The U.S. Army Medal of Honor was created in July 1862. The only standards for earning a medal were "gallantry in action" or other "soldierly qualities." With such vague criteria some courageous actions were recognized but many others went unrewarded.
The capture of any enemy flag provided the easiest and most tangible evidence of gallantry, and during the war, this was the most common act for which medals were awarded. However, this method had its flaws. At Gettysburg and other battlefields, some flags were simply picked up after the enemy color guard was all shot down, yet a medal was still awarded.
There were sixty-three medals of Honor awarded for the battle of Gettysburg. Of these, only nineteen were received during the war. Three were issued in the late 1860's. The remaining forty-one were awarded between the later 1880's and 1905, when the War Department was inundated with medal applications from veterans. In a battle, the size and severity of Gettysburg, where so many performed feats far above the call of duty, it was impossible to recognize everyone deserving. As one Union officer wrote of his men, "If I should have been called upon to point out any deserving of promotion for gallantry, I would have pointed to them all."
The Confederate government also sought to create a medal to award soldiers for valor in battle, but due to problems in creating a medal and producing it, they instead established a "Roll of Honor." This was to publicly recognize soldiers who had distinguished themselves. Although some Rolls of Honor were published, only a handful of Confederate units participated, and the rolls only listed name, rank and unit, not the actions the men had done to distinguish themselves.