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Henry Ware Lawton

Henry Ware Lawton
Leo Lawton

Yesterday's Wartime Heroes

He stood tall in a yellow slicker urging his men forward that fateful day. In the chill, rivulets of rainwaterdribbled down his cheeks. A shot rang out, and General Henry Ware Lawton fell dead on a muddy battlefield ina far-off land. It happened near the small village of San Mateo, Luzon, Philippines, but could just as easily have been anywhere else. His name, like millions of others, gathers dust here and there in the annals of a history book, but few ever learn of his, or their, bravery.

His story is probably not that much different than all the rest, but he is representative of a vast and longforgotten group, all those who fought and died for their country. He went from poor young boy to second fromthe top of the United States Army, without benefit of a West Point education or military ancestors. Startingwith the outbreak of the Civil War he continued in battle through the Indian Wars. After a short interlude he found himself wrapped up in the Spanish American War battling in Cuba, and the very next year involved in the Philippine Insurrection.

Did you forget? How can it be? Those who fought so valiantly!

March 17, 1843 Henry Ware Lawton was born in Manhattan, Ohio. In 1850, his father left his wife and childrenin Ohio when he traveled to the California gold fields, ostensibly to build rockers and shakers for miners, but one would wonder if he didn't have a touch of gold fever as well. Two years later, with George still in California, Henry's mother died, and for the next ten years he lived only sporadically with his father. While enrolled at Indiana's Fort Wayne Methodist Episcopal College, a preparatory school, he became a member of the Wide-Awakes a political marching group.

This training stood him in good stead when, with the fervor of youth, he joined the Ninth Indiana Volunteersat the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, shortly after reaching his eighteenth birthday. Because ofhis marching ability, he was soon made a sergeant. After fighting his way across West Virginia with the Ninth, he returned to Fort Wayne in July when his ninety-day enlistment was fulfilled. In the meantime his brother George had also joined the Union forces, while another brother Manley fought for the Confederacy.

Henry immediately was accepted as a sergeant in the Thirtieth Indiana Volunteers then forming, and was commissioned a first lieutenant the next month. Over the next year the Thirtieth fought its way across Kentucky and Tennessee, and continued south into Georgia, where on August 3, 1864 Lawton led his men against murderous enemy rifle fire in the Atlanta campaign, which brought him a Congressional Medal of Honor. "Lawton's complete disregard for enemy fire was a phenomenon which astonished his men throughout his career" (Major 7). The following February he was promoted to lieutenant colonel, and still had not reached the age of twenty-two.

Character sprinkled liberally, with generous amounts of tenacity.

At the end of hostilities Lawton entered Harvard University to study law, but his heart still beat with the Army. In May 1867 he accepted a commission as a second lieutenant, and two months later was promoted to first lieutenant. Like thousands of others, battle, not blood, ran through his veins.

Ranald Mackenzie graduated West Point at the head of the class of 1862, and fought brilliantly in the War Between the States. In 1871, craving more excitement than the infantry was providing, he asked for, and was given, command of the Fourth Cavalry. Mackenzie immediately selected Lawton to aid him in this assignment. For the next fifteen years Lawton fought in a continuing series of Indian battles. The Fourth Cavalry was also fighting the Sioux in 1876 when Custer, the brash young Seventh Cavalryman, made his famous "Last Stand." During the summer of 1877 Lawton escorted nearly one thousand surrendered Cheyennes on a one hundred day march to a reservation. "He was a good man," Wooden Leg said, "always kind to the Indians" (Brown 333). His most famous skirmish with Indians came in 1886.

The infamous Chiricahua Apache Geronimo had been captured, placed on a reservation, and escaped several times. General Crook was relieved of his command, and General Miles was sent to contain Geronimo and his men who were raiding throughout Arizona and Mexico. Captain Lawton was personally selected by General Miles to capture the wily Apache. Lawton's orders were to follow the trail and destroy or subdue the Indians. Follow he did! When conditions deteriorated past where horses could go, the command marched for four months over thirteen hundred miles of the roughest and most mountainous terrain Arizona and Mexico had to offer.

A medal from congress, they gave to him. Bravery settled deep within.

The Apache was sent to prison in Florida, and never regained his freedom. "General David S. Stanley would later comment in a letter written to President Cleveland December 20, 1887 that 'it is my settled opinion, that had there been no Captain Lawton, there would not be any captive Geronimo'" (Rau 96).

A short while later, after seventeen years on the frontier, Lawton left his beloved Fourth Cavalry and entered the Inspector General's Department as a major. A year later he was commissioned lieutenant colonel. He then had a quiet period lasting about a decade until 1898, when The United States declared war on Spain after the explosion of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor. Now graying at fifty-six years old, he was "210 pounds of muscle and sinew on a six foot three inch frame" (Major 23).

Lawton's Second Division of the Fifth Army was the first ashore in Cuba, and immediately captured the town of Siboney. At the village of El Caney, a few miles from Siboney, the Spaniards were entrenched in blockhouses and a stone fort. The Americans hunkered down in weeds. Their weapons left a cloud of smoke each time they fired, giving away their positions. The battle raged from early morning until late in the afternoon when the town was taken. Three hours later, after caring for their wounded and burying their dead, they began marching toward the battlefield at Santiago, where Theodore Roosevelt and his self-named Rough Riders were making an attack on San Juan Hill. During the night Lawton's weary men took four hours rest, marched on, reached Santiago, and fought again. A few days later the Spaniards surrendered.

Jungle warfare, rainy, dim, odds of winning often slim.

Lawton, one of the American commissioners to receive the Spanish surrender, was made military governor of the city and province. Upon his return to the United States, known as the hero of El Caney, he accompanied President McKinley on a tour of the states.

At the conclusion of the Spanish American War, Spain ceded the Philippine Islands to the United States. But, during the war the people had revolted against the Spaniards and declared independence so the Americans inherited a civil war. The Filipino expectation was that once the Americans defeated the Spanish the Americans would withdraw. When this did not happen the insurgents attacked Manila and declared war on the United States.

At the onset of hostilities, Lawton was given command of the First Division, Eighth Army Corps and sent to the Islands, arriving in Manila during March of 1899. He began working his way northward on Luzon, capturing village after village. Lawton's men were successful in twenty-two battles in twenty days. In many Captured villages elections were held and municipal governments established, winning the admiration of the Filipinos.

At Zapote Bridge, a small Filipino group had defeated a much larger Spanish force two years earlier. The Filipinos considered this a hallowed place, and took a solemn oath to hold it or die. In an attempt to seize the seemingly impregnable position, two American officers and six men were wounded, which left a single lieutenant to command two companies of men. The American men began to give ground in the face of heavy fire from the defending zealots.

Called upon to save the day, those venerable heroes of El Caney.

Lawton stormed ahead and ordered the men to hold their positions. As he started for the rear to bring upreinforcements, the men began following him. He led them back to their positions and once more started for the rear. This was repeated several times before Lawton, standing tall in the enemy fire, shouted, "If I only had volunteers! If I only had a detachment of the Salvation Army! . . ." (Major 39). He continued in a like manner, and the line held despite the enemy's intense fire. The Americans were just thirty-four yards, across a river, from the enemy trenches. Against sustained withering fire the Americans waded the river, flanked and routed the Filipinos. Lawton had exposed himself to incredible danger, but escaped unscathed. He would not be so charmed on December 18, 1899.

Millions died, their women cried, and their memories faded away!

Works CitedBrown, Dee. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. New York: Holt, 1991.
Fort Wayne Library Staff. Major General Henry W. Lawton of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Fort Wayne: Public Library, 1954.
Rau, Rudolph. Lawton-Forgotten Warrior. West Chicago: West Chicago Printing Co., 1998.


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