“Courage isn’t a brilliant dash A daring deed in a moment’s flash; It isn’t an instantaneous thing Born of despair with a sudden spring. But it’s something deep in the soul of man That is working always to serve some plan.” -Edgar A. Guest.
Hasbrouck House, Newburgh, New York, Wednesday, 7 August 1782. George Washington, the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, sat at his desk in what had once been the Hasbrouck family kitchen. The intense summer heat was relieved only by the gentle breeze from the Hudson River about 400 yards away. This grey dressed stone and rubble Dutch vernacular style house had served as Washington’s headquarters since 31 March when he had returned north to the strategic Hudson Highlands after his victory at Yorktown.
By 7 August 1782, hostilities had ended and peace talks were under way in Paris. That day, George Washington’s thoughts were with his men camped nearby at New Windsor. They had suffered appalling privations for over six years. His officers were on the verge of mutiny because of lack of pay, rations and supplies withheld by a corrupt and negligent Congress. Worse, Congress had taken away the authority of his general officers to recognize their soldiers’ courage and leadership by awarding commissions in the field. Congress simply could not afford to pay their existing officers let alone any new ones. As a result, faithful service and outstanding acts of bravery went unrecognized and unrewarded. George Washington was determined to end that. So from his headquarters perched 80 feet above the Hudson, he issued a general order establishing the “Badge of Distinction” and “Badge of Merit.” “Honorary Badges of distinction are to be conferred on the veteran Non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the army who have served more than three years with bravery, fidelity and good conduct; for this purpose a narrow piece of white cloth of an angular form is to be fixed to the left arm on the uniform coats;
Non-commissioned officers and Soldiers who have served with equal reputation more than six years, are to be distinguished by two pieces of cloth set in parallel to each other in a similar form “Honorary Badges of distinction are to be conferred on the veteran Non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the army who have served more than three years with bravery, fidelity and good conduct; for this purpose a narrow piece of white cloth of an angular form is to be fixed to the left arm on the uniform coats;
The General, ever desirous to cherish a virtuous ambition in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of military merit, directs that whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings, over his left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth, or silk, edged with narrow lace or binding. Not only instances of unusual gallantry, but also of extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way shall meet with a due reward….The road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus opened to all. “Thus, George Washington established the “Badge of Merit”. In its shape and color, the Badge anticipated and inspired the modern Purple Heart. In the exceptional level of courage required to be considered for the Badge, however, it was the forerunner of the Medal of Honor. This year we celebrate its 150th anniversary.
To read more about the Purple Heart medal: Go here