Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Henry W. Lawton

(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” - Oct 2012, closes. Aug 2012, No. 94)

Henry W. Lawton was born on March 17, 1843, near Toledo, in the town of Manhattan, Ohio. His father George, a millwright, came to Fort Wayne to build mills in Allen County accompanied by his brothers Daniel and Charles. George moved his young family into a home south of the Main Street Bridge on the bank of the Saint Mary’s River. While yet a child, Henry’s mother died and Mrs. E.D. Moore took charge of the infant’s wellbeing spending several years in Ohio before returning with his father to Fort Wayne in 1858.

Back in Fort Wayne, young Henry attended the Fort Wayne Methodist College and eventually grew to the height of six feet three inches earning him the name “Long Hank.”  He joined the first Indiana regiment in 1861 when the Civil War erupted soon to find himself in the state’s first skirmishes against the Confederacy.  A volunteer entering the service as a private, he rose to the rank of captain fighting at Shiloh, Corinth, Chickamauga and Iuka, confrontations that have gone down in American history.  It was, however, during the William Tecumseh Sherman-led Atlanta campaign that Lawton earned the Congressional Medal of Honor, the first for anyone from Fort Wayne to achieve that citation.  By 1865 when the war was over, Lawton at the age of twenty-two years had reached the rank of colonel.

Henry W. Lawton and his whip. Learn more about Lawton in 200@200 - Iconic Fort Wayne

Military life appealed to Henry. After the Civil War he joined the regular army to fight in the Indian Wars then being staged on the western plains and southwest deserts.  During 1876, the year Custer made his unfortunate stand, Lawton was battling the Sioux and in 1879 it was the Utes he encountered. Few U.S. Army officers were trusted by the Indians and Henry Lawton was one of only two or three who enjoyed the honor. He was given the respectable title of the “Tall White Man” and a Cheyenne chief said, “he was a good man, always kind to the Indians” referring to Lawton’s concern that there was always enough meat, bread, coffee for those among whom he was assigned. Most impressive was his willingness to stand up to his superiors when he felt promises were being broken or ignored.

Back in Fort Wayne on December 12, 1881, Captain Lawton married Mary Craig the daughter of Alexander and Annie Craig of Louisville, Kentucky. Later, she was to accompany Henry to Manila in the Philippines.

Lawton was a man who stuck to his soldiery duty.  During the years 1886 and 1887 his men engaged the Apache band led by Geronimo. Across Arizona and into Mexico they followed the Apaches, and it was one of Lawton’s officers who convinced the great Apache chief to surrender.

A decade later in the year 1898, the now General Lawton was in Cuba with Teddy Roosevelt during the Spanish American War. The next year he was placed in charge of the American forces during the Philippine Insurrection. He reported to General Arthur MacArthur whose son with the same name later commanded the United States forces in the Pacific during World War II.  

On December 19, 1899, the campaign advanced into the Marikina Valley east of Manila in the Luzon mountains and in country concealing snipers armed with high-powered Mauser rifles. Here a sharpshooter might easily have found Lawton an easy target wearing his American white helmet and yellow slicker.  One in the American party was Lieutenant Breckinridge who was hit and while lying wounded on the ground urged his general to divest himself of his slicker because, “It makes a regular target of you.”  With bullets flying nearby, Lawton assessed the situation and moved toward better cover. Even so, he turned his field glasses on the enemy to study their positions. Suddenly Lawton grasped his breast and told Captain King that he had been shot through the lungs. Aides caught their leader and gently lowered him to the ground. However, the bullet proved deadly cutting the artery leading to his heart. Shortly, General Lawton was pronounced dead.

Historian Bert Griswold published a letter Lawton addressed to a Fort Wayne friend dated August 8, 1898, five months before the General died. In part the letter read, “I have never wavered in my allegiance to the state of Indiana and have never for a moment contemplated a change of residence – Fort Wayne, Ind., is the only place where I could legally cast a vote or where I could have voted since I attained my majority.  I have heard of the death of many of the old comrades, and feel often that the time is close at hand when I, too, must join the great majority as they go marching along.”

A saddened Fort Wayne witnessed the funeral train carrying the body of Henry Lawton when it arrived in town on February 5, 1900. A memorial tribute was held at the county courthouse before the structure was completed, and before the train departed for Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, overlooking the Potomac River and Washington, DC.   William McKinley, the President of the United States gave tribute to the General who had brought a great sense of pride to the American military during the last days of the nineteenth century.

Entering service in 1861 as a private, the soldier from Fort Wayne rose to the level of second in command of the army of the United States when he was killed in battle in the Philippines. Back in his hometown in Fort Wayne in 1899, the old North Side Park was renamed Lawton Park in honor of General Henry Lawton who had fallen in action. Over the years admiration remained high for Henry Lawton and on October 22, 1921, the city erected a heroic bronze statue dedicated to the memory of General Lawton and placed it in Lakeside Park.  


Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi © is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail” which is broadcast Mondays on 89.1 fm WBOI; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio106.3 fm. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog “Our Stories” at historycenterfw.blogspot.com.

No comments:

Post a Comment