Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria to include a Fine Collection of Napoleonic Medals (25 March 2015)

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Date of Auction: 25th March 2015

Sold for £7,000

Estimate: £4,000 - £5,000

‘If you see a medium-sized, stoutly built man, grey eyes, iron grey moustache, with a vertically dented scar running from just below his right eye down past the corner of his mouth and a bronze Medal of Honor on his coat - hats off, gentlemen - that is David F. Day of Durango and that scar meant the saving of a life.’

A Colorado newspaper report, 1905, refers.


A particularly fine Civil War Army Medal of Honor awarded to Private D. F. Day, 57th Ohio Volunteers, who was just 16 years of age on volunteering for the forlorn hope at Vicksburg in May 1863, on which occasion he was severely wounded in the wrist and had his gun shot from his hands: afterwards chosen as Major-General Francis Blair’s Chief Scout, he is said to have been captured on three occasions but always escaped, once while awaiting the hangman’s noose

One of the great characters to emerge from the conflict, the self-styled ‘Colonel Dave Day’ established the hard-hitting newspapers The Solid Muldoon and the Durango Democrat, in which he lampooned politicians and prominent dignitaries, in addition to the railroad companies, so much so that it is said he had dozens of libel suits pending against him by the turn of the century - but he was no stranger to controversy: when he married Victoria Falck, the 13th child of a wealthy Southern plantation owner and slave holder, his Northerner roots caused some consternation not only to her family but ‘also to the three other young men to whom she was simultaneously engaged’


U.S.A., Army Medal of Honor, 1st type (1862-95), bronze, the reverse inscribed, ‘The Congress to Pvt. David F. Day, Co. D, 57 Ohio Vols. for Gallantry at Vicksburg, Miss., May 22, 1863’, complete with brooch bar (lacking catch), in base of original fitted case of issue with remnants of original riband, good very fine £4000-5000

Footnote

David Frakes Day was born at Dallasburg, Ohio in March 1847, the son of a farmer, and enlisted in ‘D’ Company of the 57th Ohio Volunteers in January 1862, aged 14 years. Quickly seeing action at the battle of Shiloh, he was also engaged at Stones River and served in Sherman’s Yazoo Expedition in early 1863.

Vicksburg - the forlorn hope

In Spring 1863, Major-General Ulysses S. Grant launched his Vicksburg campaign, the 57th Ohio Volunteers forming part of the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division in Major-General William T. Sherman’s XV Army Corps. Hoping to avoid the necessity of sending for reinforcements, Grant opted for a swift assault on the Confederate works atop the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi at Vicksburg, the exact point of the assault falling below one of the southern forts in the siege line. The face of the fort was perpendicular and steep, and protected by a deep ditch 12 feet wide which rose to a height of 10 feet before reaching the enemy’s guns.

Sherman called for 150 volunteers to spear head the assault - or ‘the forlorn hope’ as he would later call it - since there was little probability of any of them returning alive: the first man to step forward from the ranks of the 57th Ohio Volunteers was 16-year-old Day who, in common with the remaining volunteers, was charged with constructing bridges across the ditch for the main infantry assault which was to follow.

Collecting in a ravine on the morning of 22 May 1863, the volunteers prepared for their advance, gathering together long logs for their bridge construction work. Thus burdened, the forlorn hope emerged from some woods and ‘advanced at a dead run, but in the eighty rods of open ground which lay between them and the fort, about half of them were shot down’. Young Day was among those to reach the ditch - where he was severely wounded in the wrist and had his gun shot from his hands - and, owing to the loss of timber and logs in the advance it proved impossible to construct any crossings.

Sherman later recalled, ’For about two hours we had a severe and bloody battle, but at every point we were repulsed’. The Confederates, meanwhile, finding it impossible to depress their guns sufficiently to reach the assaulting party, dropped 12-pounder shells among its dwindling ranks but the fuses were cut too long, and consequently did not explode for about ten seconds - thereby allowing Day and his comrades time to take cover or, in certain cases, toss some of the shells back over the parapet. Nonetheless, the bottom of the ditch was by now ‘strewn with mangled bodies, with heads and limbs blown off.’

Around a dozen men from the 11th Missouri Volunteers managed to reach the ditch after a second assault was ordered, but they, too, met a similar fate, for Grant’s main infantry force was compelled to retreat from the scene of battle. With no hope of escape until darkness fell, the forlorn hope was now subjected to enfilade grape fire, the Confederates having managed to drag a gun into position. Finally, as night arrived, a small party of survivors managed to get back to Grant’s lines, young Day among them: eighty-five percent of the storming party had been killed or dangerously wounded, and few of them escaped without a wound of some kind.

In fact, such had been the calibre of courage displayed by the forlorn hope that all of its survivors were subsequently awarded the Army Medal of Honor - a total of 81 awards, more than for any other single battlefield action in American history. Day’s award - made in 1895 - was supported by statements from his old C.O., Colonel R. V. Rice, and Brevet Brigadier Andrew Hickenlooper, a former Lieutenant-Governor of Ohio.

Chief Scout - further wounds - escapes the hangman’s noose

Following the action at Vicksburg, Day was appointed an orderly on Brigadier-General Francis Blair’s staff, but it was as the General’s Chief Scout that he further distinguished himself in battle.

One of his old C.O’s, Captain David Ayers, later told Day:

‘I told her [Victoria, Day’s wife] how you received your scars, how in the thick of battle you saved your Captain’s life and afterwards carried him off the field on your back, this inspire of the wound received by a Number 3 buckshot bullet, and for that act alone Major-General Francis P. Blair made you Chief of Scouts of his division, and although you were not 17 years old you were afterwards promoted to Chief of Scouts of the Fifteenth and Seventeenth Army Corps; also how you and one other scout captured a picket post in the Atlanta Campaign by making them believe they were surrounded.’

In total, Day claimed to have been wounded four times in battle and to have been captured on three occasions: ‘I was among the first to make successful escapes from Andersonville and Florence prisons,’ he later stated in his Medal of Honor application. His third escape occurred after he had re-enlisted as a veteran volunteer, namely the occasion he was captured in Confederate uniform at Fayetteville during Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign on 11 March 1865. His fate was quickly decided upon by his senior captor, Lieutenant-General Wade Hampton - the hangman’s noose for being a spy. However, that same night Day and a comrade managed to lift some floor boards in the house where they were being held and make their escape - ‘we hurried along, not knowing where we were going, but trusting in our deliverer.’ Duly crossing the Black River, they reached Sherman’s army after a day of long, hard marching.

Day was honourably discharged at Little Rock, Arkansas in August 1865 and, as cited above, married Victoria Sophia Falck in May 1870 - happily ‘all her former beaux sat in the front pews at the church, later serenaded the happy couple and refreshed themselves with five gallons of wine.’

Newspaperman - mounting libel suits

Having then been appointed Special Indian Agent for the Southern Utes, in Colorado Territory, by President Grover Cleveland, Day eventually settled in Durango, where he published
The Solid Muldoon - an irreverent newspaper famed for lampooning politicians and prominent local dignitaries. It was a huge success, ‘its terse, incisive, nipping wit had the great merit for a newspaper of being quotable, and of course it got widely quoted.’

Selling his interest in
The Solid Muldoon in 1892, he went on to establish a competing paper the Durango Democrat, in which, usual hobby horses aside, he assailed what he saw as the transparent greed of the emerging railroad companies. Among chosen targets was the Denver and Rio Grande (D. & R.G.), whose management he declared ‘must know how beastly, rank and rotten their methods are .... beastly in service, in rates, in treatment, in all that is repulsive to a helpless patronage.’ Here, then, a classic example of Day’s railroad ‘bashing’ in print and, no doubt, the type of feature that led to him facing no less than 42 pending libel suits by 1900. Yet such contentious issues also raised his readership nationwide and, by some accounts, Queen Victoria was a follower in England.

The self-styled ‘Colonel Dave Day’, who proved his pen was as mighty as his sword, died in Denver, Colorado in June 1914, aged 67 years.

Sold with the recipient’s original Certificate of Re-enlisting and Discharge, and relating forwarding letter from the Adjutant General’s Office at Columbus, dated 29 July 1872, together with a letter to his son, George Vest Day, from the Civil War Centennial Commission, dated 8 October 1959, and two or three newspaper cuttings.