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First Name: Bernard

Last Name: Irwin

Birthplace: IRE

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Middle Name: J.D.

Date of Birth: 24 June 1830

Date of Death: 15 December 1917

Rank: Major General

Years Served: 1856-1894
Bernard J.D. Irwin

•  Indian Wars (1775 - 1924) intermittent


Bernard John Dowling Irwin
Major General, U.S. Army
Medal of Honor Recipient
Apache Wars

Bernard John Dowling Irwin was born on 24 June 1830 in Ireland. He was an Assistant Army Surgeon during the Apache Wars and the first (chronologically by action) Medal of Honor recipient. His actions on 13 February 1861 are the earliest for which the Medal of Honor was awarded.

Cochise, the Chiricahua Apache Chief, and a group of Apache warriors had kidnapped a boy and a small group of U.S. soldiers in the Arizona Territory after the Army had captured his brother and nephews. When the Army refused to make a prisoner exchange, Cochise killed all his prisoners, except the boy. The Army then killed Cochise's brother and nephews. Second Lieutenant George N. Bascom led a group of men of the U.S. Seventh Infantry after Cochise but was soon captured and taken prisoner along with 60 other soldiers, prompting a rescue mission by the Army.

13 February 1861

In response to the capture of Lieutenant Bascom and his men, Irwin set out on a rescue mission with 14 men. He was able to catch up with the Apaches at Apache Pass in present day Arizona. Irwin strategically placed his small unit around Cochise and his men, tricking the Apache leader into thinking that he had a much larger army with him. The Apaches fled and Bascom and his men were saved. Bascom and his men joined Irwin and together they were able to track Cochise into the mountains, where they rescued the young boy that Cochise had captured previously.

The Medal of Honor

The Medal of Honor did not exist when the event of 13 February 1861 occurred; the Medal was not established until 1862. However, the actions of Colonel Irwin were remembered and he was awarded the Medal of Honor just prior to his retirement on 21 January 1894.


Bernard's son, George LeRoy Irwin, served in the U.S. Army during World War I and became a Major General. His grandson, Stafford LeRoy Irwin, served in the Army in World War II and he also retired as a Major General.

Death and Burial

Major General Bernard John Dowling Irwin died on 15 December 1917. He is buried at the United States Military Academy Post Cemetery in West Point, Orange County, NY.

Honoree ID: 14   Created by: MHOH




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