The Army of the James’ 10th Corps arrived at the Petersburg front on Aug. 26, 1864, to man entrenchments between the Appomattox River and a point near Cemetery Hill. One of the regiments detailed to occupy the front line was the 97th Pennsylvania Infantry—rotating one day into the entrenchments and one day out.
On its second rotation, August 29, a mortar shell exploded amidst the men, severely wounding three and injuring several others. The shock of the shell knocked one of the Pennsylvanians out of the trench and left him lying wounded in an exposed position.
George Washington Walton, a private in Company C, crawled up and out of the trench, and rescued his comrade as heavy fire swept this sector of the battlefield. Both survived.
Born on his family’s farm near Oxford, Pa., 17-year-old Walton dropped out of high school in 1861 to enlist. He and the rest of the 97th spent much of the war in the Department of South. In April 1864, the regiment joined the Army of the James and participated in operations during the Siege of Petersburg, including the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864.
A month later, Walton’s rescue of a comrade did not merit a mention in the 1875 regimental history. However, his act of courage was recognized a quarter century later when, in 1902, he received the Medal of Honor. He was the last of five members of the 97th to receive the commendation. By this time, he owned a 70-acre farm outside Oxford, where he lived with his wife and raised two sons. Walton died in 1920 at age 75.
Walton’s gallantry was honored at least twice in the century since he passed. In 2018, The Southeastern Veterans’ Center in Spring City, Pa., inducted him and 34 other Medal of Honor recipients into its Hall of Fame. In 2000, eighth graders at Sacred Heart Elementary School in Ville Platte, La., selected a group of the most interesting Medal of Honor recipients. Walton made the list. The nominating student noted, “This man is very important, because he risked his life for his friend who was in danger. To me, this man is a true hero.”
SPREAD THE WORD: We encourage you to share this story on social media and elsewhere to educate and raise awareness. If you wish to use any image on this page for another purpose, please request permission.
LEARN MORE about Military Images, America’s only magazine dedicated to showcasing, interpreting and preserving Civil War portrait photography.
VISIT OUR STORE to subscribe, renew a subscription, and more.