The first Medal of Honor ever issued set quite a high bar for future recipients.
On-foot infiltration hundreds of miles into enemy territory, an alibi crafted to elude would-be captors, a train heist for the ages, capture, an escape attempt, liberation.
Army Pvt. Jacob Parrott’s story is one Hollywood would have extraordinary difficulty concocting (there was a mediocre attempt in 1956), highlighted by a series of heroics that made the Union soldier from the 33rd Ohio Voluntary Infantry the first-ever Medal of Honor recipient and an easy selection for the ninth installment in an illustrated series dedicated to soldiers whose actions earned them the nation’s highest award for military valor.
The newest edition of “Medal of Honor,” a graphic novel series produced by the Association of the U.S. Army, spotlights Parrott’s epic journey from 18-year-old volunteer to etching his name into Army lore as an integral part of the Great Locomotive Chase.
In April 1862, Parrott joined roughly two-dozen plain-clothed Northerners tasked with venturing deep into Confederate territory to destroy rail supply lines running from Georgia through Tennessee.
Carrying only pistols, the men disbanded into smaller teams for the on-foot journey until rendezvousing in Georgia. There, the raiders boarded a mail train headed North. When passengers and crew disembarked for breakfast in Big Shanty, Georgia, the team pounced, commandeering the locomotive and setting off on an improbable getaway.
A hot pursuit ensued, with Parrott and those in his company tearing up track, destroying bridges and cutting telegraph lines as they moved. But when the train ran out of fuel, a transition to on-foot flight proved to be no match for the manpower encircling them. The raiders were captured near the Georgia-Tennessee border and taken as prisoners of war.
In custody Parrott was beaten mercilessly, the enemy flogging him over 100 times to coerce information. But he provided his captors nothing, and could only watch as eight of the raiders were subsequently hanged.
A year went by, during which time a daring escape attempt saw Parrott recaptured, before he was released as part of a prisoner exchange. Upon rejoining Union forces in March 1863, Parrott was made the very first recipient of the Medal of Honor. Five other raiders of the Great Locomotive Chase party would also go on to receive the award.
Following a meeting with President Abraham Lincoln, Parrott rejoined his unit and went on to be commissioned as a lieutenant, distinguishing himself in a number of engagements before the Civil War’s end.
Parrott lived until he was 65, dying of a heart attack in Kenton, Ohio, where he is buried.
“One of the things I was really impressed with is the level of work that the creative team has put into it,” said Joseph Craig, director of AUSA’s book program.
“The scripts and the artists — these are all people from the world of professional comic book publishing. These guys know comics, they know military comics in particular, and the job is just really top notch.”
The collaborative team included script-writing by Chuck Dixon (“Batman,” “The Punisher”), drawings by Karl Moline (“Supergirl,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), color work by Peter Pantazis (“Justice League,” “Superman,” “Wolverine”), and lettering by Troy Peteri (“Spiderman,” “Iron Man,” “X-Men”).
J.D. Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.