George Washington established the “Badge of Merit” August 7, 1782 In its shape and color, the Badge anticipated and inspired the modern Purple Heart. In the exceptional level of courage required to be considered for the Badge, however, it was the forerunner of the Medal of Honor.
The General, ever desirous to cherish a virtuous ambition in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of military merit, directs that whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings, over his left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth, or silk, edged with narrow lace or binding. Not only instances of unusual gallantry, but also of extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way shall meet with a due reward….The road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus opened to all.
Unfortunately, we also do not know for sure whether Washington presented Sergeants Churchill and Brown with their honors personally. We do know from Sergeant Bissell’s pension records that his Badge of Military Merit was presented to him on the lawn at Hasbrouck House by Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Trumbull, Washington’s Military Secretary. Although Washington intended the Badge of Military Merit to be made permanent, it was allowed to lapse after the army was disbanded in June 1783. At the end of the Revolutionary War, no federal decoration was awarded to American servicemen until the Navy Medal of Honor was created in 1861 during the Civil War.