December 30, 1863 – This Day During The American Civil War – Francis Snow Hesseltine Medal of Honor recipient (December 10, 1833 – February 17, 1916) was a Union Army soldier in the American Civil War who received the U.S. military’s highest decoration, the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism on December 30, 1863, while serving as the Lieutenant Colonel of the 13th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, at Matagorda Bay, Texas.
In late December 1863 Hesseltine led a detachment of 100 men in a reconnaissance of the Matagorda peninsula, which covered the approach to the harbor of Corpus Christi, Texas. On December 28, a regiment of 1,000 Confederate cavalrymen discovered his reconnaissance detachment and attacked Hesseltine’s command.
On the 28th, seven miles from the head of Matagorda peninsula all contact was cut off with the transport ship which could evacuate Hesseltine’s force due to heavy surf. The enemy was at his rear and he was, effectively, surrounded.
In Hesseltine’s own words, “Soon, by the aid of my glass, I was able to discern the head of a body of cavalry moving down the peninsula … their line stretched steadily towards us … in half an hour their skirmishers were swarming up close to mine, slightly heeding the shall and shrapnel … half our skirmishers faced about and gave them a volley … I knew my men. They were cool; and determined rather than the rebels should meet the first encouragement of this campaign, that they would die there.”
As of 3 p.m. on the third day, Hesseltine had located his transport ship, and his unit boarded without loss of lives or equipment. The 100 infantrymen from Maine had inflicted significant casualties on the 1,000 Confederate cavalrymen and sank their gunboat.
Lieutenant Colonel Hesseltine’s official Medal of Honor citation reads:
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Lieutenant Colonel Francis Snow Hesseltine, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 30 December 1863, while serving with 13th Maine Infantry, in action at Matagorda Bay, Texas. In command of a detachment of 100 men, Lieutenant Colonel Hesseltine conducted a reconnaissance for two days, baffling and beating back an attacking force of more than a thousand Confederate cavalry, and regained his transport without loss.