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How a rare Confederate Medal of Honor came to Forsyth County
A framed display hangs in the Bell Research Center in downtown Cumming with the recent Confederate Medal of Honor awarded to Thomas Whitaker Salmond, the brother of Forsyth County resident Bill Salmond's great-grandfather. - photo by Brian Paglia

Thomas Whitaker Salmond was born in Camden, S.C., in 1825, and by the time of the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania in July 1863 during the American Civil War he was a surgeon in the Confederate States Army.

The story goes that on July 2 as the battle went on Salmond heard of a friend who was critically wounded. Salmond rode out into the battle, found his friend and brought him to a field hospital. Once there, Salmond found his friend’s leg mangled, so he amputated it above the knee. His friend made a full recovery and went on years later to serve in the South Carolina state Senate.

Bill Salmond heard the story of his great-grandfather’s brother’s act and thought it deserved recognition. And so in December, he began the process that culminated with a ceremony on Saturday at Northside Hospital Forsyth that posthumously awarded Thomas Whitaker Salmond with a Confederate Medal of Honor from the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The Confederate Medal of Honor was first authorized om 1862 but none were awarded before the Confederacy fell in 1865. Looking to preserve the medal's history, it was revived in 19777 by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. - photo by Brian Paglia

On Monday, Bill Salmond was sitting in the Bell Research Center on Atlanta Road, looking at a frame that displayed a certification, citation, picture of Thomas Salmond and the medal, one of just 63 in existence.

“It was an honor to have a family member receive the honor,” Bill Salmond said.

That the medal is here in Forsyth County instead of Thomas Salmond’s hometown in South Carolina is a matter of real estate.

The medal was first authorized by the 1st Confederate States Congress in 1862 but none were awarded before the Confederacy fell in 1865. Looking to preserve the medal’s history, it was revived in 1977 by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The group has been one of the strongest opponents in recent years of efforts around the country to remove Confederate monuments.

It took Bill Salmond almost three months to put together all the material required by the Sons of Confederate Veterans for consideration. He had established the heroic nature of his great-grandfather’s brother’s act. He found proof of Thomas Salmond’s military service. He provided a non-partial source to validate the act from an excerpt of the book, “History of the Kershaw Brigade,” that had been published in an old article in the Kershaw Gazette newspaper.

Thomas Whitaker Salmond was born in Camden, S.C., in 1825, and served as a surgeon during the American Civil War in the Confederate States Army. - photo by Brian Paglia

In March, Bill Salmond took all the material to OfficeMax to have it bound and mailed it to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. On April 2, he was notified that the application had been approved. Bill Salmond then set out to find a place to house the medal.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans had three requirements for the location: it had to have sufficient security, visibility to the community and be able to display the medal permanently. Bill Salmond first tried the Camden Archives and Museum, in Thomas Salmond’s hometown, but it could not guarantee it would be permanently displayed.

“They said, ‘We’ve got so much stuff, if we display the same items people will stop coming,’” Bill said. “So they would have to rotate it out.”

Bill Salmond considered trying another place in South Carolina, but he knew his side of the Salmond family was mostly in Georgia. They had moved from South Carolina to west Alabama and then to Forsyth County in the 1940s.

Bill Salmond then thought of the Bell Research Center. The small building in downtown Cumming began mostly as a genealogical resource, said Frank Clark, one of the center’s founders and its curator. It now has a library with more than 15,000 books, reference materials and artifacts of American history, particularly in the South. It also hosts lectures in conjunction with a local Sons of Confederate Veterans group.

The center checked all the requisite boxes.

Security? It had deadbolt locks and security cameras.

Visibility? Vehicles pass by it every day.

Permanency? It now hangs on a wall above a display of Korean War artifacts and next to a frame containing other U.S. medals of honor.

“It’s the story behind these that make these so valuable,” Clark said.