoon to two Union soldiers who stole a train positioned in Confederate territory during the Civil War. 

Biden commemorated the bravery of U.S. Army Pvts. Philip G. Shadrach and George D. Wilson 162 years later with the nation’s highest military honor. 

"Every soldier who joined that mission was awarded the Medal of Honor except for two. Two soldiers who died because of that operation and never received this recognition," Biden said. "Today, we right that wrong."

The president said Wednesday that Shadrach and Wilson were "fighting and even dying to preserve the union and the sacred values it was founded upon: freedom, justice, fairness, unity," the Associated Press reported. 

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"Phillip and George were willing to shed their blood to make these ideals real," Biden said.

The soldiers took the train and drove it north for 87 miles and destroyed railroad tracks and telegraph lines. The soldiers were later captured by Confederate soldiers and executed.

Theresa Chandler, the great-great-granddaughter of Wilson, recalled for The Associated Press how the Union soldier had the noose around his neck on the gallows and spoke his final words.

She said that Wilson essentially said that he was there to serve his country and had no ill feelings for the people of the South, but that he hoped for the abolition of slavery and for the nation to be united again.

Brian Taylor, a great-great-great-nephew of Shadrach, said this was an opportunity for his ancestor to be remembered as "a brave soldier who did what he thought was right," the AP noted. 

"I kind of feel that he was a bit adventurous, a bit of a free spirit," Taylor said.

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Shadrach and Wilson were acknowledged for taking part in what became known as the "Great Locomotive Chase." Shadrach, Wilson, and 20 other soldiers volunteered for a mission to disrupt a railway and telegraph lines used by the Confederacy. 

The group stole a train named "The General" and destroyed tracks and telegraph wires on April 12, 1862. 

Confederate soldiers captured the Union troops and several were executed, while others escaped or were prisoners of war.

Years later, the first Medal of Honor was awarded to Pvt. Jacob Parrott, who took part in the locomotive theft. He was imprisoned by Confederate soldiers after being captured. 

According to the AP, the federal government later acknowledged the 18 other soldiers who participated in the mission, but Shadrach and Wilson were left out. 

The AP noted that Shadrach and Wilson were approved to get a posthumous Medal of Honor as part of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act. The Civil War killed over 600,000 Union and Confederate service members between 1861 and 1865. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Washington, D.C.