A specimen of one of the most historically important medals issued by the state of South Carolina is pictured above. Authorized by the state legislature in late 1848, specimens of the Palmetto Regiment medal were struck by Charleston silversmiths Gregg, Hayden & Co. in early 1850 from dies cut by William J. Keenan. Gregg, Hayden & Co. was a prominent silversmithing firm in Charleston in the 1840s and 1850s and Keenan was a Charleston engraver and lithographer who was also in business during the same time period.
The medal was most adequately described in the May 16th, 1850 issue of the Charleston Courier as below:
The pictured medal is made of silver, measures 49 mm in diameter and weighs approximately 44 grams. It is believed that 882 specimens were awarded - 68 gold medals (awarded to commissioned officers) and 814 silver medals (awarded to non-commissioned officers and enlisted men). The specimen above was awarded to Private Micajah Cooper of Company K (Barnwell District), who died during the war at Puebla, Mexico on July 10, 1847.
A postcard depicting the Palmetto Regiment monument on the State House grounds in Columbia, circa 1910.
Private Cooper's fate was no different than many other members of the Palmetto Regiment. Of the 1027 men that were mustered into service, 292 lost their lives. Most of these 292 died from disease (234), as only 56 were killed in action or died later from wounds received in action. The staggering number of men lost to disease attests to the horrifying conditions that the volunteers were subjected to during the course of the campaign. Most, had they known what lay in store for them in Mexico, would probably never have signed up for such hardships.
A copy of a print entitled "Death of Col. Pierce M. Butler," by N. Currier, 1847.
Even the highest-ranking officer would not return to his home state alive. Colonel Pierce Butler, a former governor of South Carolina and the officer pictured on the medal rallying his men to shore, was killed by enemy fire during the battle of Churubusco. Butler's body was returned to South Carolina by ship in January 1848 and a large funeral took place in Columbia. Butler was laid to rest in Trinity Cathedral's graveyard, but was moved in 1853 to a churchyard in Saluda.
Detail from an oil painting in the collection of The South Caroliniana Library showing the Palmetto Regiment in the attack on Chapulpetec.
Despite all the hardships encountered, the Palmetto Regiment brought honor to the state by performing admirably in battle. There were five battles in which the Palmettos participated, and each one is delineated on the obverse of the medal. The battles of Vera Cruz, Contreras, Churubusco, Chapultepec, and Garita de Belen all involved the Palmetto Regiment to one degree or another. Perhaps the Palmetto Regiment's highlight of the war was the planting of the regimental flag atop the castle at Chapultepec, effectively ending Mexican resistance to the advancing American forces and paving the way for the capture of Mexico City.
Copyright 2000 by Tony Chibbaro.
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