On August 7, 1782, George Washington created three new military badges that would honor the service of ordinary, common soldiers. As Washington explained, his motives were to honor acts of bravery amongst his regular soldiers, because "The road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all." In his General Orders of August 7, 1782, Washington outlined the creation of both Honorary Badges of Distinction and a Badge of Military Merit.
The first Badge of Distinction was to be "conferred on the veteran Non commissioned officers and soldiers of the army who have served more than three years with bravery, fidelity and good conduct," and would consist of "a narrow piece of white cloth of an angular form…to be fixed to the left arm on the uniform Coat." Non-commissioned officers and soldiers worthy of honor who served more than six years were "to be distinguished by two pieces of cloth set in parallel to each other in a similar form."
In addition, Washington established the creation of a Badge of Military Merit because he was "ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers. . ." The General Orders explained that "whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings over the left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth, or silk, edged with narrow lace or binding."1
Only three individuals are known to have received the Badge of Military Merit during the American Revolution. On May 3, 1783, Sergeant William Brown of the 5th Connecticut Regiment of the Connecticut Line, and Sergeant Elijah Churchill of the 2nd Continental Light Dragoons were awarded the Badge of Military Merit.2 A month later, on June 10, 1783, Sergeant Daniel Bissell of the 2nd Connecticut Regiment of the Connecticut Line was also awarded a Badge of Military Merit.3
With this order, Washington established a policy of formal recognition of the heroic contributions of regular soldiers, rather than just solely members of the officer class. In addition, Washington created the precedence for the eventual establishment of the Purple Heart, adopted by the army in 1932 at the behest of General Douglas MacArthur in conjunction with the two hundredth anniversary of Washington's birth.
1. George Washington, "7 August 1782, General Orders." The Writings of George Washington, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office).
2. George Washington, "27 April 1783, General Orders." The Writings of George Washington, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office).
3. George Washington, "8 June 1783, General Orders." The Writings of George Washington, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office).