Private Warren Sanborn - Received  & Lost The Medal of Honor

Warren G. Sanborn –

enlisted 10 Sep 1862 at age 21 as a Private in Company A, 27th Maine Infantry for nine months.  He mustered in 30 Sep 1862 and mustered out 17 Jul 1863; Portland, Maine.  He was born in and (when not pursuing his college Engineering studies) resided in Newmarket.  His service was credited to Saco, ME.


27th Maine Volunteer Infantry (Nine Months)

Most of the members of this regiment came from York county and were rendezvoused at  Portland, where the regiment was mustered into service 30 Sep 1862, to serve for nine months. They left on Oct. 20 for Washington, arriving there on the 22nd.  On the 26th it marched to Arlington Heights, where it remained doing picket duty until Dec. 12th, when it was ordered to the south of Hunting creek.  Here it relieved a Vermont brigade in the duty of guarding a picket line 8 miles long, extending from the Potomac near Mount Vernon to the Orange & Alexandria railroad, and remained here in the performance of that duty throughout a severe winter until March 24, 1863.  It then moved to Chantilly, Va., doing picket duty on the outermost line of infantry in the defenses of Washington. On June 25 it returned to Arlington Heights.  

In June 1863 General Robert E. Lee marshaled his forces  North into Pennsylvania (where they clashed with Union troops at Gettysburg on July 1st).   Because of the massive Confederate movement, all available Union troops were dispatched to support General Meade, leaving the Nation’s Capitol defenseless.  This caused Secretary of War Stanton to send an appeal on June 26th to the soldiers of the 25th and 27th Maine to extend their enlistment beyond the June 30th de-activation date.  Every member of the 25th Maine Infantry refused and departed for home.  Colonel Mark Wentworth of the 27th Maine  encouraged  315 volunteered to remain. Warren Sanborn was one of those volunteers.

(photo: Defense of the State Capitol, Washing D.C,. photo by Matthew Brady)

 Angered at the men of the 25th Maine, and heartened by the 315 members of the 27th, a grateful Secretary of  War ordered on June 29th that every man who had volunteered to stay beyond his enlistment to protect the Capitol, would receive the Medal of Honor.

 The volunteers remained beyond their enlistment for only four days, by which time the battle at Gettysburg concluded.  On July 4, after the battle, the regiment left for Maine and arrived at Portland on the 6th.  The men were mustered out on the 17th.  In total, the 27th  Infantry left the state with 949 men, and lost 82 men by death, discharge and resignation.  The men were released and returned home. 

None of Colonel Wentworth’s 315 volunteers had been involved in the combat at Gettysburg and, in fact, finished their enlistment having not seen combat at all.  None the less, they did not forget the Secretary’s promise.  To further compound the problem, Secretary Stanton’s order authorizing these Medals of Honor was poorly worded.  He requested a roster of the 300 or so men who had voluntarily remained to guard Washington, but received instead a roster for all men of the unit.  Eventually, the roster would contain the names of each of the 864 members of the 27th Maine, whether they had remained beyond their enlistment or not. 

(photo: Defense around Washington, D.C., photo by Matthew Brady)

By January 1865, when the Medals were prepared for issue, most of the former members of the 27th Maine were scattered throughout their state and elsewhere, following their civilian pursuits.  The 864 Medals of Honor were forwarded to the Governor of Maine for distribution.  He in turn, delegated responsibility to Mark Wentworth who had gone on to serve in another Maine regiment until the close of the war.  Colonel Wentworth himself, was dubious of these presentations.  After his year with the 27th Maine,  he had seen war, fear and valor; and he felt that the men of the 27th didn’t deserve such a precious award for their simple act.  He did his best to give the awards ONLY to those he KNEW had remained for the extra four-day defense of the Capitol, but despite his best intentions and with no record of who had stayed and who had departed, it was a difficult task.  Some he gave out, but more than 500 he chose to store in his barn.  In the years that followed word got out about those stored Medals, and thieves broke in to steal many.  When Mark Wentworth died, whatever remained of them, disappeared altogether.

The Review and A Order to Rescind the Medal

Decades after the War, there was a public debate over the value of the Congressional medal of Honor - who deserved it and who didn’t.  It lasted  little more than a month when Congress took action.  On June 3, 1916 Section 122 of the National Defense Act was passed, calling for a board of five retired Army generals to review every award of the Medal of Honor to date.  Retired Lieutenant General Nelson Miles, a Medal of Honor recipient himself and past commander of the Medal of Honor Legion, presided over the board which met from October 16, 1916 until January 17, 1917.  When reviewed, the citations did NOT identify any recipient by name.  Each of the 2,625 Medals of Honor awarded up to the time of the review was given a number, so that each case would be decided on the merit of the action without undue prejudice.

(photos: left the Medal of Honor;  right, Medal with inscription on back)

On February  5, 1917, two weeks after the board concluded its review, it announced its findings.  In all,  the board determined 911 Medals of Honor did not fit the guidelines established for appropriate cause.  The names of all 864 men of the 27th Maine (including the name of Colonel Mark Wentworth and Warren G. Sanborn), were stricken from the Roll of Honor.

Life As A Civil Engineer

Warren G Sanborn was born in Newmarket  in May 1843   to John and Susan Sanborn.  His father was the town physician.  He was raised in Newmarket; othe members of his family included his brother John, born about 1939, a sailor, and Sarah, a seamstress.   Warren went to Union College, New York where he studied Civil Engineering.  After the war, at age 27 he married Mary Ellen Smith (age 25) on 25 Dec 1869 in Northwood.  She was the daughter of George & Fidelia Smith.

(photo: Cowan Railroad Tunnel outside Maysville, KY-photo

By 1880, at age 38, he was Civil Engineer working in Kentucky, and living in William Pepper’s boarding house in Maysville, KY.   He was a railroad engineer/builder, and Superintendent of the Maysville & Lexington railroad line.  He later moved to Alemeda-Berley California.  A former Union College classmate,  William Imood,  became chief engineer of the Southern Pacific Railroad.   Mr. Sanborn served under him as assistant engineer of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, in charge of the construction of the railroad over the Siskiyou mountains, until he retired to his home in Berkeley.   In 1898 his daughter Mary (who was graduated with a Bachelor of Philosophy degree from the University of California in 1892)  married Arthur Noyes of CA.  Arthur was  president of the Four Counties State Highway Association, which was formed to secure the construction of the state highway through Sacramento, Solano, Napa and Sonoma counties.

Dealing in Real Estate in Berkley, CA, Warren made headlines in April, 1889 with an extensive purchase of property to include all the frontage along Shattuck, Virgina, and Lincoln Streets, and burying a creek to do so.  By 1900 he was still working as a Civil Engineer at his home in Alameda with his wife Mary, their daughter Augusta, and his older sister Susan A. Sanborn.  The 1910 census lists him at age 65, still in Alameda, widowed, with his 32 yr old daughter Augusta, and living “on his income”.  

(sources:  The Union Army, vol. 1; History of 27th Volunteer Maine Regiment;   www.HomeOf; and  Napa and Solano Counties, California, Biographies, 1912)