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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

Lt. John M. Tobin Medal of Honor Recipient at Malvern Hill

By Gordon Thorsby

War can weigh for a lifetime on those who experience it. When in the face of awful violence, some run and others rise up. The latter response was the case for 1st Lieutenant John M. Tobin of the 9th Massachusetts who would later receive the Medal of Honor.

John Tobin was born in Waterford, Ireland in 1835 or 1841 and his family emigrated to Boston soon afterwards. He helped organize Company I of “the Fighting Ninth” Massachusetts on Jun 11, 1861 and served as the regimental adjutant lieutenant beginning in January 1862.

On July 1, 1862, the fighting was heavy with burly mustached Brig. Gen. Charles Griffin’s brigade positioned in the left Center on the hill. The line consisted of the 14th New York, 4th Michigan, 9th Massachusetts, 62nd Pennsylvania with the 16th Michigan nearby. The brigade had already lost 534 men supporting four adjacent artillery batteries. Three of the regimental commanders (including the 9th’s Col. Thomas Cass) and many color bearers were already down.

The long, perfectly aligned butternut and gray lines advanced the slope through a field of golden wheat. The Ninth began to waver where the citation continues, Tobin “voluntarily took command of the Ninth Massachusetts while Adjutant bravely fighting from 3 p.m. until dusk, rallying and reforming the regiment under fire; twice picked up the regimental flag, the color bearer having been shot down, and placed it in worthy hands.” The Ninth held and that day at Malvern Hill was possibly its greatest day in the war.

Tobin received a promotion to Captain when the regiment mustered out on June 21, 1864. It was certainly a speedy trip home for Tobin because he married Miss Adeline Cass (widow of Col. Cass) just five days later in Suffolk, Massachusetts on June 26.

For a man who demonstrated extraordinary heroism, we would hope his story faded into growing family and a peaceful career but unfortunately it does not. He served for a time in the state house, was a writer for the Washington Post and he traveled about the country making speeches to veteran organizations both North and South. Addy and John had several children who raised their own families.

We do not know if the slaughter of his regiment at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania had any lasting effect on him. Addy passed away in 1894 leaving him to his work and visiting the children. Congress awarded the Medal of Honor to him in a ceremony on March 11, 1896 with war looming with Spain.

in 1898, Capt. Tobin, now in his fifties offered his help to the Army and he was made quartermaster of the First Brigade. However, something happened, something odd, unexplained, and that should have been explained. John Tobin, now preparing the Army for war, was “relieved of his commission his services being no longer needed on account of the reorganization of the volunteer army.” There was no further detail.

In December of the year, John Tobin was in Knoxville for unknown reasons when he was found dead. A few Newspapers reported that John put a pistol in his mouth, pulled the trigger, the ball traveled through his mouth and cut the spinal column.

“John M Tobin was found dead in his rooms at the Palaro hotel in this city this afternoon at 3 o'clock… Those who knew him best claim that he was worried not a little over being deprived of his military rank and his forced return to private life. He was last seen last night, when he called for his key at the hotel office. The porter called for him this morning, but no reply was given. A third attempt failed to arouse him and this afternoon an entrance was forced into the room. He was found dead on his bed. The pistol was held in the right hand, it being fold folded across his breast with the left arm. No message was left behind to tell the sad story of why Capt Tobin had taken his own life. Nor was there any statement as to what disposition to make of his remains.”

John M. Tobin was only 57 when he died December 27, 1898. He is buried in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He received a hero’s funeral with surviving veterans in attendance.

An ignominious end for a brave soldier who loved his country.


Medal of Honor Award presented to Lt. John M. Tobin,

Sears, Stephen W., To the Gates of Richmond, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1992, ppg 325, 334.

Knoxville Tribune, December 28, 1898.

Find-a Grave his photo and birth and death data.

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