William Plimley MOH

b. 12/08/1839 Catskill, New York. d. 02/10/1913 New York.

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 02/04/1865 Hatcher’s Run, Virginia.

William Plimley MOH

William Plimley, the first and only known Congressional Medal of Honor recipient from Greene County, New York, was born in a house on Broad Street, in Catskill, August 12, 1839. His parents Jacob Plimley and Julia Stocking, were both native born American citizens. William was five feet six and one half inches tall with a light complexion and dark hair.

Prior to the year 1862, in the town of Catskill, his trade was a printer. He started his apprenticeship at the age of thirteen. He worked in the offices of the “American Eagle” and then the “Catskill Examiner”, two local newspapers. Then our nation was thrown into a great Civil War. In the summer of 1862, President Lincoln called for volunteers; and on August 12, 1862, William’s twenty-third birthday, William enrolled at Cairo, New York as a private in Company K 120th New York State Volunteer Infantry.

William had a very distinguished military career. He was promoted to sergeant November 1, 1862. He took the rank of sergeant after Sergeant John B. McWilliams of Cairo became ill and died of disease at Fairfax Hospital, Virginia, December 11, 1862. On May 1, 1863 William went on detail to the Quartermaster and on July 2, 1863 was promoted to Quartermaster Sergeant. Then came another promotion on August 23, 1864 as Second Lieutenant, and First Lieutenant October 27, 1864. He finished his military career as a Brevet Captain as Aide-de-Camp on the Staff of General Robert McAllister, Commander of the 3rd Brigade, 3rd division, 2nd Army Corps. Captain Plimley and the 120th New York State Volunteers participated in most of the fiercest fighting with the Army of the Potomac. They were engaged in such battles as Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Cold Harbor, Petersburg and were at the Appomattox Court House for the surrender.

During the war William made it home on two occasions. He received a few days leave in early November 1863, and I quote from the “Catskill Examiner”, November 7, 1863, Volume 36, Number 20, “Bill is a true son of Hail Columbia and has the constancy, courage, and enthusiasm of a true soldier. His return is hailed with great satisfaction by his large circle of friends and acquaintances in this village.” His second absence was when he requested a leave on January 10, 1865 to return to Catskill to take care of family business matters and get married. He received his leave and came home and married Catherine A. Wolford on January 19, 1865 at the First Reformed Church of Catskill. They were married by Reverend John A. Lansing and Catherine joined this church on confession in 1864. With his honeymoon and leave over, William returned to this unit which was involved in the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia.

It was at Hatcher’s Run at the siege of Petersburg, Virginia that William’s name was placed in the annals of history. On April 2, 1865 General McAllister received orders to regain ground that the Confederates had taken the night before. The General could not find a volunteer to take command of the left wing of the regiment to make the charge. Lieutenant Plimley suffering from lack of sleep after working all night, said he would take the command. The regiment was the 8th New Jersey Volunteers and Plimley led them to victory, by regaining the lost ground and capturing 118 prisoners.

When William confronted the Confederate Officer and asked for his sword the latter broke his sword and threw it to the embattled field. William picked up the broken weapon and demanded the Confederate’s belt and scabbard. While leading his prisoners back to Union lines the shells and shot coming in heavily, a tree was hit and a falling limb hit Lieutenant Plimley, driving him to the ground. The Staff watching said that he should be recognized for his deeds and he was made a Brevet Captain and later Major.

One week later, on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865 the war came to an end. Through four long years and much suffering by a nations fortunate sons who survived the many onslaughts could now go home and start life anew. William was one of these men and he mustered out of the army at Kingston, New York, June 3, 1865. He came home to Catskill and his new young bride.

The Plimley’s then moved to New York city, where William obtained a position as a clerk in the United States Post Office, July 21, 1865. William and Catherine had a daughter Lelia McAllister, born April 15, 1866. After making New York City their residence, Catherine terminated her membership in her church at Catskill in 1867.

William’s civilian life paralleled that of military career. In his twenty-eight years with the post office he went from clerk to General Superintendent of the Money Order Department. The Post Office in Washington found him to be a very conservative, safe, and valuable employed authority in money order matters. He saved the Government considerable sums through his efficient re-organizing. He was involved in International business and foreign trade. After retiring from the Post Office he was Financial Supervisor of the Mutual Reserve Life Insurance Company.

Even in retirement William could not sit still. He went on to become Commissioner of Jurous. Mayor elect William L. Strong appointed Mr. Plimley to this position after much advice from the city’s banker, merchants, and insurance men. His job performance as the commissioner resulted in high accolades from member of the Bench, Bar, and the general public.

William received the Medal of Honor by order of President William McKinley, April 4, 1898. The Government was made aware of William’s gallant deed by the efforts of John L. Parker, of Lynn, Massachusetts. Mr. Parker was a First Lieutenant in the 11th Massachusetts Infantry. He was also an eyewitness to the charge made by William at Hatcher’s Run. Plimley did not got to Washington and receive the Medal from the President, but received it through the mail.

In 1904 the government changed the design of the original Medal and issued new ones. They requested that the original Medals be returned before distributing the new ones. William returned his Medal and upon finding that he could keep the original, he wrote to William Howard Taft, who was the Secretary of State, and asked for his first Medal. The Government sent him the new one and later returned the original.

William also led a very busy life in his spare time. He was President of the 3rd Army Corps Association, a member of the New York City West Side Republican Club, Alternate at the New York State Republican Convention, September 25, 1912, in Saratoga, and the Grand Army of the Republic. He attended McKinley’s inauguration in Washington D. C., March 4, 1897. He was a member of The American Protective Tariff League, Grant Monument Committee, The Committee for the Reception of Admiral Dewy in New York City. He also attended many reunions of his proud days in the army, journeying to Fredericksburg, Virginia, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and other battlefields.


While acting as aide to a general officer, voluntarily accompanied a regiment in an assault on the enemy’s works and acted as leader of the movement which resulted in the rout of the enemy and the capture of large numbers of prisoners.