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A Rare Medal of Honor

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

Exploring cemeteries and finding stories of the men buried within has been a more recent interest of mine, so forgive me for not visiting sooner a Medal of Honor recipient that rests within a mile from where I live (as the crows flies).

Born in 1843 in Lautenberg, in West Prussia, today part of Poland, David Urbansky (on the roster of the Fifty-Eighth Ohio as Orbansky) emigrated to the United States with his family at the age of 15. His stated profession was cabinetmaker. After living in New York for several years, Urbansky moved to Columbus, Ohio.

On October 28, 1861, six months after the war began, Urbansky enlisted as a corporal in the Fifty-Eighth Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a regiment that was under the command of Colonel Valentine Bausenwein. (Most of Urbansky’s Company B was German speaking as were many other men in the Fifty-Eighth)

Urbansky’s war records shows that he saw action in at least fifteen battles, including Fort Donelson and Shiloh. At Chickasaw Bayou, the Fifty-Eighth participated in the one of the earliest attacks on Vicksburg, the last remaining Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. When his superior officer was badly wounded, and stranded in no-man’s land, Urbansky, who was all of five feet three inches tall, came to his aid and, braving heavy fire, carried him back to safety. The officer survived. I am still researching to see who that officer might have been but I believe it was Company B's Captain Ferdinand Fix who was wounded on December 29th, 1862.

After the war, Urbansky, whose commander Captain Louis Keller, praised him as “a man of honor and bravery,” became one of 134 Ohio soldiers to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the country’s highest military honor, awarded for personal acts of valor in action against an enemy force, and one of only six Jewish Union soldiers to receive the recognition, a rare feat indeed. Today, Urbansky’s medal is in the collection of the National Jewish Archives, in Cincinnati.

Urbansky was discharged from the army with the rank of private (having been reduced to the ranks on April 8th, 1862, the day after Shiloh), on January 14th, 1865. He then applied for, and quickly was granted, American citizenship. A short time later, he married Rachel Henry, from Schenectady, New York. They made their home, and raised their 12 children, in Piqua, a small city north of Dayton, Ohio, where David owned a successful clothing store.

After a long illness, Urbansky died, and was buried in the Cedar Hill Jewish cemetery in Piqua. After his death, Rachel and her children moved to Cincinnati and shortened the family name to Urban. She died in 1925, and after her burial in the Walnut Hills United Jewish Cemetery, David’s remains were re-interred by her side.

Unlike many Civil War soldiers who received their Medals of Honor through political patronage in the late 1800s, Urbansky's medal was awarded on August 2, 1879. "The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Private David Orbansky, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in 1862 & 1863, while serving with Company B, 58th Ohio Infantry, in action at Shiloh, Tennessee & Vicksburg, Mississippi, for gallantry in actions."

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