Stories of America's Greatest Heroes

Ken Harbaugh tells the stories of service members who have distinguished themselves through an act of valor. These stories feature recipients from the Civil War to present day, including a few who were originally overlooked for the medal.

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Jacob Parrott

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Jacob Parrott received the first Medal of Honor ever awarded for his participation in the Great Locomotive Chase during the Civil War.

Learn more about Parrott and the Great Locomotive Chase here:

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Ken Harbaugh: Welcome to the Medal of Honor Podcast. I’m your host, Ken Harbaugh. In each episode, we’ll learn about a different service member who has distinguished him or herself through an act of valor.

For our first episode of the Medal of Honor Podcast, we’re going all the way to the beginning - the first Medal of Honor ever awarded after it was created by Congress during the Civil War.

Jacob Parrott joined the Army in 1861 as a private in the 33rd Ohio Infantry. In April of 1862, he volunteered for a military raid led by James J Andrews, which I’ll walk you through in a minute.

But first, a little background. The Union Army wanted to shrink Confederacy borders by cutting them off from the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys. Major General Ormsby Mitchel decided that the way to do this was to capture Chattanooga - a valuable water and railway junction. Mitchel knew his troops were no match for the water and mountain barriers around the city. But - if they could ensure that the Confederates wouldn’t get any reinforcements by railroad from Atlanta, they might stand a chance.

Andrews, a civilian scout and spy, made a plan. He gathered a group of volunteer soldiers, including Jacob Parrott.

The soldiers crossed Confederate lines and traveled more than 200 miles dressed as civilians and moving through the heavy rain in small groups to avoid any suspicion.

On the morning of April 12, the passenger train headed north from Atlanta on its usual route. At this time, trains usually made stops for meals, rather than using dining cars - so they had stopped at a hotel for breakfast. While the passengers ate their meals, Jacob Parrott and the other Union soldiers stole the train and made a run for it. The train’s conductor, William Fuller, hopped on a handcar with two other men and followed in hot pursuit.

Jacob Parrott’s crew had a tough ride - they did manage to cut telegraph wires, so the station masters couldn’t be warned about the stolen train. And they tried to break rails behind them as they went, making it harder for Fuller to follow. But they got stuck for over an hour halfway to Chattanooga, giving Fuller time to almost catch up.

Less than 20 miles from Chattanooga, Jacob Parrott and the other Union soldiers abandoned the train and fled. They were all caught by Confederates within 2 weeks and the attack on Chattanooga failed.

When Parrott was taken prisoner, he was severely beaten and tortured for information. He and 14 others managed to escape, but Parrott was one of the few who actually made it back alive. It was for this raid and mission that he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Meanwhile, 8 of the soldiers were executed by Confederates, including Andrews, the leader of the gang. As a civilian scout, he wasn’t even eligible for the Medal of Honor that Parrott and most of the others received.

The Medal of Honor Podcast is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Special thanks to Evergreen executive producers Joan Andrews and Michael DeAloia. Our producer is Isabel Robertson. Audio engineer is Sean Rule-Hoffman. Thanks for listening!

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