Robert Augustus Sweeney

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Robert Augustus Sweeney
Born (1853-02-20)February 20, 1853
Died December 19, 1890(1890-12-19) (aged 37)
Place of burial Calvary Cemetery, New York City
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1881 - 1884
Rank Ordinary Seaman
Unit USS Kearsarge, USS Yantic
Awards Medal of Honor (2)

Robert Augustus Sweeney (February 20, 1853 – December 19, 1890) was a sailor in the United States Navy and is one of only nineteen servicemen, and the only African American, to receive the Medal of Honor twice, both for peace-time actions.


Sweeney was born on February 20, 1853, on the Caribbean island of Montserrat.[1][2] The Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs 1963 print Medal of Honor 1863-1963 stated that he had been born in Montreal, Canada but this was corrected by the 1995 Facts on File two volume work, Medal of Honor Recipients 1863-1994.[3]

US Navy service[edit]

Sweeney joined the Navy in New Jersey.[4][5] By October 26, 1881, he was serving as an ordinary seaman on the USS Kearsarge. While Kearsarge was anchored in Hampton Roads on that day, Seaman E.M. Christoverson fell from a Jacob's ladder attached to the ship's lower boom and landed in the water. Christoverson's inability to swim, combined with a strong tidal current and rough seas, led to him quickly beginning to sink. Seeing this, Sweeney jumped overboard without hesitation and went to his aid. In his panic, Christoverson latched onto Sweeney and dragged him under the water. Sweeney was able to break free, but was grabbed and dragged under a second time. One of Kearsarge's officers, Cadet Midshipman John B. Bernadon, then dived into the water and swam to help the men. Together, Sweeney and Bernadon were able to keep Christoverson afloat and, once their shipmates had thrown them a rope, pulled him back aboard ship. For this action, Sweeney was awarded his first Medal of Honor six days later, on November 1.[6]

On the morning of December 20, 1883, the training ship USS Jamestown was at dock at the Brooklyn Navy Yard when it shifted berth and made fast alongside the USS Yantic. In the afternoon, at about 4:15, a boy named A A George belonging to the Jamestown fell overboard from a plank between the Jamestown and the Yantic. The ship’s log of the Yantic stated that he ‘would have probably drown, if it had not been for the prompt action on the part of R. A. Sweeney (O. Sea) of this vessel, and one of the Jamestown's crew (J. W. Norris), who jumped overboard to his assistance’. The letter recommending Sweeney and Norris for Medals of Honor was written by the Commanding Officer of the Jamestown, Commander Allen D. Brown. Probably because Commander Brown recommended both men, the official citation incorrectly stated Sweeney was a member of the crew of Jamestown.[7][1] Sweeney died on December 19, 1890, at age 37 and is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York in an unknown grave.[5][1]

Medal of Honor citation[edit]

Sweeney's first citation reads:

Serving on board the U.S.S. Kearsarge, at Hampton Roads, Va., 26 October 1881, Sweeney jumped overboard and assisted in saving from drowning a shipmate who had fallen overboard into a strongly running tide.[4]

His second citation:

Serving on board the U.S.S. Jamestown, at the Navy Yard New York, 20 December 1883, Sweeney rescued from drowning A. A. George, who had fallen overboard from that vessel.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c George Lang; Raymond Collins; Gerard White. Medal of Honor Recipients 1863-1994, Facts on File, 1995, HB, 0 8160 3260 2, Vol 1, p. 330
  2. ^
  3. ^ The U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, Subcommittee on Veterans’ Affairs, Medal of Honor 1863-1963, 88th Cong., 2nd sess. (Washington: GPO, 1963)
  4. ^ a b c "Medal of Honor recipients - Interim Awards, 1871–1898". Medal of Honor citations. United States Army Center of Military History. August 5, 2010. Retrieved September 10, 2010.
  5. ^ a b "Robert Augustus Sweeney". Claim to Fame: Medal of Honor recipients. Find a Grave. October 19, 2003. Retrieved September 10, 2010.
  6. ^ Hunt, William H.; George B. White (November 1, 1881). "General Order, No. 276". General orders and circulars issued by the Navy Department. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office (1863–1887): 202–3. Retrieved September 10, 2010.
  7. ^ Ray Collins, ‘The facts about Robert A. Sweeney’, The Annals (Medal of Honor Historical Society), Vol 9, No. 2, December 1986, pp. 32-35