Saturday, April 27, 2013

16500. Charles N. Gardner


Near our hero Frank Alger lies Charles Gardner, just down the street at the Washington Street Cemetery in Norwell, Civil War Medal of Honor recipient. It should be known, though, that the government gave out far more Medals of Honor during that war than it ultimately realized it should have, and rescinded many of them. As a result of actions at the Battle of Five Forks, Virginia, for instance, seventeen medals were awarded. Charles Gardner earned one.

Side note here. Please never say that any recipient "won" a medal. Whether for lifesaving bravery or battlefield heroics, recipients earn their awards. Saying they won medals makes it sound like there was a lottery. Ok, off the soapbox.

Charles, a private with the 32nd Massachusetts Infantry, born right here in old South Scituate (now known as Norwell), earned his at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865, a confrontation known as the "Waterloo of the Confederacy." Facing unfavorable odds, Confederate General Robert E. Lee watched the results at Five Forks, a Union victory, and decided to pull up stakes from his defensive positions around Petersburg. Just days later the Union Army caught up to him and forced him into war-ending negotiations at Appomattox Court House. Gardner's role? He captured the Confederate flag at Five Forks, as symbolic an action in as symbolic a battle as there was in the Civil War.

Would he have received the award today? Probably not, but then, enemies today hardly send standard bearers prominently into battle to face each other. The world has changed, and so, too, have the regulations for the award. Nonetheless, Charles N. Gardner, in his time and place, earned the right to put the words "Medal of Honor" on his gravestone.

One final thought. Charles, born in South Scituate, and Frank, born in Middleboro, probably didn't know each other before the war, but there's no denying the possibility that after the war they came together at Grand Army of the Republic functions, or just in the daily life of Norwell and Hanover. Can you imagine the stories they shared?

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