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Medal of Honor Monday: Army 1st Lt. J. Monroe Reisinger

Civil War Army 1st Lt. James Monroe Reisinger didn't begin the Battle of Gettysburg as a member of the color guard, but when the job fell to him, he did all he could to keep the U.S. flag from falling into the wrong hands — including suffering several gunshot wounds. His unit helped turn the tide of the battle in the Union’s favor, and his efforts eventually earned him the Medal of Honor.  

A man poses for a black and white photo.
Army 1st Lt. James Monroe Reisinger
Army 1st Lt. James Monroe Reisinger, Civil War Medal of Honor recipient.
Photo By: Courtesy Photo
VIRIN: 220920-O-D0439-047

Reisinger, who was known as "Roe," was born on Oct. 28, 1842, in Fallston, Pennsylvania. He was the fourth of six children to his parents, Providence and Charles, who earned a living as a farmer and blacksmith.  

When Reisinger was about 8, the family moved to Meadville, Pennsylvania, where he attended school. According to a 1953 article in the News-Herald newspaper out of Franklin, Pennsylvania, Reisinger eventually became a student at Allegheny College. He was studying there when the Civil War broke out, so he enlisted as a corporal in the Army at age 19 on Aug. 20, 1862. 

Reisinger was assigned to Company H of the 150th Pennsylvania Infantry, which was part of a regiment known as the Bucktail Brigade because many of the soldiers wore deer hides in their hat bands as decoration. The unit was one of many that fought during the Battle of Gettysburg.  

Around 2 p.m. on July 1, 1863 — the first day of the three-day battle — Confederate soldiers began firing at Reisinger's regiment while at an area known as McPherson's Ridge. According to an article in Meadville's Evening Republican newspaper, Reisinger watched as the color guard’s sergeant was shot down, so he volunteered to carry the colors forward.  

Two people walk through a field with barns in the background in a black and white photo.
McPherson Farm
A view of the McPherson farm buildings on McPherson’s Ridge in Gettysburg, Pa., in July 1863.
Photo By: Gettysburg National Military Park
VIRIN: 220920-O-D0439-048

Almost immediately, Reisinger was struck in the right foot by a Minie ball that shattered several bones, according to a court document obtained by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. He was encouraged to go to the rear of the regiment for aid, but he refused. Reisinger said he stood on his heel so he could stay at his place in the ranks.  

Reisinger's regiment made and then lost ground to the Confederates several times. Reisinger was shot a second time in the back of the right leg above his knee, which knocked him down. A fellow soldier helped him up, and he again refused medical attention.  

As the regiment finally began to fall back, Reisinger was hit again, this time in his right hip. The injured corporal couldn't get back up after that and was finally sent to the rear of the regiment to the aid station.  

A campsite sits on a hill with covered wagons and horses in the foreground in a black and white photo.
Chancellorsville Camp
Service members of the 150th Pennsylvania Infantry form a camp three weeks before the Battle of Chancellorsville in Belle Plain, Va., in March 1863.
Photo By: Library of Congress
VIRIN: 220920-O-D0439-049

Reisinger's actions prevented the flag from falling into the hands of the enemy. While his unit was pushed back by the Confederates and badly depleted — less than a quarter of its troops were standing by the end of the fight — its defense of the ridge bought valuable time for more Union troops to arrive. The efforts of those replacements eventually turned the tide of the battle in favor of the North.  

Reisinger's injuries took time to heal. He was in and out of hospitals that extracted the Minie balls lodged in his body. Reisinger said he had to be on crutches for 10 months after the battle, and two bones in his foot were also removed, a Congressional report showed.  

Reisinger was eventually promoted to sergeant and, due to his wounds, was transferred to the 14th Veteran Reserve Corps in September 1864. He was discharged in June 1865.  

According to the News-Herald, Reisinger then commissioned as an officer into the 114th U.S. Colored Infantry, where he attained the rank of first lieutenant. The newspaper said he served with the unit in Texas until it was disbanded in April 1867. 

Four men sit together.
Hunting Group
Army 1st Lt. James Reisinger, top left, at a hunting camp near Cochranton, Pa.
Photo By: Crawford County Historical Society
VIRIN: 220922-O-D0439-082

The News-Herald said Reisinger returned to Meadville after he left the Army and became a lawyer, practicing in the town for 15 years while also working in the newspaper business. The News-Herald said he then moved to Franklin, Pennsylvania, in 1888 to work for the Galena-Signal Oil Company doing "special publicity and research work."  

Reisinger was recommended by his superiors in the regiment for the Medal of Honor in the early 1900s; however, that request was initially denied in June 1904, according to a War Department memo obtained by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. A senator continued to press the issue, though, and the request was eventually approved on Jan. 24, 1907. 

According to the News-Herald, Reisinger was married twice. He had a daughter from his first marriage and a son from the second. That son, James W.H. Reisinger, followed in his father's military footsteps by attending West Point in 1905.  

Reisinger died on May 25, 1925, at age 83. He was buried in Greendale Cemetery in Meadville.  

This article is part of a weekly series called "Medal of Honor Monday," in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military's highest medal for valor.

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