April 20 • 07:03 AM

History holds stories of valor

Area soldiers earn Medal of Honor recognition from 1842 forward

November 06, 2013
Editor's note: In commemoration of Veteran's Day, this is the first in a two-part series on Medal of Honor recipients from around the area.


When researching my book Answering the Call to Duty: Saving Custer, Heroism at Gettysburg, POWs and Other Stories of Michigan's Small Town Soldiers in the Civil War I discovered that seven men from this area have been awarded the Medal of Honor, three during the Civil War and four since in other conflicts

The Medal of Honor is the United States of America's highest military honor, awarded for acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. It is awarded by the President of the United States in the name of the Congress. It was established on July 12, 1862 during the Civil War "To provide for the presentation for an Army Medal of Honor to the enlisted men of the army and volunteer forces who have distinguished themselves in battle during the present rebellion."

The Medal of Honor

A soldier can be nominated for the award through his or her chain of command or by a Member of Congress with the approval of a special Act of Congress. In all, nearly 3,500 medals have been awarded all but one to men. The lone woman was Mary Edwards Walker who was a civilian Union Army surgeon during the Civil War. The vast majority of the medals, 1,522, were awarded during the War Between the States. Nineteen men have been awarded two Medals of Honor for separate actions, including Monroe, Michigan's Thomas Ward Custer, brother of the infamous George Armstrong Custer. Unfortunately, Thomas died with his brother at the Little Bighorn in 1876.

Ten medals have been awarded so far for valor in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here are the area men who were recipients of the Medal of Honor.

Cpl. George W. Clute

George Washington Clute was born in Marathon Twp., Michigan on June 11, 1842. He was 5' 5" tall when he enlisted in Company I, 14th Michigan Infantry in Marathon on December 23, 1861 as a Private. He re-enlisted in the same unit in 1864 and was promoted to Corporal.

In a battle in Bentonville, North Carolina, Corporal Clute captured the battle flag of the 40th North Carolina. On August 26, 1898 he was awarded the Medal of Honor from the President of the United States for this action.

After the war, in 1866, he married his wife, Oretta, and in 1868 a daughter, Pearl, was born. Clute continued to farm in Mt. Morris until his death on February 13, 1919. He is interred in Mt. Morris Cemetery.

Sidney Haight

Sidney Haight was an illiterate farmer born in Reading, Michigan, Hillsdale County, on August 21, 1847. He joined Company E, First Michigan Sharpshooters, on October 23, 1863 at Goodland, Lapeer County. The MOH was presented on July 31, 1896. His citation reads: "The President of the United States, in the name of the Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Corporal Sidney Haight, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism 0n 30 July 1864, while serving with Company E, 1st Michigan Sharpshooters, in action at Petersburg, Virginia. Instead of retreating, Corporal Haight remained in the captured works, regardless of his personal safety and exposed to the firing, which he boldly and deliberately returned until the enemy were close upon him when he ran the gauntlet of shot and shell and escaped."

He died on September 17, 1918 and is buried in Reading, Michigan.

Frederick Alber

Frederick Alber came to the United States in 1846 from Germany where he was born on June 28, 1838. A farmer, Alber enlisted in Company A, 17th Michigan Infantry, July 2, 1862, at Manchester, for three years, at age 24. He mustered in on Aug. 19, 1862 and was mustered out at Delaney House, Washington, D. C. on June 3, 1865.

He was recommended for the Medal of Honor on February 21, 1865 by Major General John G. Parkes, commander of the 9th Army Corps for his action during the Battle of Spotsylvania, Virginia on May 12, 1864 but the medal was not presented until July 30, 1896. The citation reads: "Bravely rescued Lt. Charles H. Todd of his regiment who had been captured by a party of Confederates by shooting down one, knocking over another with the butt of his musket, and taking them both prisoners."

He died in Oregon Twp., Michigan at age 75 on September 12, 1913. He rests in the cemetery there.

William H. Smith

William H. Smith was born in Lapeer County in 1847. He joined the U.S. Army in 1869 as a Private in Company G, 1st Cavalry Regiment and received his Medal of Honor during the Indian Wars at the battle of the Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona on October 20, 1869. According to Smith's commander's official report:

"The noted Apache Chief Cochise offered resistance while the Indians on foot made for the mountains…"

The Indians were defeated and the supplies they had captured were retaken. The citation for the MOH presented by the President to William H. Smith on February 18, 1870 simply reads "Gallantry in action."

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