A visit to Carlisle and Dickinson College
Carlisle, Pennsylvania is a charming town. It’s got great restaurants, a wonderful cozy and comfortable B&B set in the woods just outside of town, several microbreweries putting out libations with all kinds of names reminiscent of the Revolution, the cemetery where Molly Pitcher is buried since it’s the town where she lived after gaining her fame at the Battle of Monmouth and scores of very nice people.
It’s also the home of Dickinson College, a sprawling school set in the heart of the city, its many buildings easily accessible from several different streets, its library beautiful, imposing, and at most times it seems, filled with eager young collegians. Downstairs in that library, tucked in a case behind glass in the bottom row of two dozen or more similar glass front cases, I first saw the Congressional Medal of Honor received by Freehold’s Pvt. Thomas T. Fallon in the 19th century, for bravery during the Civil War.
In all probability, Freehold’s Pvt. Fallon never even visited Carlisle. For sure, he never studied at Dickinson College. Nor did he probably know anyone from Carlisle, let alone Dickinson, unless, of course, they fought side by side with him during the War.
Yet for 62 years, the Pvt. Thomas T. Fallon Congressional Medal of Honor sat in that lower glass case of the Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections room.
What’s worse, you couldn’t even see it was Pvt. .Fallon’s Medal. What you saw were wonderful praises to Union General Horatio King, a graduate of Dickinson, and himself a distinguished Medal of Honor recipient from the Civil War. You saw testimony where General King fought valiantly on March 21, 1865, near Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia, serving as a volunteer aide…must have been before he made General….and carrying orders to a reserve brigade , then participating with it in a charge that repulsed the enemy.
It’s not my intention nor desire to take anything away from Horatio King. I admire and respect every military man and woman who puts life on the line for our country. In fact, if Horatio King knew it was Pvt. Fallon’s Medal that was put in that case making it look like his own, he probably would have objected himself. There is honor among America’s fighting forces. But a General Jones at Fort Knox in 1957 granted a college curator who asked for a facsimile of a Medal of Honor, not a facsimile, but the actual Medal of Honor that had been “salvaged” and which belonged to Pvt. Fallon. That curator explained in letters to General Jones that King was a local hero, they wanted to honor him, but the family did not know where his Medal of Honor was located. That’s okay, General Jones wrote, in so many words, “here’s another one. Just don’t show the name on the back.”
It was Nov. 9, 2017 when I first saw Pvt. Fallon’s Medal of Honor. It was more than a year after I started research, alerted friends and others I was on a quest to get a Medal of Honor honored in the home town of its recipient, and scores of letters, e-mails, phone calls, and annoyances to everybody from the curator at the college to lieutenant colonels, civilian contractors, and anybody who would listen to me. It was after I had the support of both Mayor Nolan Higgins and Freehold historian Kevin Coyne in my quest, both of whom, I’m sure, supported me but never thought it would ever come to reality. It was after I had requested a meeting with the curator, and been refused, and a meeting with the college president, which I was also refused. So it was after I was getting sick and tired of being ignored, ridiculed, put down, and laughed at. That left me only one thing to do.
Go see the Medal, hold it in my hand, turn it over and read Pvt. Fallon’s name and inscription on the back, and reinforce my goal to get the Medal back to Freehold.
In order to get into the Archives at Dickinson, it’s necessary to sign a paper identifying yourself as a “non-Dickinson Researcher” promising in writing to obey all the rules that include leaving everything in a provided locker other than what would be needed “for research purposes” and agreeing I wouldn’t even bring a pen, indelible pencil or highlighter with me. That was the easy part. I just wanted to see Pvt. Fallon’s Medal of Honor.
With my signature on the rules sheet, I was pretty sure the staff knew what I was looking for. Heck, I had written saying I was traveling the three hours from Monmouth County to Carlisle and would be there for a couple of days for this specific purpose.
So…..the curator wasn’t available of course, but an aide, at my request to see the Medal of Honor, brought me over to one of three cases honoring Horatio King, a protected glass case laden with Medals, artifacts, and photos. “There it is,” she breathed, pointing to a medal.
“No, it isn’t,” I responded. “That isn’t a Congressional Medal of Honor.” The aide looked again. “Oh,” she said, “my mistake. It must be over here.” We then went a few glassed cases away, and on the lower level in the bilevel row of tall cases covering three walls of the archives, ensconced with more words of praise and other memorabilia to King, was the Medal of Honor!
Most helpful and congenial, the archives aide took the Medal out of the case at my request, and, again at my request, turned it over so I could see Pvt. Fallon’s name. It was there, as I knew it would be. She let me take a photo of the Medal, then even held it for me so I could get a better shot. Then she let me hold it.
I was rather emotional, filled with a sense of accomplishment, overjoyed that I had proof positive of what I had been told, what I believed, and what I felt certain was true. But now, with my own eyes, and in my own hands, was the Congressional Medal of Honor that belonged to a Freehold tailor, an Irishman who joined the Union forces two years after he landed in America, then fought his tough Irish heart out to keep us a unified nation.
I watched the aide carefully replace Pvt. Fallon’s Medal of Honor in its place in the lower cabinet honoring General King, right next to the sign telling how King earned the Medal, then whispered, “Don’t worry, Pvt. Fallon. I’ve come this far, I’m not going back. I can’t get it today, but I promise you, your Medal of Honor is coming back to Freehold. It’ll just take me a little more time.”