Hawkins County, Tennessee native Gaines Lawson enlisted as a private with Company D of the Fourth East Tennessee Infantry [US] in December 1862. With the Fourth East Tennessee, Lawson participated in engagements mostly connected to the Federal Army’s efforts to push Confederate forces from Unionist East Tennessee: Strawberry Plains, Knoxville, Bull’s Gap, Paint Rock, Greeneville, Kingston, Cumberland Gap, and McMinnville. At this last engagement, fought on October 3, 1863, Lawson demonstrated the meritorious conduct worthy of the nation’s highest commendation. Federal forces occupying the town had orders to hold it at all cost, and as a Confederate force under the command of Gen. Joseph Wheeler approached the town, Lawson’s company received orders to protect the main street east of the courthouse. During the ensuing firefight, private John M. Edington fell after being struck in the chest by a round, falling with such force and speed that his fellow soldiers presumed he was killed instantly. Edington was left in the street when the company was ordered to retreat 50 yards, but upon recapturing their original ground, the men saw signs of life in their fallen comrade. Despite the thick volleys flying just over Edington’s body, Lawson requested permission to go to his aid regardless of the obvious danger. Permission was reluctantly granted, and Lawson ran through a storm of bullets, hoisted Edington to his shoulder, and carried him back to Federal lines. Lawson remained untouched, but Edington succumbed to his wound in a nearby house within five minutes of the rescue. Roughly an hour of fighting, which pitted approximately 400 Federal soldiers against Gen. Wheeler’s four divisions of cavalry and artillery, resulted in a Confederate victory. Major M. L. Patterson’s unconditional surrender to Gen. Wheeler resulted in all of the men, including Gaines Lawson, being taken prisoner. For his selfless and courageous behavior in the fight for McMinnville, Lawson received the Medal of Honor on June 11, 1895. Lawson continued his military service after the war’s close and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
- Fought at Strawberry Plains, Bull's Gap, Greeneville, Cumberland Gap and other battles
- Ran into heavy fire to rescue a fallen soldier at McMinnville
- Buried at Arlington National Cemetery