Sgt. Marcus Hanna of the 50th Massachusetts Infantry was Awarded the Medal of Honor for His Actions at the Siege of Port Hudson

Sgt. Marcus A. Hanna 50th Massachusetts Infantry

Less than a month after the Civil War began, Marcus A. Hanna enlisted in the U.S. Navy for one year on May 9th, 1861. Hanna was a Landsman, at the time the lowest rank in the navy. Perhaps he was tired of the routine of the lowest ranking crew members on ships that spent a lot of time in blockading operations, because he was discharged on June 20th, 1862 when his term was up.

But Hanna was not finished with his military service. On August 15th, 1862, Hanna enlisted in the 50th Massachusetts Infantry, one of many regiments with nine month long enlistments. The regiment was mustered in September 15th, with Hanna as a sergeant in Company B of the 50th. Later in the fall, the 50th was ordered to join the 19th Corps in Louisiana.

In May of 1863, the 50th Massachusetts was ordered to Port Hudson, Louisiana, where U.S. forces were preparing to assault the Confederate garrison there on the Mississippi River. On May 27th, the 50th participated in the assault, which failed to carry the works. The Federals attempted another assault on June 14th; it too, was unsuccessful. The 50th provided infantry support for Union artillery in the June 14th assault. The commanding general, Major General Nathaniel Banks, decided to settle in with siege operations, a tactic that Major General Ulysses S. Grant was using up the Mississippi River at Vicksburg.

On July 4th, the 50th Massachusetts was in rifle pits in support of an artillery battery. It was a typical hot Louisiana day, and the men of the 50th, who had returned to duty in the rifle pits before they had been able to refill their canteens from previous duty, were soon miserable with thirst. The front lines of the two sides were in close proximity to each other, so safely getting water and returning was a dangerous undertaking. The company commander granted permission for volunteers to go to the rear and get water; Sergeant Hanna was the only one who volunteered, but he decided to try it anyway. He recalled:

I took twelve or fifteen canteens—all I could conveniently carry—hung them about my neck, and placed them about my body to afford protection from rebel bullets. A dummy, made by rigging up a musket with a blouse and cap, was prepared, the idea being to raise it above our pit and if possible, draw the fire of the enemy, and then, before they had time to reload, I was to take my chances…The deception was a success, for at once there came a heavy volley, and before the smoke had cleared away, I was off as rapidly as my light but bulky load would permit. I steered across the level plains for the nearest cover some 500 yards away, but I had not gone far, before I could hear the patter of bullets all around me, and new that I was within sight and range. Yet I kept on my course, until about half the distance was covered when I realized that I could not escape being hit, and bethought myself of the ruse of throwing myself prostrate, as if killed or badly wounded. The trick was successful. The firing ceased, and, after lying prone until I was well rested, I sprang to my feet and ran like a deer for the blackberry hedge. In this second race, no further shots were sent after me by the enemy.

I went about half a mile further to the spring, filled my canteens, not one of which, in spite of the firing, had been punctured, and began cautiously to work my way back to the company in the rifle pits. Instead of making a bee line for the pit, I made a detour to the left, in order to bring one of our batteries between myself and the enemy. After I had reached the battery I had still some sixty or seventy yards to go to the right, wholly exposed to the enemy’s fire. However, I covered this distance unmolested.

Hanna would be awarded the Medal of Honor for this episode. While the sergeant was going for water under fire, the Confederate defenders at Vicksburg surrendered to Grant. With their position now deemed untenable, the Rebels at Port Hudson surrendered on July 9th.

The 50th Massachusetts completed its term of service and was mustered out on August 25th, 1863. Hanna, however, was still not finished with his Civil War military service. On September 10, 1863, he enlisted as a private in the 2nd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, serving in Virginia and North Carolina. He was mustered out as a 2nd Lieutenant on September 3rd, 1865.

After the war, Hanna became a lighthouse keeper at stations in Maine. On January 28th, 1885, Hanna rescued two crewmen whose ship had been driven into the rocks near the station at Cape Elizabeth, Maine, during a severe winter storm. For this, Hanna was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal by the Lighthouse Service, the Service’s highest award (the Gold Lifesaving Medal is now awarded by the U.S. Coast Guard). Hanna is the only recipient of both the Medal of Honor and the Gold Lifesaving Medal.


A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion by Frederick Dyer

Deeds of Valor: How America’s Heroes Won the Medal of Honor, Vol. 1. Compiled by Walter F. Beyer and Oscar F. Keydel

History of the Fiftieth Regiment of Infantry Massachusetts Volunteer Militia in the Late War of the Rebellion by William B. Stevens

“Keeper at Cape Elizabeth Two Lights Answers the Call”. By Nikk Salata. Lighthouse Digest April 2003.

Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the Civil War, Volumes 5 and 8, Massachusetts Adjutant Generals Office

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