George Washington wasn’t allowed by the Continental Congress to promote Revolutionary War soldiers based on merit. But, Washington found a way around it, establishing the Badge of Military Merit on Aug. 7, 1782.
According to The Purple Heart “… The General ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of Military merit directs whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings, over his left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk edged with narrow lace or binding.”
While a number of badges were awarded, the only three known recipients were
Sergeant Elijah Churchill, 2nd Continental Dragoons; Sergeant William Brown, 5th and Sergeant Daniel Bissel, 2nd Connecticut Continental Line Infantry.
The award was discontinued after the war, but Gen. John “Blackjack” Pershing created the Purple Heart in 1932 in General Order No. 3 to honor the bicentennial of Washington’s birth.