Nelson Appleton Miles

Nelson Appleton Miles was born on his father's farm near Westminster, Massachusetts, August 8, 1839. After receiving a rudimentary education in a local academy, he went to Boston at the age of seventeen to work in a store, meanwhile attending night school, as well as taking instruction in military matters from a former French army colonel. When the Civil War came, the records exhibit (contrary in some instances to Miles's recollections in later life) that on September 9, 1861, he was commissioned first lieutenant in the 22nd Massachusetts Volunteers. During the first part of George B. McClellan's Peninsular campaign, Miles served on General Oliver O. Howard's staff; and at Seven Pines, where he sustained a wound in the foot, he distinguished himself while temporarily commanding a portion of the 81st Pennsylvania. He was appointed lieutenant colonel of the 61st New York as of the day of the battle and, thereafter, inscribed on the annals of American military history a record seldom if ever equaled by a volunteer soldier. After Francis C. Barlow was disabled at Sharpsburg, Miles succeeded to command of the regiment and the same month was officially advanced to colonel. At the battle of Fredericksburg in December, 1862, he sustained his second wound and was commended by Winfield S. Hancock, his brigade leader. For his conduct at Chancellorsville, where he was again wounded, he was made a brevet brigadier general of the Regular Army in 1867 and awarded the Medal of Honor in 1892. Not present at Gettysburg because of his wound, he returned to duty in time to take part in Grant's Overland campaign of 1864. He fought gallantly at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania while commanding a brigade of Barlow's division of Hancock's II Army Corps, and was commissioned brigadier general of volunteers on June 9, 1864, to rank from May 12. In the course of the siege of Petersburg, Miles attained command of a division, sustained his fourth wound of the war, and was brevetted major general of volunteers for outstanding conduct at the affair of Reams' Station. Miles's division also played an important part in the Appomattox campaign. On October 21, 1865, he was made major general of volunteers, temporarily in command of the II Corps, which numbered twenty-six thousand officers and men. At this time he determined to make the army his career and upon the reorganization of the Regular Army in July, 1866, was appointed colonel of the newly constituted 40th U. S. Infantry (Colored Troops). In the meantime, he had served for a while as jailor of Jeffrson Davis at Fort Monroe, putting in irons the defenseless ex-Confederate president upon War Department orders, but without apparent protest upon his own part. In 1868 Miles married a niece of W. T. Sherman. Eleven days after Grant's inauguration Miles was transferred to command of the 5th Infantry, in 1880 was made brigadier, and ten years later major general in the regular service. During this time he compiled an unequaled record in the pacification of the western Indians, including the celebrated surrender of the Apache chief Geronimo, who was immediately betrayed by Miles or his superiors, and sent to Alabama. In 1895 Miles by seniority became general-in-chief of the army and directed recruitment and training during the Spanish-American War. He also commanded in person the forces which took the territory of Puerto Rico. President McKinley advanced him to the grade of lieutenant general in 1901; the following year he became involved in the Dewey-Schley controversy, an imbroglio which won him an official reprimand from President Theodore Roosevelt, and in 1903 he was retired. More than two decades of life remained to him, during which he expanded his writings and served as head of a number of patriotic organizations. When he died while attending a circus performance in Washington on May 15, 1925, he was the last survivor of the full rank major generals of Civil War vintage and was survived by only two Union brigadiers, John R. Brooke and Adelbert Ames. General Miles was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in a mausoleum, the construction of which he had directed himself, years before.

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Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.