Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series on Delaware County Medal of Honor recipients.
The last Wednesday of each month, Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095 does flag refresh at Oak Grove Cemetery and Saint Mary Cemetery. Our refresh is to replace flags that are missing or need to be replaced due to conditions caused by weather. This allows us to help keep veteran graves identified and show respect for those that have passed. Our group and other groups, trustees and caretakers also do flag refreshes at many other cemeteries in Delaware County.
While participating in the May flag refresh, I came across a flag on the ground that was partially covered with weeds. Unfortunately, this is not an unusual situation. There are various reasons this may happen, but it is most generally caused by the weather. I picked the flag up and noticed the flag holder shaft bent and the flag holder portion flat on the ground, mostly covered by weeds. I then cleared the weeds off the veteran’s brass plaque.
Once I read the plaque, I was surprised and honored. The veteran was a Civil War recipient of the Medal of Honor. One of my chapter members suggested I do an article on that veteran. I called the Veterans Service Office to get a replacement flag holder. After receiving the flag holder, Rey Cordero, who works at the VSO, did research on Delaware County Medal of Honor recipients. There are a total of five, four of which were born in Delaware County. The four that were born in Delaware County, are not buried in Delaware County.
The veteran I came across is named Jacob Swegheimer. His grave plaque also says AKA John Jacob Swickheimer. For reference, his father is listed as Johann Jakob Schwechheimer. Swegheimer was born as John Swegheimer in the Kingdom of Württemberg (modern day Baden-Württemberg, Germany) on Feb. 25, 1843. He married Anna Basiger and fathered nine children, of which one lived until 1979. Jacob died on March 15, 1917, in Delaware, Ohio.
Swegheimer enlisted in the Army as a private at the age of 19 at Paducah, Kentucky, on 1 March 1862. He was assigned to Company I of the 54th Ohio Infantry. On 22 May 1863, during the Siege of Vicksburg, he participated in a volunteer storming charge, an action that earned him the Medal of Honor.
Swegheimer’s Medal of Honor citation reads: “The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Private Jacob Swegheimer, United States Army, for gallantry in the charge of the volunteer storming party on 22 May 1863, while serving with Company I, 54th Ohio Infantry, in action at Vicksburg, Mississippi.”
Swegheimer was mustered out of service on March 27, 1865, at Goldsboro, North Carolina. His Medal of Honor is accredited to Kentucky.
Another Delaware County veteran also received the Medal of Honor for gallantry during the Siege of Vicksburg on May 22, 1863.
Second recipient: Andrew W. Johnson was born in Delaware County in 1833. He died on Feb. 6, 1912, in Tower Hill, Illinois, and is buried in Tower Hill Cemetery. Johnson was a private in Company G, 116th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, Union Army during the American Civil War. Johnson joined the 116th Illinois Infantry in August 1862, and was discharged in February 1865.
Johnson’s Medal of Honor citation reads: “The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Private Andrew Johnson, United States Army, for gallantry in the charge of the volunteer storming party on 22 May 1863, while serving with Company G, 116th Illinois Infantry, in action at Vicksburg, Mississippi.”
On May 22, 1863, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ordered an assault on the Confederate heights at Vicksburg, Mississippi. The plan called for a storming party of volunteers to build a bridge across a moat and plant scaling ladders against the enemy embankment in advance of the main attack. The volunteers knew the odds were against survival and the mission was called, in nineteenth century vernacular, a “forlorn hope.” Only single men were accepted as volunteers and even then, twice as many men as needed came forward and were turned away.
The assault began in the early morning following a naval bombardment. The Union soldiers came under enemy fire immediately and were pinned down in the ditch they were to cross. Despite repeated attacks by the main Union body, the men of the forlorn hope were unable to retreat until nightfall. Of the 150 men in the storming party, nearly half were killed. Eighty-nine were awarded the Medal of Honor.
The Siege of Vicksburg, also known as the Battle of Vicksburg (May 18 – July 4, 1863), was the final major military action in the Vicksburg Campaign of the American Civil War. In a series of maneuvers, Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and his Army of the Tennessee crossed the Mississippi River and drove the Confederate Army of Vicksburg led by Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton into the defensive lines surrounding the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi.
When two major assaults (May 19 and 22, 1863) against the Confederate fortifications were repulsed with heavy casualties, Grant decided to besiege the city beginning on May 25. With no reinforcement, supplies nearly gone, and after holding out for more than forty days, the garrison finally surrendered on July 4. This action (combined with the surrender of Port Hudson to Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks on July 9) yielded command of the Mississippi River to the Union forces, who would hold it for the rest of the conflict.
The Confederate surrender following the siege at Vicksburg is sometimes considered, when combined with Gen. Robert E. Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade the previous day, the turning point of the war. It cut off the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas from the rest of the Confederacy, as well as communication with Confederate forces in the Trans-Mississippi Department for the remainder of the war.
The Medal of Honor was created during the American Civil War and is the highest military decoration presented by the United States government to a member of its armed forces. The recipient must have distinguished themselves at the risk of their own life above and beyond the call of duty in action against an enemy of the United States. Due to the nature of this medal, it is commonly presented posthumously. The total recipients of the Medal of Honor for the siege of Vicksburg were 124.
Harold B. Wolford is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095. He served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1973.