Civil War Medal Restoration
An interesting item came to me for restoration; this medal had been handed down in the family and had quite a history. It had been passed down to one of the descendants of the original owner, who was awarded the medal by the Grand Army of the Republic for being the youngest soldier to serve the in the American Civil War he was enlisted to serve in the United States Army at the age of 12 years and eight months.
During the American Civil War soldiers were officially required to be at least 18 years old, both sides desperately needed soldiers and were willing to look the other way when it came to age. Thousands of young boys between the ages of 13 and 17 fought in the Civil War. Many of these boys were killed or wounded in battle. The youngest of them usually ended up being drummers or messengers. Some historians estimate the number of soldiers under the age of 18 to be as much as 20% of the total number serving.
The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was an organization of veterans of the Union forces who served in the American Civil War. It grew into a powerful political force that included hundreds of posts (local community units) across the nation and a peak membership of more than 490,000. Linking veterans through their experience of the war, the G.A.R. became among the first organized advocacy groups in American politics, supporting voting rights for black veterans, promoting patriotic education, helping to make Memorial Day a national holiday. The GAR engaged in various Civil War commemorative and monument dedication ceremonies and held annual encampments around the nation that were attended by thousands of veterans. It was at one of these annual conclaves that this 14 karat gold medal was awarded.
The family has a newspaper article written at the time about the youngest enlisted Union soldier and the honoring of his service with a 14 karat gold medal set with diamonds. The article described the medal in great detail; it was a small version of the badge that was worn by the GAR members on their left breast.
The design of the badge, in use since 1869, is one that commemorates the great struggle in many ways. The pendant of the badge is a fine pointed star, like the Medal of Honor granted by Congress. The face of the medal has the Goddess of Liberty in the center, representing loyalty, and on either side stands a soldier and a sailor clasping hands in front of the Goddess to represent fraternity. & two children are kneeling in the foreground to receive a benediction and the assurance of protection from comrades. This is the symbol of charity. On each side of this center group are the flag and eagle representing freedom and an ax and a bundle of rods for union. In the star points are the emblems of different arms of service, bugle for infantry, cannon for artillery, muskets for marines, swords for cavalry, and an anchor for sailors. Surrounding the center is the legend, Grand Army of the Republic, 1861 Veterans -1866, the later date commemorating the close of the war and the founding of the order.
The medal fell upon hard times during the great depression of the 1930s when the diamonds were removed by the family and sold to get desperately needed cash. At that time part of the medal went missing.
The pendant of the badge is a fine pointed star, a facsimile of the Medal of Honor granted by Congress, and is made of bronze from cannons captured at major engagements in the War.
The current generation, understanding how unique this legacy is, saw the importance of restoring the medal before passing it on to the next generation and brought it to me to see what could be done. In its damaged condition it was certainly an interesting artifact, but it lacked the power of a complete living piece of jewelry. For my part, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to restore this medal, my own ancestors fought for the Union in the Civil War.
Unfortunately, the medal was in terrible condition when I first saw it. It had been badly damaged and desperately needed to be repaired. It was missing parts, the enamel was damaged and the clasp did not function.
Fortunately, we had the newspaper descriptions of it in its original condition and I am in the possession of GAR badges and artifacts that I was able use as a guide in a difficult restoration.
We normally prefer that the extent of any restoration to be minimal to avoid clouding the view of the original work, and damage historical significance. We decided in this case we could in fact; undertake a historical restoration of this piece because we were fortunate enough to have in our possession documentation of the original piece as it was in the past.
This restoration involved using authentic period details, materials, tools and techniques and extensive research. Our goal was to preserve all the work that was still good, repair or restore what is missing and broken so it would blend seamlessly with the original and re-create the appropriate patinas and surfaces so the new work would be difficult if not impossible to detect.
We made the decision to make an addition to the original mounting by recreating the missing component that originally fit in the center the medal. I was able to recreate the missing center and source antique old European cut diamonds to set where they were missing.
The power of human lives endures in in these objects. This one represents the sacrifice and the lost childhood of a little boy who volunteered to brave the horrors of war in order to save the United States.