Historic Valley Forge

The Badge of Military Merit

Q.Do you have any info on the badge of military merit, established in 1782?
jeremy m. tietjens, 24 yrs old. usaf member, raf. lakenheath, uk

A.The Badge of Military Merit was established by Washington on 7 August 1782. It was directed to be "the figure of a heart in purple cloth, or silk, edged with narrow lace or binding." It was meant to be bestowed whenever any singular meritorious action is performed. (It happens to be the forerunner of todays Purple Heart!)

Only three soldiers were given the medal:

  • Sergeant Elijah Churchill: 2nd Regiment, Light Dragoons. Awarded the badge for his part in two successful raids behind British lines in Nov. 1780 and in October of 1781.

  • Sergeant William Brown: 5th Connecticut Regiment. Awarded the badge for leading an advance party — with only bayonets — penetrating the British lines at Yorktown, VA on 14 October 1781.

  • Sergeant Daniel Bissell: 2nd Connecticut Regiment. Awarded the badge for masquerading as a British soldier from August 1781 to September 1782. (The information he gathered helped the Continental Army prepare for an attack on the British at the city of New York.)

On 22 February 1932, General Douglas MacArthur (War Department Chief of Staff at that time), announced the restoration of the Purple Heart by the use of the Army. (It was also the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington!) Today the standards of eligibility have changed from Washington's inception of the medal.

You can read more about it at: http://www.defenselink.mil/faq/pis/med_of_honor.html.

For a picture, and information on other Military Badges of Merit, you can look at the following book: Collector's Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Revolution by George C. Neumann and Frank J. Kravic. [ISBN# 0-9605666-8-6]