March 7, 2011

Robert J. Coffey - Medal of Honor Winner

Robert J. Coffey was born in the city of St. Johns, N.B., on December 15, 1842.  When he was but just eight years old his parents moved to Montpelier, Vt., since which time has has been a resident of that state.

Battle of Big Bethel¹
April 26, 1861, when he was not quite nineteen years of age, he enlisted as private in Company K, 1st Regiment Vermont Infantry (New England Guards), for a term of three months, and with this organization participated in the battle of Big Bethel, Va., June 10, 1861.

When this term of service had expired he reenlisted in Company K, 4th Vermont Infantry, as private, and was promoted to sergeant.

He refers with pride to the fact that he was never sick or absent from his company except on duty, until badly wounded and disabled from further service while on picket duty near Centreville, Va., October 16, 1863.

He was engaged in all the battles of the Penisular Campaign under General George B. McClellan, and was at South Mountain, Antietam, Maryland, Fredericksburg, Bank' Ford, Gettysburg and Funkstown, and was mustered out of service on September 30, 1864, at Brattleboro, Vt., with about one hundred and fifty other original members who had left the State three years before, when the regiment numbered one thousand and forty-eight - officers and men.

Mr. Coffey thus modestly states the service for which he won his medal of honor:

It was a Bank's Ford, Va., May 3, 1862,² when the company were skirmishing, and I captured two officers and five privates, bringing them back to the regiment and delivering them to the provost guard.
 Mr. Coffey has been a prominent member of the G.A.R.  He was Commander of Brooks Post, No. 13, at Montpelier, two years.  He was junior vice commander of the department of the State in 1878 and 1879, under Past Department Commander Joseph H. Goulding, chief mustering officer of the department in 1884 and 1885.  Several of the Vermont posts were organized by him, and he was a delegate to the national encampment at Minneapolis in 1884.  He is at present an aid-de-camp [sic] on the staff of D. L. Morgan, Department Commander of Vermont.

He has also been closely identified with the National Guard of Vermont, and his labors in placing it on a permanent "war footing"  have been of good avail in that direction.  He receives his military title of "Major" from his connection with the guard.  In 1887 Mr. Coffey organized Company H, Capitol Guards of Montpelier, of the 1st Regiment of the National Guards of Vermont.  June 13 he was elected the pioneer captain of the company, and after serving three years resigned.  In 1880 he succeeded Capt. L. I. Smith of Burlington as promost marshall, with the rank of captain, and in 1887 was promoted to brigade provost marshall with the rank of major on the staff of General William L. Greenleaf, a position he still honorably occupies.

When the Vermont Soldiers' Home was unanimously chosen by the board of managers as superintendent of the institution, which position he at present fills, giving most perfect satisfaction not only to the trustees, but to the inmates of that institution.


¹Battle of Big Bethel, Jun. 10, 1861, Alfred R. Waud, 1828-1891, artist, held by the Library of Congress
²Actually Bank's Ford in Spotsylvania Co., VA (aka Salem Church) was fought May 3-4, 1863 as part of the Chancellorsville Campaign (Apr-May 1863).  It resulted in a Confederate victory.
Source: The Story of American Heroism, J. W. Jones, Springfield, OH, 1897

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