Major General Bernard J. D. Irwin

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Bernard John Dowling Irwin

Birthdate: (87)
Birthplace: County Roscommon, Ireland
Death: December 15, 1917 (87)
Cobourg, Canada
Place of Burial: United States Military Academy Post Cemetery, West Point, Orange County, New York, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of James Irwin and Sabina Marie Dowling
Husband of Antoinette Elizabeth Stahl
Father of Major General George LeRoy Irwin; Amie de Houle "Amy" Irwin; Stafford Dowling Irwin and Ida Irwin

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About Major General Bernard J. D. Irwin

Bernard John Dowling Irwin (June 24, 1830 – December 15, 1917) was an assistant army surgeon during the Apache Wars and the first (chronologically by action) Medal of Honor recipient. His actions on February 13, 1861 are the earliest for which the Medal of Honor was awarded.

Irwin was also interested in natural history and while at Fort Buchanan, Arizona in 1858-1860 he collected reptile specimens for the Smithsonian Institution. In 1857 Irwin donated a meteorite to the Smithsonian Institution that came to be known as the Irwin-Ainsa (Tucson) meteorite.

Cochise and the Army

See also: Bascom Affair

Cochise, the Chiricahua Apache chief, and a group of Apache warriors had kidnapped a boy and a small group of U.S. soldiers in the Arizona Territory after the army had captured his brother and nephews. When the army refused to make a prisoner exchange, Cochise killed his prisoners with exception to the boy. The U.S. army then killed Cochise's brother and nephews. Second Lieutenant George N. Bascom led a group of men of the U.S. Seventh Infantry after Cochise but was soon captured and taken prisoner along with 60 other soldiers prompting a rescue mission by the army.

February 13, 1861

In response to the capture of Bascom and his men, Irwin set out on a rescue mission with 14 men. He was able to catch up with the Apaches at Apache Pass in present day Arizona. He strategically placed his small unit around Cochise and his men, tricking the Apache leader into thinking that Irwin had a much larger army with him. The Apaches fled and Bascom and his men were saved. Bascom and his men joined Irwin and together they were able to track Cochise into the mountains and rescued the young boy that Cochise had captured previously.

The Medal of Honor

The Medal of Honor did not exist during this event. The medal was not established until 1862. However, the actions of Colonel Irwin were remembered and he was awarded the Medal of Honor just prior to his retirement on January 21, 1894.


His son George LeRoy Irwin served in Great War and became a Major General in the Army and his grandson Stafford LeRoy Irwin also served in the army, becoming a general in World War II.

His daughter, Amy Irwin Addams McCormick, was a nurse with the red cross during WWI and married Robert R. McCormick in 1915.

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Major General Bernard J. D. Irwin's Timeline

June 24, 1830
County Roscommon, Ireland
August 26, 1868
Age 38
Fort Wayne, Wayne County, Michigan, USA
Age 41
August 11, 1874
Age 44
December 15, 1917
Age 87
Cobourg, Canada
United States Military Academy Post Cemetery, West Point, Orange County, New York, USA