Archive for March, 2013

The Howe Brothers and a Medal of Honor

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

10-year-old Lyston Howe and his 13-year-old brother, Orion Howe

Among many places, the stories of Lyston and Orion Howe can be found in G. Clifton Wisler’s book, When Johnny Went Marching. Their father, William Howe, was a veteran musician from the Mexican War. He had taught both boys to play the drum, and they were good. Lyston was still 10 years old when he followed his father into the 15th Illinois Infantry. Orion was made to stay in Chicago attending school. The father and son served in Missouri, until weather conditions caused Lyston to run a dangerously high fever. Believing him near death, he was discharged in October 1861 and sent to his grandmother in Chicago. But he surprised all and recovered. William became fife major for the newly formed 55th Illinois Infantry and once again, Lyston got to go and Orion was left behind. This time, Orion was determined to go, sneaked aboard a train, then a supply boat. Arriving in Memphis, Tennessee, Orion persuaded Lieutenant Colonel Oscar Malborg to accept him as drummer for Company C.

Orion soon became the pet of the whole outfit. From September 1862 when he enlisted at age 13, he continually amused his companions, outwitted officers, and dreamed up mischievous schemes for his brother and the other drummers. The two brothers found themselves on their own when their father left the army in February 1863. In May, the 55th became part of the Vicksburg Campaign. On the 19th, the 55th was ordered into action against fortified Confederate positions. Advancing along Graveyard Road, the regiment became trapped in a narrow ravine. As men fell all around, Orion rushed out among the fallen to retrieve their cartridge boxes. Ammunition was running low. The colonel, fearing for Orion’s safety, sent him and at least two others, back to the main army with a request for more ammunition.

They took off across the battlefield dodging bullets along the way. His companions were killed. Halfway to safety, Orion went down with a musket ball through his right leg. But he got up again and continued on to report to General Sherman, in spite of pain and loss of blood, the terrible situation of his unit. Sherman sent relief and ordered Orion to the hospital.

Impressed with the boy’s bravery and determination, the general arranged for his admission to the U.S. Naval Academy. Before this could happen, Orion was involved in an incident near Dallas, Georgia. There, while running dispatches, he picked up a discarded rifle and fired toward a group of resting Confederates. He missed. Angered, they fired back hitting him twice in the arm and once in the chest. Finally in 1865, after months of recovery, Orion became a Midshipman. But it didn’t last. He did not do well with the discipline and was dismissed after two years.

Orion’s military adventures continued after the war. He was shipwrecked in the Merchant Marine, and wounded and left for dead in the Indian campaigns in northern California. Decades after the war, units were given the opportunity to name one of their own for the Medal of Honor. The 55th named Orion. He received his Medal of Honor on April 23, 1896.

Primary source: G. Clifton Wisler, When Johnny Went Marching, 2001, pp. 31-34

Next week: David Wood, U.S. Cavalry