Henry Ware Lawton: Union Infantryman, Frontier Soldier, Charismatic Warrior

Henry Ware Lawton: Union Infantryman, Frontier Soldier, Charismatic Warrior

by Michael E. Shay


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780826221001
Publisher: University of Missouri Press
Publication date: 10/25/2016
Pages: 286
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range: 3 Months to 18 Years

About the Author

Michael E. Shay is a Judge Trial Referee for the State of Connecticut, having previously served as a Superior Court Judge. He is the author of five previous books, three of them published by the University of Missouri Press. He lives in Connecticut.

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Henry Ware Lawton

Union Infantryman, Frontier Soldier Charismatic Warrior

By Michael E. Shay

University of Missouri Press

Copyright © 2016 The Curators of the University of Missouri
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8262-2100-1


Beginnings: A Hero Born

"He stood 6 feet 4 inches in his stocking feet," a friend reminisced, and "he had very dark brown, almost black, bushy, wiry hair, brushed up and stiffly back, a là Pompadour — dark brown eyes, and immensely long, English 'Dundreary' whiskers and moustache." Henry Lawton was no "book soldier," abhorred "red tape," and relied upon his good instincts and experience, honed sharp by the Civil War, to deal with problems as they arose. Like many men, he was a study in contrasts. His friend went on to recall that when engaged in a project, "he was restless, quick spoken, energetic in his movements, and full of life and fire; in fact, what could be better expressed as — a 'live wire' and as hard as nails." Among his friends, he was soft-spoken, almost shy, and at other times, he was known to have an explosive temper. Lawton embraced life fully, and his appetites were large, whether he was eating a heavy Christmas fruitcake at one sitting, or downing a bottle of whiskey or mescal. His friends were many and very loyal and protective, particularly regarding his lifelong battle with alcohol. His detractors would use that flaw against him. In the field, he shared the same hardships as his soldiers. Lawton slept where they slept and ate what they ate, and his men often referred to him affectionately as "Old Bean Belly" or "Old Scrappy." He was, in short, what some would say, a "soldier's soldier."

Some of what we know of Henry Ware Lawton's early life comes from a letter that he wrote in response to a fellow veteran of the 30 Indiana in Fort Wayne, Indiana, not long before he died. It was short on detail and sentiment. We also get glimpses of Lawton's early life from the memories of friends and relations, shared shortly after he died. Although born in Ohio, and a resident of Redlands, California, at the time of his death, he was always quick to tell people that he considered himself a native Hoosier. The people of Indiana were equally quick to claim Lawton as their own, particularly during the days immediately following his untimely death. At that time, the outpouring of grief was tremendous, and the adulation rose to such a degree, that not one but two statues were dedicated there in his honor. At the same time, Indiana's other native hero, James Whitcomb Riley, penned a poem for the occasion. So, it is only fitting that the public record of the man, who was first and last a soldier, begins in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with his answer to Lincoln's call to save the Union.

The Millwright's Son

By the time of Lawton's birth in 1843, the states of Ohio and Indiana had become well settled, and their agriculture-based economies had transitioned from subsistence to market. Wheat and corn were staple crops in what would become known as the corn belt, a large area stretching from southern and central Ohio, moving west through Indiana and eventually beyond. Farmers had learned quite early that corn-fed hogs when converted to bacon, and corn and wheat, when converted to alcohol and flour respectively, were easier to transport to ready markets at New Orleans and the East Coast. More important, such goods were a reliable source of cash or credit as well.

Accordingly, as the number and productivity of farms grew, so did the need for, among other things, more flour and grist mills. Local farmers needed a means to convert their grain to meal or flour, and an enterprising businessman with ready cash saw the building and operation of a mill as a good investment. When it came time during the construction process to build and install the wheel and attendant mechanicals, a millwright was hired. A millwright was a highly skilled craftsman, who was both a carpenter and one who understood basic mechanics. Experienced millwrights were much in demand. Henry's father, George W. Lawton, and his brothers, Daniel and Charles S., must have enjoyed good reputations as millwrights in their native New York State, as they were called upon to install machinery there, and later on in Ohio and Indiana.

George W. Lawton was born in Buffalo, New York, on October 12, 1806. In addition to his two brothers, he had at least two sisters, Hannah and Maria. The Lawton family had migrated to Ohio sometime during the 1830s, where they settled first in Lorain County near Henrietta. About 1835, while George was working on a mill in nearby Birmingham, a small community on the Vermillion River in Florence Township of Erie County, he met Catherine Regina Daley. Born in New York State, on May 8, 1817, she was the daughter of James and Catherine Daley. Catherine had at least four siblings, brothers James and John, as well as sisters Rosetta and Abigail. The Daleys were members of the Baptist church of Henrietta, where services were held in a schoolhouse. George and Catherine were married at Henrietta on December 4, 1836. In July of the following year, the church established a branch in Birmingham. Among the congregants were Catherine Lawton and her parents. No mention is made of George Lawton as being a member. He had a reputation for finding trouble, and it is more than likely that he was not a regular churchgoer. The Lawton and Daley families lived in the area as close neighbors. So close were the families that George's brother Charles married Catherine's sister Abigail ("Abbie").

Soon after their marriage, George moved the family south to Clarksfield, also on the Vermillion River, but in Huron County. Their oldest son, Manley Chapin was born there in 1838. George, in partnership with Virgil Squire, purchased a store and saw mill in Clarksfield, and he later built a grist mill there. The rest of the Daley family would later move to Clarksfield. George sold his interest in the partnership in 1841 and moved the family to Venice, Ohio, a small town in Margaretta Township, just west of Sandusky. The Lawton brothers had accepted the job of rebuilding an old mill on Cold Creek which was owned by Russell H. Heywood of Buffalo, who had undoubtedly heard of the brothers' reputation for good work. They did not disappoint, and that job led to contracts in the mid-1840s to build mills at Manhattan, Ohio, and Fort Wayne, Indiana. Once again, the Lawtons picked up stakes.

George and Catherine's second child, Henry Ware Lawton, was born in Manhattan, Ohio, on March 17, 1843. Manhattan, a small suburb of Toledo, was located at the mouth of the Maumee River where it enters Lake Erie. George and his family had relocated to Manhattan while the Lawton brothers were engaged there as millwrights, but they soon moved to nearby Maumee City where Henry's younger brother, George S. Lawton, was more than likely born in 1848. It was at Maumee City that Henry remembered starting primary school.

At some point following Henry's birth, George and his family moved to Fort Wayne, where they lived for a short time in a home near Bridge Street. In any event, George would have been familiar with Fort Wayne, having earlier worked there during the building of the Wabash and Erie Canal well before Henry was born. Fort Wayne was roughly at the mid-point of the canal, a key link in the transportation system so important for regional farmers to get their produce to market. So the town was the logical place at which to situate a grist mill, and Samuel Edsall began to construct one there in 1843. Located on the east side of the St. Mary's River, just north of the Main Street Bridge, the large structure was built mostly of stone. Plans called for an overshot wheel driven by the canal waters surging through the millrace. When it came time to install the machinery, Edsall hired the experienced and highly skilled Lawton brothers to do the job. After the job was completed, George moved his family back to Maumee, Ohio.

Given the itinerant nature of their work, the Lawton men seemed to be frequently moving from place to place. Of the three brothers, George was the most restless. According to one source, he was "not known for gentleness and particularly enjoyed trouble." Both Charles and Daniel finally settled down in Indiana. Charles and Abigail moved to nearby Cleveland Township in Whitley County. Over the years, he would describe his occupation first as millwright, and later as a manufacturer of vinegar. They were the parents of five children, Amelia, Wilson, Ella, Edith, and J. W. Lawton. Daniel and Aurilla do not appear to have had any children, and they lived first in Fort Wayne, and later in Pleasant Township, also in Allen County south of Fort Wayne. He would continue to work as a millwright until sometime before 1880, when at age 71, he called himself a "former millwright" turned "gardener."

In late 1849 or early 1850, George Lawton left Ohio for the California gold fields to construct "rockers and shakers" for the miners. Perhaps, he, too, had caught a touch of gold fever. At that time, Catherine took her three boys back to Lorain County, Ohio, to be near her family. From that point on, she and her sons were separated, parceled out among various friends and family. Henry lived first with his maternal grandparents, James and Catherine Daly, in Henrietta in Lorain County for about three years. While it is not clear where Henry's brothers lived during this time, Catherine lived for a while with the George Mains family in Wakeman in Huron County. Mains was a printer by trade, and at one time, was the editor of the Wakeman Independent Press. Many years later he would recall attending school with Henry when they were boys. Since he was closer in age to Manley, it is more likely that he confused the two brothers. Catherine died in Ohio on January 21, 1854. After his mother's death, Henry lived with Andrew J. Barney and his wife Rosetta in nearby Florence Township in Erie County. Rosetta was a younger sister of Catherine Lawton. Andrew was a harness maker by trade, and he put the young man to work in his shop when he wasn't in school. Later on, this trade would hold Henry in good stead as a quartermaster.

George Lawton returned briefly from California in 1856 to find that Catherine had died, and he fetched Henry, taking him to work with him for a year each in Iowa and Missouri. It was during this period that the young man undoubtedly learned the basic carpentry skills that would also eventually help make him a superb Army quartermaster. Manley was 18 years old at that time, and he chose to remain in Huron County. He taught school there for a while before heading south, ultimately to Texas. Perhaps he had caught some of his father's wanderlust. Eight-year-old George was too young to drag around installing mill wheels, so he remained in Ohio. Besides, it is unlikely that he had any strong memories of his father, the latter being absent virtually all of his life.

Henry and his father returned to Fort Wayne in 1858, and they took up residence with Daniel Lawton and his wife Aurilla. The Lawton brothers continued to construct several mills in the Fort Wayne area, while Henry enrolled as a student at Fort Wayne Methodist College. While at school, he joined a marching club called the "Wide-Awakes." Old friends and acquaintances from Fort Wayne would later reminisce about time spent with the tall young lad. Sam Sweet called him a "big, awkward country boy." Others recalled a young man who spent his free time "in a happy-go-lucky way, wandering up and down the creeks, fishing and hunting." Neither was he immune to the charms of the opposite sex, nor they him. Known as one of the best "steppers" in the area, his friend William Engle recalled that "the young belles of this city always considered it a great favor when Lawton used to ask them to dance." Lawton also learned the value of hard work, earning money as a woodchopper when he "cleared several large tracts of timber near his uncle's farm."

"Seeing the Elephant"

In the months immediately following the election of Abraham Lincoln, the national fabric, already stretched thin by decades of political conflict, began to quickly unravel, first with the secession of South Carolina, which was followed in short order by six more states of the Deep South. The critical state of Virginia seemed to waiver on the brink, torn, between the south-leaning Tidewater and Piedmont regions and the north-leaning region west of the Appalachians. Matters came quickly to a head with the bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, and its surrender the following day. The president immediately called for a levy of 75,000 militia apportioned from among the various states. Governor Oliver P. Morton of Indiana was an ardent Unionist, and he quickly promised 10,000 men. Virginia refused the call.

It has been said so often that it has become a cliché, that the American Civil War pitted brother against brother. The Lawtons were no exception. Henry's older brother Manley, with whom he was close, was a civil engineer living in Beaumont, Texas, shortly before the war began, more than likely working for the railroad. He volunteered for duty with the Confederate States and served as an officer and civil engineer throughout the conflict. Henry and George both answered President Lincoln's call, though George enlisted later due to his age. He survived the war, but he died about four years later as a result of disease contracted during his service. At the time of his death, he was living with his uncle James Daley in Clarksfield, Ohio. Still a student at the Methodist College at the time, Henry had just turned eighteen, and he promptly enlisted in a company in Fort Wayne on April 24, 1861. The following day at Camp Morton near Indianapolis, the unit was mustered into the service as Company E, a part of the 9th Indiana Infantry, a three-month regiment. William P. Segur was elected as captain, and the tall, slim, baby-faced Henry W. Lawton was chosen as one of three sergeants. That didn't keep his friends from poking a little fun, telling him that he only made sergeant "because his feet were so big that he couldn't mark time." So rapid was the response to the president's call, that at first, Indiana was not prepared to clothe and equip those early volunteers, who had to make do with donated blankets and broomsticks for muskets.

After a month of drill and various organizational duties, on May 29, the regiment was reviewed by Governor Morton and Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan and sent off to war, the first Indiana regiment to do so. Among the crowd at the station in Indianapolis to see the boys off was Caroline M. Huffer, wife of James M. Huffer, a saddler. Earlier that month, during their training at Camp Morton, Lawton and four others had stopped by her home, at which time the young man complained of a sore neck. Mrs. Huffer easily picked out the tall young man in the passing column. She handed Lawton a pillow as he marched by and told him to "use it if you need it."

The men of the 9th Indiana Infantry Regiment, led by Colonel Robert Huston Milroy of Rensselaer, boarded a train for Grafton, an important railroad center in western Virginia, where they arrived on June 1. For Ambrose Bierce, as with most of the other young Hoosiers who had enlisted in the 9th Indiana, his first impression was one of awe. "It was a strange country," he wrote, "nine in ten of us had never seen a mountain, nor a hill as high as a church spire, until we had crossed the Ohio River." To someone who had been raised in Ohio or Indiana, he added, "a mountain region was a perpetual miracle."

Shortly after his arrival in western Virginia, Lawton had contracted a case of measles and had been confined to a makeshift field hospital situated in a box car. Hearing that his company was about to move out, the young soldier simply walked away from the hospital and joined his comrades. Lawton did not have to wait long for his first taste of action. His regiment was slated to take part in an attack on rebel forces then encamped at Philippi on the Beverly-Fairmont Pike where that road crossed the Tygart's Valley River. On the dark, rainy night of June 2–3, the 9th Indiana Infantry, along with the 1st Virginia Infantry and 14th Ohio Infantry, all under the command of Col. Benjamin Kelley, set out on a long march south along muddy unpaved roads and trails, their guides not always sure of the way. The plan was to get below the Rebel position and act as a blocking force, as a second Federal column attacked the main camp. The signal that Kelley's force was in position was to be a pistol shot. Things did not go exactly as planned right from the beginning, as the attack began prematurely before Kelley was in position. Moreover, the Rebel commander had already made plans to withdraw. Hearing the Federal guns, the Rebels needed no further excuse to hang around, and they began a wholesale flight south toward Beverly. Early that morning, just as the rebels were withdrawing, Kelley's column made its appearance. Though undoubtedly soaked and exhausted from their miserable nighttime march, the experience must have been exhilarating for the young man, who heard the sounds of battle for the first time and watched the enemy hightailing it off the field. Overall casualties were light, although Colonel Kelley was badly wounded, but later recovered. The battle would be referred to by the newspapers as the "Philippi Races."


Excerpted from Henry Ware Lawton by Michael E. Shay. Copyright © 2016 The Curators of the University of Missouri. Excerpted by permission of University of Missouri Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Preface xi

1 Beginnings: A Hero Born 1

2 Civil War 13

3 Beans and Hay 37

4 Fort Clark, Mexico Palo Duro and the Red River War 63

5 Powder River and Ure Campaigns 79

6 Geronitno 105

7 Inspector General 139

8 Cuba 157

9 The Philippine War 187

10 The Legacy 225

Epilogue: Last Post 241

List of Abbreviations 249

Notes 251

Works Consulted 305

Index 317

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