Civil War Surgeon Mary Walker
Dr. Walker Is The Only Woman Ever Awarded The Congressional Medal Of Honor.
As the Civil War broke out, Dr. Walker traveled to Washington to petition for a commission in the Army as a surgeon. Denied the commission, she served for several months as a contract surgeon. When she Walker was finally appointed assistant surgeon in the Army of the Cumberland, she made herself a slightly modified officer’s uniform that gave her more mobility when treating soldiers and working in field hospitals than women’s clothing of the day.
Dr. Walker was then appointed assistant surgeon of the 52nd Ohio Infantry. She continually crossed Confederate lines to treat civilians. Although she later fought rumors that she was not a qualified doctor, but a Union spy, it is presumed that she passed information during that time. Dr. Walker was taken prisoner in 1864 by Confederate troops and imprisoned in Richmond for four months until she was exchanged, with two dozen other Union doctors, for 17 Confederate surgeons.
In 1917, when criteria for awarding the Congressional Medal of Honor changed, Dr. Walker’s award was rescinded along with more than 900 others. She refused to return it, however, and wore it always. President Jimmy Carter restored the award to her in 1977. As a result of her service to the Union during the Civil War, Mary Walker was paid $766.16 and provided a monthly pension lower than those of most war widows.