After the Civil War started in December 1861 the United States Congress authorized a medal of honor for Marines and Navy. Two months later Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson introduced a bill on the floor to authorize "the President to distribute medals to privates in the Army of the United States who shall distinguish themselves in battle."
President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill into law on July 12th 1862, as “Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby, authorized to cause two thousand "medals of honor" to be prepared with suitable emblematic devices, and to direct that the same be presented, in the name of the Congress, to such noncommissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities, during the present insurrection.”
The first Medals of Honor were presented March 25th 1863 by Union Secretary of War Edwin M Stanton to the surviving members of Andrew’s Raiders. The first action for which a Medal of Honor would be awarded occurred at Apache Pass, Arizona on February 13th 1861 when Union Assistant Surgeon Bernard J D Irwin rescued 60 soldiers.