W. Va. Has Unfinished Civil War Business

Guards examine passes near Georgetown, Washington D.C., on the banks of the Potomac River in 1865. Washington became a spy-conscious capital during the Civil War.
AP/Library of Congress
West Virginia still has about 4,000 medals available for the descendants of Union soldiers who earned them during the Civil War.

The medals are all that remain of an order for 26,000 medals for veterans that the state placed just after the war, Division of Culture and History historian Greg Carroll said. While several states struck medals after the war, West Virginia is one of the few that has any left.

"We have a very rare collection of medals here because they're the real thing," Carroll said. "They were not made for veterans' camps or parades years after the war. They were designed in 1866 and delivered in 1867. These are originals, not the much cheaper medals you see in old photos, where soldiers have ribbons they were given for a parade."

Each of the remaining medals bears the name of a veteran and his military unit. Most are for an honorable discharge. Some are for soldier's who died from disease or wounds.

The rarest are for soldiers killed in battle, Carroll said.

"These have an exciting battle scene of an officer leading soldiers in a charge."

Many of the remaining medals were for black soldiers and remain unclaimed because of a lack of documentation.

"Often times, these were escaped slaves or relatives have a difficult time proving a relationship," Carroll said.

Carroll says the medals can be distributed to descendants who submit official documentation proving their relationship, such as census records. Descendants seeking a medal must submit an application, documentation and $30 to the state.

The state archives has a list of unclaimed medals and other information on its Web site at http://www.wvculture.org/history/medals.html.