• Americas First Medals

        Ben's Bicenntennial thread on stamps and mint medals got me to pokin' around some of my 'old stuff'. The "Americas First Medals" series was issued from the United States Mint beginning back in 1973/1974. They were sold in groups of two and were intended to honor the memory of the first medals approved by the Continental Congress for presentation to members of the military of notable distinction. The medals originally were presented in gold and silver. The reproduction medals were struck in pewter. I pulled out one "of notable distinction" for your perusal.....

        Major Henry Lee is depicted on the fifth medal of the series Americas First Medals originally commissioned by the Continental Congress. Major Lee commanded light cavalry and was at the battle for Stony Point under the direction of General Washington to do reconnaissance work and assess the British defenses there. After storming the British positions and upon the achievement of victory by the colonials, Major Lee asked Washington if he could undertake a similar operation at Paulus Hook, now present day Jersey City, NJ. General Washington agreed , but limited Lee to a force of 200 men and made clear to Lee that the main purpose of the operation was to surprise the garrison, take prisoners and to in no way attempt to hold the fort. Just before daybreak on August 19, 1779, Lee's forces stealthily advanced and without firing a shot, cleared the abatis, crossed the ditch around the fort and entered the works. Lee and his men handily captured 158 prisoners and further intended to burn the barracks before embarking on their retreat, but the presence of wounded soldiers and women & children within the confines prevented Lee from doing so. Having achieved their objective, Lee and his men retreated back to Hackensack arriving there safely but were constantly harried by a British force along the way.

        The original medal was struck in gold and bears the distinction of being the only medal in this series to be designed by an American, Joseph Wright (1st engraver of the US Mint). The obverse (in Latin) reads: "The American Congress to Henry Lee, major of cavalry." The reverse, inscribed in Latin, reads: "Notwithstanding rivers and ramparts, he conquered, with a handful of men, the enemy by skill and valor, and attached by his humanity those vanquished by his arms. In commemoration of the Battle of Paulus Hook, August 19, 1779."

        Washington Before Boston was the first medal authorized by the Continental Congress. It was originally struck in gold and conferred upon General Washington for his successful dispatch of the British from the city of Boston in 1776.
        The original medal was prepared by Pierre Simon Benjamin Duvivier and struck in gold at the Paris mint. The obverse Latin inscription translates as: "The American Congress to George Washington, commander in chief of the armies, the assertor of liberty." The reverse translates (top) as: "The enemy put to flight for the first time" and (bottom) "Boston retaken, March 17, 1776

        General Horatio Gates is honored on the second medal authorized by the Continental Congress for his success in defeating the British at the Battle of Saratoga which essentially was the turning point of the war for American Independence. The defeat of the British in this action essentially removed their threat from the Hudson valley and allowed continued contact between the New England and Mid Atlantic colonies, something of which the British sought to disrupt.
        French engraver Nicolas Marie Gatteaux executed the original medal in gold. The Latin translation for the obverse inscription is "The American Congress to Horatio Gates, a valiant general." The inscriptions on the reverse read (top) "The safety of the northern regions" and (bottom) "The enemy surrendered at Saratoga on the 17th of October 1777."

        The third medal in the mint series "Americas First Medals" was awarded to General Wayne by the Continental Congress for his bold assault on the British fortifications at Stony Point. The attack was carried out under the cover of darkness and caught the British completely unawares. With bayonets fixed and muskets unloaded, the attackers secured the fort within twenty minutes. It was the last major engagement between British and Colonial forces in the northern theater of operations during the revolution.
        The original medal was designed by French engraver Nicolas Marie Gatteaux and struck in gold. The Latin inscription on the obverse reads: "The American Congress To General Anthony Wayne." The reverse reads: (above) "Stony Point carried by Storm,"and (below) the date: July 15, 1779.

        Colonel Francois Louis Teisseidre de Fleury is honored in the fourth medal in the mint series of Americas First Medals. The Continental Congress voted to confer upon Col. de Fleury a medal for his bold assault on the fortifications at Stony Point. De Fleury was the first to enter the main works of the fort where the British colors were swiftly struck by his own hands.
        The original medal was struck in silver and designed by Pierre Simon Benjamin Duvivier, chief engraver of the Paris Mint. The obverse Latin inscription reads: (above) "A Memorial and reward of courage and boldness", and (below) The American Republic presented this gift to D. de Fleury, a French knight, the first to mount the walls". At the top of the reverse the Latin inscription reads: "Fortifications, marshes, enemies overcome." The bottom inscription reads: "Stony Point carried by storm. July 15, 1779."
        It should be added that De Fleury was the only foreigner to receive a medal from the Continental Congress.

        The Battle of Paulis Hook was the last major engagement between British and Colonial forces in the Northern Theater of operations (Revolutionary War). Shortly after that battle the British shifted their operations to concentrate on the American south.
        General Daniel Morgan is honored on the sixth of the ten piece series "Americas First Medals" by the US Mint, for his victory at Cowpens (South Carolina). It was an amazing tactical victory and also renewed the colonials spirit to continue their fight for freedom. The army of the south, under General Nathanial Green, was too weak in numbers to stand up to a direct confrontation with the British forces under Lord Cornwallis. Greene instead chose to conduct a program of harassment (hit and run) against the enemy. In December 1789, Greene split his forces and charged Morgan with attacking and harassing British interests in the northwestern part of South Carolina. Cornwallis, choosing not to directly attack either force with his superior army, charged Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton to intercept Morgan in his endeavor. After a forced march Tarleton found himself facing Morgans army at Cowpens, early on the morning of January 17, 1781. Three lines comprised Morgans defense...the fist line was a line of skirmishers, the second, a line of undisciplined militia ,and the third (unseen by the British) was a line of disciplined regulars, light cavalry and militia. As Tarletons troops advanced the first two lines of Morgans forces collapsed (after firing two volley's) and withdrew to the rear. Thinking the colonials were in a rout and sensing quick victory, the British charged only to be met by Morgans third and more seasoned line of troops, and, defeat.
        The original gold medal awarded to Morgan was engraved by Augustin Dupre. On the obverse, inscribed in Latin, "The American Congress to General Daniel Morgan." On the reverse is inscribed (above) "Victory, the Vindicator of Liberty" and (below) "The enemy put to flight, taken, or slain, at the Cowpens, January 17, 1781".

        LT. Col. John E. Howard is honored on the seventh medal of the series "Americas First Medals" for his actions in command of the main line of regulars at the Battle of Cowpens. Given the propensity of undisciplined militia to turn and run when things got heated in battle, General Morgan stationed three lines of troops in preparedness for a frontal assault by British regulars and loyalist militia. The first line were skirmishers who were ordered to fire on the British attacking force and then to turn and retreat to the second line. The second line was made up of undisciplined militia who were ordered to fire two volleys at the advancing British and then stage an orderly retreat to the left flank. The third line, under Howard, was to take the full brunt of the British assault. Upon the collapse of the first two lines the British felt they had achieved quick and easy victory but instead ran into deadly fire and a bayonet attack from Howards troops. The counterattack was totally unexpected by the British and many just laid down their arms and surrendered on the spot. At one point Colonel Howard held in his hands the swords of seven British officers who had surrendered to him. For his actions He was awarded a medal for his courageous leadership.
        The original medal was struck in silver and engraved by Pierre Simon Benjamin Duvivier, chief engraver of the Paris Mint. On the obverse (Latin) the words read, "The American Congress to John Eager Howard, commander of a regiment of infantry." The reverse inscription (Latin) reads, "Because by rushing suddenly on the wavering lines of the enemy,he gave a brilliant example of martial courage at the battle of the Cowpens, January 1781