Born Sept. 5, 1755 in Newington, Connecticut, Elijah Churchill (who shares a common ancestor with Sir Winston Churchill), was one of three known recipients of the Badge of Military Merit established by George Washington.
In the “General Orders” for August 7th, 1782, General Washington ordered: “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 singular 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, edged with a narrow lace or binding. Not only instances of unusual gallantry, but also of extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way shall meet with due reward.”The orders then specified a very strict reporting system that required the Commander-in-Chief’s final approval. Finally, the order stated: “Men who have merited this last distinction to be suffered to pass all guards and sentinels which officers are permitted to do . . . “
Sgt. Churchill was a member of the 2nd CT Light Dragoons. Under the command of Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge (Nathan Hale’s classmate and intimate friend), he and others rowed eight whaleboats from Connecticut across Long Island Sound to raid a British supply depot at Mastic, NY. They captured 300 prisoners, and burned supply vessels and more than 300 tons of hay to disrupt the enemy supply lines.
Apparently, Sgt. Churchill was good at this kind of urban warfare, since on Oct. 2, 1781 he led a group of 100 Light Dragoons and infantry from the 5th Connecticut of the Continental Line in another daring raid. They rowed from Westport, CT to Long Island (again in whaleboats, each of which will seat approximately 8 men, so there had to be about 10 in all), to attack Ft. Slongo near present-day Northport. In addition to destroying the fort, they captured 21 prisoners, and destroyed a quantity of military stores and hay.
The order conferring the Badge of Military Merit to Sergeant Elijah Churchill reads in part:
General George Washington, Esquire
General and Commander-in-Chief of
the Forces of the United States of America, Etc.
That Sergeant Elijah Churchill of the 2nd Regiment of Light Dragoons, in the several enterprises against Fort George and Fort Slongo on Long Island, acted in a very conspicuous and singularly meritorious part; that at the head of each body of attack he not only acquitted himself with great gallantry, firmness and address; but that the surprise in one instance, and the success of the attack in the other, proceeded in a considerable degree from his conduct and management.
Now therefore Know Ye, that the aforesaid Sergeant Elijah Churchill, hath fully and truly deserved, and has been properly invested with the Honorary Badge of Military Merit, and is authorized to pass and repass all guards and military posts as fully and amply as any Commissioned Officer whatever; and is hereby recommended to that favorable notice which a Brave and Faithful Soldier deserves from his Countrymen.
After the war, Elijah Churchill and his family moved to Massachusetts. He died there on April 11th, 1841 and is buried in the Bell Cemetery at Middlefield, Massachusetts.