HANCOCK, Md. —The Medal of Honor, created by Congress during the Civil War as America’s highest military decoration for valor, was never meant for Americans who fought for the South. They were the enemy, after all.

But there’s a Confederate Medal of Honor, little known yet highly prized, that the Sons of Confederate Veterans bestows on those whose bravery in battle can be proven to the private group’s satisfaction.

The silver-and-bronze medal is a 10-pointed star bearing the Great Seal of the Confederate States and the words, “Honor. Duty. Valor. Devotion.”

It has been awarded 50 times since 1977, most recently to Maj. James Breathed, a native Virginian buried in Hancock. He was honored last year for his bravery as an artillery officer in the 1864 Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse in Virginia.

The number of recipients is tiny compared to the 3,487 on the U.S. Medal of Honor roll, including more than 1,500 who fought for the Union in the War Between the States. Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans say their medal is given less freely than those the Union awarded during the war.

“The SCV created their own Confederate Medal of Honor simply because there were some incredible acts of valor that had received little or no recognition during and after the war,” said Ben Sewell III, executive director of the 29,000-member group, based in Columbia, Tenn.

The medal has Civil War-era origins. Confederate President Jefferson Davis signed a law in 1862 authorizing medals for courage on the battlefield, but none was issued. The U.S. Army Center of Military History says Gen. Robert E. Lee refused to award individual citations for valor, mentioning noteworthy performance in his dispatches instead.

The Confederate Medal of Honor recipients are largely low-to-middle-ranking figures. Perhaps best-known is Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest of Tennessee, who tormented Union commanders with lightning raids, reportedly had black Union soldiers executed after their surrender at Fort Pillow, Tenn., and was for a time a post-war member of the Ku Klux Klan.

The first medal recipient was Pvt. Samuel Davis of Smyrna, Tenn. Davis was captured by Union troops and hanged as a spy in 1863 at age 21. His statue graces the grounds of the state capitol in Nashville, along with those of presidents Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson.