By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday will award the Medal of Honor posthumously to two U.S. Army privates who were part of a daring Union Army contingent that stole a Confederate train during the Civil War, the White House said.

Philip Shadrach and George Wilson, will receive the medals during a White House ceremony that will recognize their “gallantry and intrepidity” during what become known as the Great Locomotive Chase, one of the earliest special operations in U.S. Army history, the White House said.

The operation, which took place 200 miles (322 km) behind Confederate lines on April 12, 1862, saw Union Soldiers dressed as civilians hijack a train in Georgia and drive it north into Tennessee for 87 miles, placing explosives on the track behind them as they headed north to destroy Confederate infrastructure.

Six of those participants became the Army’s first recipients of the then-newly created Medal of Honor. Over the next two decades, another 13 members were recognized for their role in mission, but Shadrach and Wilson, who were both hanged for their actions after being captured, were never recognized until now.

The White House ceremony offers Biden a brief respite from mounting criticism from some of his fellow Democrats after his shaky and halting performance in last week’s presidential debate against Republican former President Donald Trump.

The mission saw 24 men infiltrate the South in small groups, rendezvousing north of Atlanta at Marietta, Georgia. On the day the operation was executed, 22 of the men commandeered a locomotive known as “The General” and proceeded north, tearing up railroad tracks and cutting telegraph wires as they went.

Shadrach, a native Pennsylvanian orphaned at an early age, was only 21 years old when he volunteered for the dangerous mission. Wilson, born in Ohio, was a journeyman shoemaker who enlisted in the Union Army in August 1861.

The White House said it was not clear why Shadrach and Wilson were not originally recommended for the Medal of Honor.

The Medal of Honor is awarded to members of the armed forces who show great personal bravery or self-sacrifice and distinguish themselves at the risk of their own lives while engaged in military actions.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

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