James Burton Pond Collection: Missing Medals of Honor

 

Commemorating Heroism, Missing Medals of Honor
From The Wisconsonian, August, 1999

 

One of the memorable images of Wisconsin's four-year Civil War centennial observance from 1961 to 1965 was a photograph of a solitary legislator in the State Assembly chamber standing at attention between two rows of American flags and facing a display of three of the war's Medals of Honor. Taken by Richard Vesey and published by the Wisconsin State Journal on January 27, 1961, the photo captured the spirit of the joint Legislative session at the Capitol that began the state's centennial ceremonies on the 26th. The display of the medals, the nation's highest military award, marked the 100th anniversary of the Medal of Honor itself and was a tribute to all of the 91,000 Wisconsin veterans of the war and the 12,000 who lost their lives.

From the capitol, the display containing the three Medals of Honor moved to the State Historical Society museum as a cornerstone of the Society's public exhibitions commemorating Wisconsin's role in the war. At a ceremony at the museum on the 26th, Alan T. Nolen, author of the now classic and then recently published book, The Iron Brigade, offered the keynote address to open the exhibit. Descendants of the Medal of Honor winners were honored at the ceremony and included Mrs. Abbie Pond and her son James B. Pond III; Mrs. F. D. Hollenbeck, Menasha, her son, Fred, and her father, William Knight; and T. F. Abbott and his son, Ted.

The medals remained on exhibit at the Historical Society museum, and it was there in 1963, midway through the four-year centennial, that the medals were stolen. In an article on the theft on June 15, the State Journal reported that, "The two gold [Civil War Medals of Honor] and a bronze Civil War Medal of Honor were taken from a display case in an unguarded room on the museum's first floor during public hours Wednesday [June 12]." It identified the names on the missing gold medals as William Knight and William Reddick. The name on the bronze medal was identified as Thomas Schwann [Theodore Schwan]. The Journal also reported that:

   Only 19 of the gold Medals of Honor were struck. They were presented personally by President Abraham Lincoln to members of Andrews Raiders, a group which stole a locomotive in 1862 in an unsuccessful attempt to escape from behind Confederate lines.
   None of the medals ever has been sold, Watson [James Watson, research curator] said. All remain in the possession of descendants of the Union Soldiers who received them.
   The two medals in the Historical Society museum were there on loan from the families of the medal winners, and were to remain in the museum only for its Civil War centennial exhibitions.

In addition to the three medals reported stolen, however, at least two other medals had been on display at the museum. The Society's publication, Wisconsin Then and Now, for December, 1959 (6:5), indicates that "[the James B. Pond Medal of Honor] is now on display at the State Historical Society." The same article also mentions that, "James Pond's younger brother George also won the Congressional Medal of Honor; this is one of the few cases where brothers won this honor." Correspondence by Alan Kent, Historical Society research assistant, in the exhibit archives of the Society indicates that the Society had been pursuing the loan of memorabilia from both branches of the Pond family since 1952. The Pond family confirms that both medals were on loan to the Historical Society during the war's centennial. Presumably Abbie Pond and her son James represented both Pond families at  the opening of the exhibit in 1961 in conjunction with the display of the two medals.

Furthermore, when a Wisconsin museum approached George Pond's descendants this spring about the possibility of an exhibit honoring the two Pond brothers, it was informed that George Pond's medal had disappeared from the Historical Society while on display in 1963.

It remains a question, then, which of the five medals were actually stolen.

Madison and University of Wisconsin Police reports related to the theft have not been located. The only document that has surfaced and that may offer a clue is an official report written on April 22, 1965, by John W. Winn, Assistant to the Museum Director. Winn's report is contained on a Personal Property List related to the loan of the Schwan memorabilia from the Abbott family. His summary of the materials on loan follows:

  1. A Decoration - Medal of Honor, Army (1904-1944 type), inscribed: "The Congress to: Brig. Gen. Theodore Schwan, U. S. Vols., Peebles Farm, Va., Oct 1, 1864."
  2. A Service Medal - Civil War Medal, Army" (See Kerrigan, P. 7). (This latter may have been associated with the Pond loan, rather than Schwan
  3. Case, imitation brown alligator hide, snap unfastened, unfitted, containing the above items, nos. 1 and 2. (May not have original association).

There is a handwritten note, date and author uncertain, next to the second item that reads simply "Pond." A second note also undated and unattributed just below the list reads, "The second item should be a CMH 1862-1903 type this was stolden [sic] from the museum 6/13/63," suggesting a Medal of Honor other than Schwan's. Winn's report concludes with a note that, "This matter is characterized by a complete lack of any record on file. Field Services has no record, nor does the Museum, other than this present paper."  What "This matter" referred to presumably was the followup to the theft of the medals.

Pending the discovery of additional documents, it appears that at the time of the theft, there was some confusion as to which medals were actually on display. The Pond family has confirmed that James B. Pond's medal is currently in their possession. The Winn report's confusion over the Theodore Schwan and George Pond medals casts doubt on the details initially reportedafter the theft and appears to substantiate the Pond family report of the loss of George Pond's medal.

None of the missing medals has ever been recovered, and additional information confirming the details of the theft appears to be unlikely. The collector community is encouraged, therefore, to remain vigilant for any of the four medals still in question and to contact the State Historical Society with any information.

ceremony_assermbly1a.jpg (27238 bytes)
Legislator at attention during ceremony in Assembly chambers (Richard Vesey, Wisconsin State Journal photo, January 27, 1961)

 

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Ribbon cutting in January, 1961, to open the Civil War centennial exhibit at the SHSW museum: Russell S. Spindler, Abbie Pond, and James B. Pond III (Then and Now, 7:7)

 


  

OFFICIAL CITATIONS FOR THE 5 MEDALS
U.S. Army Center of Military History

KNIGHT, WILLIAM J. Rank and organization: Private, Company E, 21st Ohio Infantry. Place and date. Georgia, April 1862. Entered service at: Farmer Center, Defiance County, Ohio. Born: 29 January 1837, Apple Creek. Wayne County, Ohio. Date of issue: September 1863. Citation. One of the 19 of 22 men (including 2 civilians) who, by direction of Gen. Mitchell (or Buell), penetrated nearly 200 miles south into enemy territory and captured a railroad train at Big Shanty, Ga., in an attempt to destroy the bridges and track between Chattanooga and Atlanta.
GEORGE F, POND. Rank and organization: Private, Company C, 3d Wisconsin Cavalry. Place and date: At Drywood Kans., 15 May 1864. Entered service at Fairwater, Fond du Lac County, Wis. Birth: Lake County, Ill. Date of issue: 1 May 1899. Citation: With 2 companions, attacked a greatly superior force of guerrillas, routed them, and rescued several prisoners. 
(Biographical information)
JAMES B. POND. Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, Company C, 3d Wisconsin Cavalry. Place and date: At Baxter Springs, Kans., 6 October 1863. Entered service at Janesville, Rock County, Wis. Birth: Allegheny, N. Y. Date of Issue: 30 March 1898. Citations: While in command of 2 companies of Cavalry, was surprised and attacked by several times his own number of guerrillas, but gallantly rallied his men, and after a severe struggle drove the enemy outside the fortifications. 1st Lt. Pond then went outside the works and, alone and unaided, fired a howitzer 3 times, throwing the enemy into confusion and causing him to retire. (Biographical information)
REDDICK, WILLIAM H. (6th to receive Medal of Honor) Rank and organization: Corporal, Company B, 33d Ohio Infantry. Place and date: Georgia, April 1862. Entered service at: Ohio. Birth: Alabama. Date of issue: 25 March 1863. Citation: One of the 19 of 22 men (including 2 civilians) who, by direction of Gen. Mitchell (or Buell), penetrated nearly 200 miles south into enemy territory and captured a railroad train at Big Shanty, Ga., in an attempt to destroy the bridges and tracks between Chattanooga and Atlanta.
THEODORE SCHWAN. Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, 10th U.S. Infantry. Place and date: At Peebles Farm, Va., 1 October 1864. Entered service at: New York. Born: 9 July 1841, Germany. Date of issue: 12 December 1898. Citation: At the imminent risk of his own life, while his regiment was falling back before a superior force of the enemy, he dragged a wounded and helpless officer to the rear, thus saving him from death or capture.
(Biographical information)
See the Wisconsin Veteran's Museum Medal of Honor page for a history of the award and a list of Wisconsin's 61 recipients.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For additional information about the Pond family, visit the Alto Biographies Web site, the James Pond's Markesan Journal Web site, and the Third Wisconsin Cavalry Web site.

The documents, photographs, and information for this article were provided by Kevin Dier-Zimmel, Pond family researcher, who requests that anyone with information related to the Pond family itself or this article contact him through the writer at rmschust@facstaff.wisc.edu

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