The award known as the Purple Heart has a history that reaches back to the waning days of the American Revolution. The original Purple Heart, designated as the Badge of Military Merit, was established by George Washington – then the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army – by order from his Newburgh, New York headquarters .

The Continental Congress had forbidden General George Washington from granting commissions and promotions in rank to recognize merit. Yet Washington wanted to show honor, among the enlisted soldiers. On August 7, 1782, his general orders established the Badge of Military Merit. Congress (according to some hearsay) denied it for the letters his mother kept sending , but the official record; it was to European and we need to break tradition. President Washington, determined to recognize noncommissioned soldiers for sacrifice and bravery, established the first combat decoration in U.S. history, known as the Badge of Military Merit.

One would think, the President of the United States fighting for our country’s freedom would and could have anything he wanted. But not so, when you have a mother that favorers the British. working against him.

Mary Ball Washington, born Mary Ball, was the second wife of Augustine Washington, a planter in Virginia, and the mother of George Washington, the first President of the United States, and five other children. She was 80 when he was elected president. And refused to acknowledge or show any pride In the midst, of the intense fighting with the British and dealing with the Benedict Arnold scandal, she wrote one of several letters to the House of Representatives, detailing his abusive nature, starving her and not providing a home. She also, sent him a post, demanding a Dutch servant and butter.

This award, the medal of honor, was open only to enlisted men and granted them the distinction of being permitted to pass all guards and sentinels as could commissioned-officers.

Washington stated that the award was to be a permanent one, but once the Revolution ended, the Badge of Merit was all but forgotten. As time passes, The honor is forgotten. Until the civil war. And then President Abraham brought it back into law. The “ US Army Medal of Honor “, for noncommissioned officers and privates, distinguishing themselves in battle. Once again, after the War, the honor is forgotten.

General John J.”Blackjack” Pershing suggested a need for the award for merit in 1918, but it was not until 1932 that the Purple Heart was created in recognition of Washington’s ideals and for the bicentennial of his birth.

On May 28, 1932, 137 World War I veterans were conferred their Purple Hearts at Temple Hill, in New Windsor, NY. Temple Hill was the site of the New Windsor Cantonment, which was the final encampment of the Continental Army in the winter of 1782-1783. Today,the National Purple Heart continues the tradition begun here in 1932, of honoring those who have earned the Purple Heart.

It has over the years, held to the course.

One President, Theodore Roosevelt, a 11 year old boy , and a female Doctor were made exceptions.

~Marty Luffman

Smyrna Historian

Tennessee Historian


If you are a recipient of the Purple Heart we would love to honor you this year. Please click here to register as our guest.