California State Military Department
The California Military Museum
Preserving California's Military Heritage
Californians and the Military
Major-General Henry Ware Lawton, U.S.Volunteers
By Mark J. Denger
California Center for Military History
 

Almost any historian of the Spanish-American War can tell you stories of Major-General Henry Ware Lawton. A veteran of the Civil War and Indian Campaigns, Major-General Henry Ware Lawton was a recipient of the Medal of Honor. But very few have any knowledge of his California connection other than, by virtue of his military duties, the brief period in which he became a resident of Los Angeles. And only a few students of California's military history are even cognizant of the general's plan to retire here. Remarkably, even fewer have any knowledge of the man himself other than the fact that he was an army officer.

Henry Ware Lawton was born on March 17, 1843, in Manhattan, now a suburb of Toledo, in the state of Ohio. Lawton's father, a resident of Fort Wayne, Indiana, had settled in Ohio at the time of the building of the Wabash and Erie Canal. Lawton attended primary schools at Maumee, Ohio, until the age of 7, when his father removed briefly to California, and he and the rest of the family moved to Lorain County, Ohio. Two years later, his father returned from California, and Lawton went his father to the West, remaining something more than a year.
In 1853 he returned with his father to Fort Wayne where he entered the Fort Wayne Episcopal College as a student. Here he remained in college until the outbreak of the Civil War, and not yet 17 years old, in April 1861, he enlisted as a private in the Union Army, in a company organized by Captain W. P. Segur, which became a part of the 9th Indiana Volunteers. After his initial 90-day enlistment ended, he returned to Fort Wayne and immediately re-enlisted with Captain O. D. Hurd, whose company became part of the 30th Indiana Volunteers and was commissioned a second lieutenant in August 1861. He was promoted to the rank of captain in May 1862 and in November 1865 was again promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, receiving a brevet promotion to the rank of colonel on March 13, 1865 for distinguished services in the field.

Lawton participated in over 22 major engagements during the Civil War and was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his action and bravery during the battle of Atlanta. The citation reads: "Led a charge of skirmishers against the enemy's rifle pits and stubbornly and successfully resisted 2 determined attacks of the enemy to retake the works."

Lawton returned to Fort Wayne at the close of the war. For a short time after the Civil War, Lawton entered the law office of Nine & Taylor. In 1866 he attended Harvard Law School at Cambridge, Massachusetts, where, at the urging of General Sheridan, he re-entered the service on July 28, 1866, and was commissioned a second lieutenant, 41st U.S. Infantry, and was assigned to Ranald S. MacKenzie's command. On July 31, 1867 he received a promotion to first lieutenant and was transferred to the 24th Infantry on November 11, 1869. In January, 1871, he was transferred to the 4th U.S. Cavalry, and promoted to the rank of captain on March 20, 1879.

On December 19, 1881, Captain Lawton married the former Miss Mary Craig of Louisville, Kentucky. Mary was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1855. The couple had been engaged for several years. A devoted Army wife, she insisted on following her husband wherever he went to serve.

On the western frontier, for his services in the cavalry, Lawton was repeatedly commended in general orders for his "vigilance and zeal, rapidity and persistence of pursuit", for great skill, perseverance and gallantry in service on the frontier against hostile Indians.

As a captain, and commander of B Troop, 4th Cavalry, Lawton was selected by General Nelson A. Miles to lead the U.S. expedition into Mexico in pursuit of Geronimo. In May, 1885, a party of about fifty of the Chiricahua Indian prisoners had escaped from the White Mountain Reserve in Arizona, headed by Geronimo and Natchez, and entered upon a career of murder and robbery unparalleled in the history of Indian raids. This command with great energy and persistence kept on the trail, overtook the band in the mountains, capturing nineteen horses and all the enemy's supplies and finally, in September, rounded up the Indians and brought about their surrender. In his report, General Miles reported:
"In this remarkable pursuit followed the hostiles from one range of mountains to another, over the highest peaks, often 9,000 and 10,000 feet above the level of the sea and frequently in the depths of the canyons where the heat in July and August was of tropical intensity. A portion of the command leading on the trail were without rations for five days, three days being the longest continuous period. They subsisted on two or three deer killed by the scouts and mule meat without salt."

After a long and strenuous chase, Lawton's command affected the surrender of Geronimo and his small band of followers. He had greatly distinguished himself during this tour of duty.
In September, 1888, Lawton was again promoted to the rank of major and was assigned as Inspector General for the Department of Arizona with headquarters in Los Angeles. Here he received a promotion to lieutenant colonel in the same Department on February 12, 1889. His years of travel and work with the various Army commands throughout the U.S. enabled him to contribute to improvements in Army structure and command, weapons and supply systems.

Lawton had long talked about retiring in California and living closer to his brother who lived there. In May, 1890, the entire regiment was transferred from Arizona to the Department of California, with headquarters in Los Angeles. While in Los Angeles, he became active in the affairs of the city. He was a member of the local G. A. R. post and of many of the social clubs of Los Angeles.

His love of California led him to purchased a large orange grove near Redlands, California, and there, in contemplation of retirement, began to establish a ranch style home there for he and his family. It was here, both in Los Angeles and in Redlands, that he became known to every member of the Seventh Regiment, National Guard of California, prior to the Spanish-American War and later to the First and Seventh Regiments, California U.S. Volunteer Infantry, as well as the California Heavy Artillery, U.S. Volunteers, during the Spanish-American War. A true Californian.

But the hostilities with Spain found Lawton eager to be a part of the action and he requested to be immediately assigned to that area of service. So when the opportunity was offered to him, Lawton left California on the orders of the War Department to join General Shafter in Cuba, and was immediately made a brigadier-general of the volunteers on March 4, 1898. He would again be promoted to the rank of major-general on July 8, 1899, and in the regular army promoted Colonel in July of that year for gallantry in the Cuban campaign.

Lawton, with the rank of brigadier-general was given command of the 2nd Infantry Division. Upon his arrival in Florida, Lawton's was selected as the commander to lead the invasion forces ashore at Daiquiri. Lawton's 2nd Division led the U.S. forces to shore on June 22, 1898, followed by General Wheeler's division. Lawton was to land his troops, move to and secure Siboney as a port for landing the balance of the forces, then turn inland and hold position until General Kent's forces were on shore. Wheeler was to enter Siboney and guarantee the port's security while those forces landed.

General Wheeler ignored his orders and pushed a brigade ahead of Lawton's units. With a skimpy reconnaissance, Wheeler attacked the fortified Spanish position at Las Guisimas. Finding resistance stiffer than anticipated, he quickly rushed word back to Lawton for help. With the arrival of troops ordered forward by Lawton, the Spanish troops broke from their positions. A week after the landing at Daiquiri, Lawton was promoted to major-general.

General Shafter believed that 12,000 Spanish troops stood between him and Santiago, his objective. Two divisions would have to conduct a frontal assault on San Juan Hill and one division would pin down the Spanish at El Caney in order to neutralize any threat to the American flank at San Juan Hill. When the attacks on San Juan Hill and El Caney began on July 1st, the Americans quickly learned they had underestimated the ability and determination of the Spanish troops. Operations were difficult and Shafter considered, and then requested that Lawton withdraw his forces from El Caney. When Shafter's messenger brought the verbal order to Lawton, Lawton still considered El Caney a serious threat to the flank at San Juan Hill. He told the runner that because of the seriousness of the order to withdraw, he would need to have a written order and sent the runner back to Shafter. He then ordered General Adna Chaffee to storm the fort by the best means available. Chaffee in turn ordered the 12th regiment to attack and it did with such determination, that the Spanish defenders finally relinquished their hold on El Caney.

Lawton distinguishing himself by the capture of El Caney and providing backup support for Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders in their charge on San Juan Hill.

At the end of hostilities, General Lawton was made a member of the U.S. Commission negotiating the Spanish surrender. He was then made military governor of Santiago, a post that he held for a short time. He was re-assigned to command the Army's IV Corps in Huntsville, Alabama. Lawton was not inclined to be an armchair diplomat or soldier and was now requesting to be assigned to the Philippines.

Lawton's tour in Cuba had resulted in a favorable relationship with the Press who found him, and Roosevelt, to be their favorites among the senior officers. His standing with superiors in Washington was also strengthened and his credibility with the Secretary of War and the President gained considerable ground. The Secretary of War, and Generals Corbin, Merritt, and Miles supported a move to put Lawton in command of Army field forces in the Philippines.

In January, 1899, Lawton was ordered to the Philippines. When Major-General Lawton was ordered to sail for Manila early in 1899, he left the United States with the understanding that he would handle the field operations and General Otis, while remaining in overall command, would act more in an administrative role. Of course, Otis caught wind of this and was already jealous of Lawton before he arrived at Manila. The two men had somewhat of a strained relationship after Lawton arrived; however, it was Lawton's many successes in the Philippines that would ultimately bolster Otis' reputation.

Lawton sailed for the Philippines on the transport GRANT on January 19, 1899. Lawton wasted no time in taking the field after his arrival on March 10, 1899. His military actions were lightning quick, and he rapidly developed guerilla and night fighting techniques to counter the Filipino rebels methods of fighting.

As a military leader, Lawton believed in leading from the front, continuing a style he had capitalized on in the Civil War. His subordinates were constantly worried that he needlessly exposed himself to hostile gunfire, but Lawton refused to observe from the rear, or to take cover. This style of military tactics brought about the capture of San Isidro, Santa Cruz, and San Rafael.

After the capture of San Isidro, President McKinley sent the following dispatch to Major-General Otis:

"Covey to General Lawton and the gallant men of his command congratulations on the successful operations during the past month, resulting in the capture this morning of San Isidro.

WILLIAM MCKINLEY"

Lawton had been place in command of the defense of Manila and the troops forming the line around the city. By early October, Lawton was absorbed in dispersing the insurgents and cutting off the enemy's communication lines between Bacoor and Imus. His troops, several times under heavy fire, were successful in clearing the country of Filipino insurgents, pushing northward. During this same period, as Lawton was engaging in and winning key battles, he was also working hard to establish self-rule government in the Philippine provinces. A special U.S. Commission was established and sent to the Philippines to study his models and improve on them.

Lawton's last battle took place during the assault on San Mateo, on December 18, 1899. Having moved his forces overnight from Manila through heavy rain, he reached the defenses of San Mateo and personally directed the attack from a forward position. In the course of this movement, on December 19, 1899, at 9 o'clock a.m., Major-General Henry W. Lawton, was shot and instantly killed while fearlessly exposing his person in supervising the passing of his troops over the river Mariquina at San Mateo.

General Edwards, Lawton's chief of staff, gave a Washington correspondent of the Indianapolis Star his account of the incident as follows:

"San Mateo is about twenty miles northeast of Manila and only a few miles north of the pumping station of the Manila waterworks. The town had been twice taken and abandoned. A small expeditionary force under command of Gen. Lawton left Manila at night to retake it. The force consisted of two squadrons of cavalry and three battalions of infantry.

"Before we had been under way an hour one of the most frightful storms ever witnessed in the Philippines broke loose and the rain fell in torrents. Gen. Otis ordered the return of the troops. Gen. Lawton was caught by a courier and he returned to the palace and walked into the dining room where Gen. Otis and several officers were in the midst of a repast before retiring. . . . Gen. Lawton stood before them, the picture of sternness, till wearing his tall white helmet strapped under his chin, while the water running off of his yellow slicker made a pool on the floor.

"He told Gen. Otis that nothing could stop the troops then, as they were well on the march and bent on surprising the enemy at daylight. Gen. Otis finally acquiesced and Gen. Lawton rode all night and put his men in positions to attack San Mateo from the front at daylight.

"There was little opposition to the advance of our troops. About the end of the fight, when the victory was practically won, Lieut. Breckinridge, one of Gen. Lawton's staff officers, was shot through the left side and fell in an exposed position. Lawton rushed to him and directed the making of an improvised litter.

"Suddenly he threw up his head, shut his teeth tightly and pressed the palm of his left hand against his left breast. Capt. E. L. King, and aid de camp, who was close to him inquired: ‘What's the matter, general? Are you hit?' Still with his teeth tightly set he replied: ‘Yes, through the lung.'

"For a few seconds he stood bracing himself, . . . He fell into the arms of his aid de camp and died an instant later.

"The battle went on and the place was taken without further difficulty. I went back to Manila and broke the news to Mrs. Lawton. It was the most sorrowful task I ever had to perform."

The news of the loss of General Lawton was given to President McKinley by the Associated Press. The dispatch bringing the news was sent directly to the White House.

Ironically, the War Department had been instructed by the President the night before to prepare General Lawton's commission as a Brigadier-General in the regular army, to fill one of the existing vacancies and the Adjutant-General's clerks were at work on the commission when the information of the General's death was conveyed to the department.

At the time of his death, December 19, 1899, at San Mateo in the Philippines, Henry W. Lawton was second in command of the U.S. Army forces in the Philippines, serving under Major-General Elwell S. Otis.

The following general order announced the death of Major-General Henry W. Lawton:

 

GENERAL ORDERS, No. 209.
HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY,
ADJUTANT-GENERAL'S OFFICE,
Washington, December 21, 1899.

The following order has been received from the War Department:

WAR DEPARTMENT, Washington, December 21, 1899.

"With deep regret the Secretary of War announces the death on the field of battle of Henry W. Lawton, major-general of Volunteers, and colonel and inspector-general of the-Regular Army.

"On the 18th of April, 1861, three days after President Lincoln's first call for volunteers in the war for the Union, at the age of 18, he enlisted as a private in the Ninth Indiana Volunteers. He served with his regiment in the field in the Army of the Tennessee throughout that war, and at its close was mustered out, at the age of 22, as lieutenant-colonel, after being brevetted colonel for gallant and meritorious service and awarded a medal of honor for distinguished gallantry.

"He was commissioned second lieutenant in the Regular Army on the 28th of July, 1866, and served in the infantry until 1869, then in the cavalry until 1888, and thereafter as inspector-general until the commencement of the war with Spain.

"He was repeatedly commended in general orders ‘for vigilance and zeal, rapidity and persistence of pursuit,' ‘for great skill, perseverance, and gallantry,' in services on the frontier against hostile Indians.
"Upon the declaration of war with Spain he was made brigadier-general, and on the 8th of July following major-general of volunteers. His nomination for brigadier-general of the Regular Army was determined upon and was ready to be sent to the Senate upon the day of his death. He commanded the Second Division of the Fifth Army Corps in the Cuban campaign, rendering distinguished service in the battles before Santiago, and subsequently commanded the Department of Santiago and the Fourth Army Corps. On the 18th of March, 1899, he assumed command of the First Division of the Eighth Army Corps in the Philippine Islands, and remained in command of this division in practically continuous and most eventful service in the field until he fell, on the 18th of December, 1899, pierced by an insurgent bullet while leading his troops near San Mateo, on the island of Luzon. The swift and resistless movement of his column up the Rio Grande and across the northern boundary of the plain of central Luzon, which had just been completed, was the chief factor in the destruction of the insurgent power, and was the crowning achievement of his arduous life.

"He fell in the fullness of his powers, in the joy of conflict, in the consciousness of assured victory. He leaves to his comrades and his country the memory and the example of dauntless courage, of unsparing devotion to duty, of manly character, and of high qualities of command which inspired his troops with his own indomitable spirit.

"The flag will be placed at half staff and thirteen minute guns will be fired at every military post and station on the day after the receipt of this order, and the usual badges of mourning will be worn for thirty days.
By command of Major-General Miles:

ELIHU ROOT, Secretary of War.

H. C. CORBIN, Adjutant-General

 

The accounts of his death given by military personnel at the scene as well as information from Press interviews after the event leave no doubt as to how deeply he was revered by his men. The news of his death back home had a profound effect on the residents of California. The following article entitled "Arrival of General Lawton's Body" appeared in Harper's Weekly on February 17, 1900.

San Francisco. February 1, 1900. The funeral honors given in this city to the remains of Major-General Henry W. Lawton were simple but impressive, and the crowds that lined the streets when the body was escorted down Market Street to the ferry testified to the regard in which the dead soldier is held in this the State of his adoption, where he hoped to make his home. Of all the commanders in the Philippines, Lawton stood first in the affections of Californians, because of his rare services as an Indian-fighter in Arizona. He it was who broke the strength of the Apaches, and forced the old war-chief Geronimo to surrender. Other men, like Crook, had whipped these savages, but it remained for Lawton to follow them into their mountain fastnesses in old Mexico, and to surpass them in cunning, and endurance of heat, thirst, and fatigue. He chased them day and night, never giving them an hour's rest, until he broke their spirit and forced them to unconditional surrender. It was such qualities as he showed in this Apache campaign that made him famous throughout the Far West, and it was his valuable services in taming the Indians who roamed over Arizona and southeastern California that made this State grateful to him and eager to do him honor.
The big transport Thomas arrived in San Francisco Harbor on Tuesday. Every garrison flag was lowered as the vessel steamed up the bay, and the flags from all the public buildings were at half-mast. As she dropped anchor the boom of the first big gun from Alcatraz marked the military honors to the dead major-general, and the full salute of thirteen guns went echoing far out through the Golden Gate.

Up to the huge vessel steamed the army tug General McDowell, with Major-General Shafter, his daughter Mrs. McKittrick, and his aides, Captain McKittrick and Lieutenant E. T. Wilson. Another tug bore Major Tucker of the army pay department, a brother-in-law of the late Major Logan, whose body was on board the ship; Richard Bentley, guardian of Logan's children, and Adjutant General Seamans of the National Guard of California, who represented the State. General Shafter escorted to the shore Mrs. Lawton and her four children, and thus spared them the long wait due to quarantine regulations.

Mrs. Lawton and all the officers on board spoke in warm terms of the great honors given to the dead general at Manila, and at Nagasaki, where the vessel touched. The funeral at Manila was the most imposing ever seen in that city, many prominent civilian officers from cities in which General Lawton had established stable government taking part. Foreign officers also showed their respect by their presence. Between a double line of war-ships, on which marines presented arms and the bands played dirges, the Thomas moved out of Manila Bay. One by one, the ships gave the salute of thirteen guns, and this tribute was also rendered by the war-ships of other nations. At Nagasaki four Russian cruisers and a German man-of-war in the harbor dipped their colors, and while the Thomas lay in port the Italian cruiser Carlo Alberto steamed in. Rear Admiral Grenet, who was aboard, personally offered his sympathy to Mrs. Lawton. The Governor of Nagasaki, who was ill, sent his regards by his secretary, and a present of two handsome Japanese vases. When the Thomas left, the British ship Victorious, which had arrived, dipped its colors, and all Nagasaki had its flags half-masted.

When Mrs. Lawton reached this city she was in ignorance of the popular subscription for her and her children. As General Shafter told her of the great wave of feeling that had gone over the country, and of the spontaneous gift in a single month of over $100,000, she broke down and wept. Modestly she said that she expected the government would give her a pension sufficient to educate her children, but she had never dreamed of such generous treatment from the public. She was profoundly touched by this popular tribute to the dead general.

On the Thomas, in a special place made for them amidships on the main-deck, rested the bodies of General Lawton, Major Logan, Major Armstrong, and Lieutenant Taylor of the Twelfth Infantry. All were draped with the national colors and guarded by four troopers. In a cabin near by were funeral wreaths and other emblems given by prominent Filipinos. Among them were wreaths of black feathers, artificial flowers, and fine wire made in beautiful patterns. On black ribbons were stamped in gilt letters the names of the donors, that included the civil governors of several cities and the presidents of many Manila clubs and societies.

After the Thomas had docked, the bodies were removed to an undertaker's place on Mission Street, near Fifth Street, and placed in a room beautifully decorated with palms and flowers. From that place the funeral escort moved this afternoon. The procession, which extended over three blocks, moved along Sixth Street to Market, and then down the main avenue of the city to the ferry depot. Along the line of march were fully 30,000 people, many of whom bared their heads in the raw and gusty air as the dead heroes passed by. First came mounted police, then a platoon of patrolmen on foot. Following them were black-horse Troop G, of the Sixth United States Cavalry, Captain West in command, and bay-horse Troop F, Sixth Cavalry. Behind them were troop A National Guard of California, and the National Guard Signal Corps. The cavalry wore yellow tassels in their helmets, and the signal men orange tassels. All were in full dress, with swords. Then came the four artillery caissons. On the first, drawn by four black horses ridden by two Rough Riders was General Lawton's body, draped in the national colors, and covered with beautiful floral wreaths. The bodies of Major Logan and Major Armstrong followed, decorated in the same way. On each side of the caissons marched in single file the fifty members of the Grand Lodge and Grand Encampment of Oddfellows, of which General Lawton was a member. There was no music, all moving by in dead silence. The sidewalks and half the street were crowded with people, and all the windows along Market Street were filled with spectators. At the ferry the escort saluted and retired; at the Oakland depot the funeral train was drawn up, and the bodies were placed on board. Among those who accompanied the remains to Washington was Chaplain Pierce, whom Mrs. Lawton wishes to conduct the funeral services.

Thus ended California's tribute to the dead general. The feature of it, that impressed any observer was the deep sympathy of the great crowd, and the many expressions of regard for the man who was perhaps, the most popular officer in the American army, and who certainly was the ideal of the stalwart, rugged, fearless American soldier.

George Hamlin Fitch.
Harper's Weekly, Feb 17, 1900.

Lawton's remains were returned to the United States, and following the procession in San Francisco, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
On February 9, 1900, the U.S. Army designated the military installation on Magnolia Bluff, a peninsula situated at the northern entrance to Elliott Bay, near Seattle, Washington, as Fort Lawton. (1) The city of Lawton, Oklahoma, founded in 1901 and located just south of Fort Sill (named after Brigadier-General Joshua W. Sill), was also named after Major-General Henry Ware Lawton. In the state of Indiana, two monuments to Major-General Lawton stand; the first at Lakeside Park in Fort Wayne, and Garfield Park in Indianapolis, where his friend Teddy Roosevelt was the principal speaker at its dedication.

His wife, Mary, devastated by his death in battle, continued to wear the black of mourning for the remainder of her life. She died on January 5, 1934 and was buried at Arlington next to her husband, Major-General Henry Ware Lawton (Section 2, Grave 841).

Of all the commanders in the Philippines, Major-General Lawton indeed stood first in the affections of California's citizen-soldiers –especially among the members of the Seventh Regiment of the National Guard of California, and to the First and Seventh Regiments, California U.S. Volunteer Infantry, as well as the California Heavy Artillery, U.S. Volunteers, who served under him during the Spanish-American War.



Footnotes
 
(1) Built on 700 acres, Fort Lawton had become a permanent Army garrison post in 1898. It became part of the system of defenses protecting Puget Sound from naval attack. The site of Fort Lawton remained in military hands until 1970, when it was turned over to the City of Seattle and became Discovery Park.


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