Thursday, June 19, 2014

Saluting Dorchester's Medal Of Honor Recipient

Very few towns in America can claim a Medal of Honor recipient. 

Dorchester is one of the handful of towns that can.

The Medal of Honor is the nation's highest award for valor in action against an enemy force. It has been awarded fewer than 3,500 times.

On July 1, 1863, young 20-year-old Sgt. Jefferson Coates found himself in the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The Union soldier displayed heroism and "unsurpassed courage in battle, where he had both eyes shot out," according to a citation from the U.S. Government. After Sgt. Coates was removed from the battlefield by the comrades who had witnessed his heroic actions, doctors determined that an enemy ball had passed though both of his eye sockets.

Three years later, the Medal of Honor was awarded to Sgt. Coates. He was one of 64 Union soldiers to earn the nation's highest honor for his actions during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Sgt. Coates was born in Grant County, Wisconsin and entered the U.S. Army from Boscobel, Wisconsin. He served in Company H, 7th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, which was part of the Army of the Potomac’s famous "Iron Brigade."

Following the war, Sgt. Coates moved west to Nebraska, despite his blindness. A homesteader, he settled southwest of Dorchester in rural Saline County. He died young on Jan. 27, 1880, at the age of 36, and was laid to rest in the Dorchester Cemetery.

According to a 1999 article by Dorchester's Jan Stehlik, Sgt. Coates was the first soldier buried in the Dorchester Cemetery. The Dorchester Star reported on May 5,1882, that "Mrs. Coates has had a fine monument in memory of her deceased husband erected".

When Dorchester's last "Old Soldier," Jeremiah Wilhelm, was buried 60 years later in 1942, the number of Civil War veterans resting in the town's cemetery had grown to 49.

Only 32 Medal of Honor recipients are buried in Nebraska. Dorchester is honored and privileged to serve as Sgt. Coates' final resting place. So the next time you're at the cemetery, take a few minutes to honor one of America's most decorated heroes. And count your blessings that there are still defenders of freedom like Sgt. Coates.


  1. Our town sure does have some impressive history. We are home to a Medal of Honor winner and the last service man killed in the WWII European Theater (Private Havlat). How many towns or even big cities can claim such patriotic notoriety?

  2. I agree with Bob that Dorchester has a unique military history. As a researcher myself, would you mind sharing your sources? Were there sources other than Jan's article and the Dorchester Star? My mother's side is Czech and arrived after the Civil War. However, my father's side is Southern and the war literally split the family. We have a Union discharge, but no Confederate discharge. It is my understanding that the Confederacy did not issue discharges. Would any history buffs care to reply?


  3. "DC Husker":

    There are several Web sites that contain documented information on Sgt. Coates and other MOH recipients.

    One of the sites we used for this story can be found by clicking here.

    You may want to conduct a Google search on Jefferson Coates for further information and other interesting sites.

  4. Thank you for the prompt follow-up. I have viewed "Find a Grave" in the past, but was unsure if there was a general consensus regarding its accuracy. Some people find it morbid, but a visit to an old cemetery can also be fascinating. Our farm south of Dorchester had an old, abandoned cemetery. To my knowledge, the name of the cemetery could never be determined. I noticed the markers that remain are either infants and young children or Union Civil war veterans.

  5. Not to take anything away from Sgt. Coates, but I think the CMH was the only medal that was awarded during the Civil War.

  6. I thought the purple heart was the first and original military award????

  7. I have the entire muster roll for the Confederate Army, and the Union Army. I do look ups for free, and if we are able to determine a unit the veteran served in, it gets you closer to your ancestry. You can then get the NATF 86 form to get the record. I also have access to all the census records through 1930, and have had some success in back investigating localities to determine where a veteran was from.

    Ironically, some of my Czech ancestors on my dad's side, immigrated here before the WBTS. So I have a known Union Veteran, from Wisconsin, harder time with the Texas clan because the name has changed several times, and census takers could not spell the Czech names.

    I am aware of a Union Veteran in Dorchester's cemetery, who is in an unmarked grave. Would make a great Eagle Scout project. Jan can help you with his name. I will help with the research if needed. We need to get that man a marker!

    Gilbert Johnson is a Confederate buried in Dorchester, and William Simmons is in Glibert/Hulse. I am aware of four Confederates in Saline County but know there is more. Any help would be appreciated as I am involved with a Confederate graves registration project.

    If you have enquiries, or need help with your Civil War ancestor, you can find me in the phone book in York, or can email me at

    Please tag your message "with need help with a WBTS veteran." You can write me as well!

    In regard to the Medal of Honor, it was the ONLY medal given for valor at that time. Some MOH recipients got MOH for simply picking up a battle flag off the battle field. But most were earned, but the criteria was not nearly what it is today. Some MOH winners of the WBTS would likely gotten other awards like bronze stars, etc today. Some would not have been cited at all. Nebraska has a large number of WBTS MOH winners, who moved here after the war. There are three in York County, and General Delavon Bates is buried in Aurora. Those fellows were plucky fellows and coming west help calm their restless spirits. There were a fair number of Confederates who came out this way after the war. It took a lot of courage to move out here, with their ex-enemies, and make communites. Most of Nebraska's communities were first settled by Union Veterans. For the most part, many communities celebrated all their veterans from both sides, but some communities were very prejudiced toward the Confederates. Ironically, GAR units decorated Confederate graves in some communites like York. But I have not seen any mention of that in Saline County. I suspect there are a number of Confederates in Saline County, as in the 1880 census there were three doxen + southerners of military service age living in Saline County. So unless they were honored as such by their family, neighbors, or Union Veterans, their service went unnoticed.

    Sorry for the sermon!

    JR Wolfe

  8. Thanks for the "history" lesson plus great timing since it was on 7/12/1862 that Congress passed the bill that recognizes the "bravest of the brave" by creating the CMH. I agree with Bob...our little village does have an impressive history.

  9. J.R. Wolfe,

    Many thanks for your gracious offer. (As they would say in the South!) I have saved your email address, and I will be in touch. Much appreciation from a Dixie Czech!


  10. I was perhaps 15 years ago?...a ceremony in the cemetary to commemorate this man. There was a plaque or the grave was restored or something...but at any rate it was an interesting ceremony to commemorate the hero. Does anyone remember this?

    Also, as unfortunate as Sgt Coates injury is, I have to say he looks pretty cool with his shades in that photo!

  11. DC Husker-The abandoned cemetery might be "Gilbert's Cemetery." South of Dorchester 'tween Dorchester and Friend. Do you recall lot's of evergreen trees?

  12. To Anonymous June 3, 2009 2:18 PM:

    Thank you for the inquiry regarding the abandoned cemetary on our former farm. It is not the Gilbert Cemetary as it is located 9.5 miles south of Dorchester on County Road 1600. (Pleasant Hill Road) It is on the East side of the road next to the Wilber dump. (How scenic!)A website has it listed as the "Summit Cemetary" in Brush Creek township. This is the first time that I have read of the cemetary even having a name. In the 1950's there was a one room school next to the cemetary where my uncle began his teaching career. I believe the school was closed in the early 1960's.

  13. May be a dumb question, but was he burried with his Medal of Honor? Or is it somewhere unknown or on display?

    But great story. Thanks


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