Posted 2 years ago
UNION GUARDS BEST SHOT MEDAL 1858, silver 48mm, 36.2 grams with a specific gravity of 10.14 indicating a silver fineness of nearly .800 fine. Holed at the top which is probably as issued. Suspension unknown
Obverse, allegorical seated woman and standing boy. Signed “BRAENT F.” at the bottom.
Reverse, engraved “Presented by the Commissioned Officers of the Milwaukee Union Guards as being the Best Shot, Oct. 25, 1858” in six lines.
The Union Guards was an Irish unit from Milwaukee’s third ward organized July 16, 1855. The unit had 74 men and in 1858 was commanded by Capt. Garret Barry, a West Point graduate and Mexican War Veteran who was totally loyal to the Union and it’s preservation. He was also anti-slavery. The question of states rights came up in Wisconsin when the State Supreme Court ruling in favor of Sherman M. Booth was over turned by the United States Supreme Court and Sherman was placed under arrest. Sherman was a “conductor” on the Underground Rail Road and aided a run away slave in violation of the Fugitive Slave Act. The Wisconsin State Legislature then passed a resolution calling upon Governor Randall to use force to free Booth. In response to the governor’s inquiry Capt. Barry of the Union Guards stated that the unit would not answer the governor’s call to arms against the Federal Marshals. Gov. Randall then ordered the Union Guards disarmed and disbanded. In response the Union Guards with Barry still in command re-organized as an independent unit and went on an equipment fund raising excursion to Chicago on the steam ship Lady Elgin. While on the return trip from Chicago in bad weather conditions the Lady Elgin was rammed by the Schooner “Augusta” and sank on Sept. 8, 1860 taking the lives of all the Union Guards. The entire death toll was over 400 people with only 298 bodies being recovered. Fortunately the winner of this medal was not on board or at least was not carrying the medal at that time.