Dr. Mary Walker, the first and only female to every be awarded a Medal of Honor, was among a group of 911 to have their awards rescinded in 1917 when the criteria for the honor was narrowed to those who engaged in "actual combat with the enemy."
Linda Moss Mines, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County historian and vice president for education for the Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, said that during the Civil War, acts of valor were not as well documented, and many of those purged medals were likely given initallity as political favors.
"No one 'wins' the award. You were given the medal honor or you were chosen," Mines said.
The standard for a Medal of Honor later became that two eyewitnesses needed to attest to one's actions. Walker was nominated by Gen. George Thomas, the "Rock of Chickamauga," and Gen. William T. Sherman, who wouldn't have nominated Walker if she wasn't deserving, Mines said.
After extensive lobbying by her relatives and supporters long after her death, the honor was restored by President Jimmy Carter in 1977, according to an article from the American College of Surgeons. Once more her heroism was recognized for her "distinguished gallantry, self-sacrifice, patriotism, dedication and unflinching loyalty to her country, despite the apparent discrimination because of her sex."
While a number of foremen and medics have earned the Medal of Honor for actions similar to Walker's, they were all men, Mines said.
"She was working alongside other U.S. Army surgeons, but because she was a woman, being in the Army was simply not an option for her," Mines said. "Yet, she's on the battlefield, and she's treating those patients — I think that's why there was such an outcry."