Thomas J. Higgins (08 June 1831 to 15 August 1917) was a Union Army soldier during the American Civil War who was a recipient of America’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honour, for his actions at the Battle of Vicksburg.
Higgins joined the 99th Illinois Infantry in August 1862, and was mustered out in July 1865.
Higgins entered the Union Army at Barry, Illinois in 1862, and was a private in Company D of the 99th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The 99th Illinois was part of the Army of the Tennessee under General Ulysses S. Grant which besieged the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi beginning on 18 May 1863
On 22 May, Grant launched a major assault against Vicksburg. Higgins volunteered to act as the colour bearer for his regiment on that day as the acting colour bearer had been previously wounded. Higgins’ regiment, the 99th Illinois, and four other Union regiments attacked a section of the Vicksburg defences held by the 2nd Texas Infantry, which succeeded in repulsing the attack. According to one of its members, Charles I. Evans, after the assault was beaten back, a colour bearer (Higgins) continued to advance towards the Confederate lines. Seeing this, “at least a hundred men took deliberate aim at him, and fired at point-blank range”, yet Higgins was not hit. When they saw that he did not falter, the Texans then ceased firing and cheered on Higgins to keep coming, who safely reached the breastworks and was congratulated by them.
Higgins was then interrogated by the Vicksburg garrison commander, General John C. Pemberton, but refused to give him any solid information about Grant’s army. He was paroled and exchanged a few days later, rejoining the 99th Illinois. He stayed with the regiment until the end of the war.
At the request of his captors, Higgins received the Medal of Honour, receiving it on 01 April 1898.
Higgins died on 15 August 1917, and was buried at Holy Family Cemetery in Hannibal, Missouri.
Medal of Honour Citation
Rank and organization: Sergeant, Company D, 99th Illinois Infantry. Place and date: At Vicksburg, Miss., May 22, 1863. Entered service at: Barry, Pike County, Ill. Birth: Canada. Date of issue: April 1, 1898.
When his regiment fell back in the assault, repulsed, this soldier continued to advance and planted the flag on the parapet, where he was captured by the enemy.
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