The Most Decorated Regiment that Never Fought

It was June 30, 1863, and Robert E. Lee was marching out of his Virginia stronghold and into Pennsylvania, the only Southern invasion of Northern territory. The Union Army marched in pursuit, leaving two regiments to defend Washington -- the 25th and the 27th Maine Volunteers.

But their 90 day enlistments ended that day, and a train was waiting to take the men back to their loved ones. President Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton shuddered to think what would happen if Lee should turn on the defenseless capital, or if "Gray Ghost" John Mosby should stage one of his lightning raids. They asked the Maine regiments to stay and defend the city during the crisis.

The 25th Maine flatly refused. The 27th put it to a vote. Some 300 men volunteered to stay, while the others boarded the train.

Fortunately for the Union, Lee was defeated at Gettysburg in the next three days. The 300 volunteers -- who did no fighting during the crisis -- went back to Portland and were mustered out. But not without a remarkable reward. Lincoln and Stanton had promised a Medal of Honor for each member of the 27th who stayed. There was no official record of who these men were, so a medal was minted for all 865 soldiers in the regiment, making it the most decorated regiment in the history of the nation, and perhaps the world.

The government tried to recall the medals in 1916, but at least 400 are still unaccounted for as of this day.

(Nelson Ritschel, Yankee magazine)