Medal of Honor citation:
Rank and Organization: Brigadier General, U.S. Volunteers.
Place and date: The Shenandoah Valley Campaign at Harpers Ferry, Va., 26 to May 30, 1862.
Entered service at: Deerfield, Mass.
Birth: Greenfield, Mass.
Date of issue: April 25, 1893.
Distinguished gallantry and good conduct in the defense.
Rufus Saxton was born on October 19, 1824, in Greenfield, Massachusetts. He attended nearby Deerfield Academy and worked on a farm until, at the age of twenty, he received an appointment to West Point from which he was graduated in the class of 1849. Saxton's appointment was to the artillery with which he served against the Florida Seminoles, on the Northern Pacific Railroad survey, in garrison at various points, on coast survey in the East, as an instructor of artillery tactics at West Point, and on European duty. During this period he patented a self-registering thermometer for deep-sea soundings. When war came in 1861 Saxton was in command of an artillery detachment at the St. Louis arsenal, but after assisting General Nathaniel Lyon in dispersing the disloyal Missouri State Guard at Camp Jackson, he became Lyon's chief quartermaster. He then joined George McClellan's staff in West Virginia and later accompanied the Port Royal expedition as quartermaster. He was appointed a brigadier general of volunteers as of April 15, 1862, and commanded the defenses of Harpers Ferry in May and June. During the balance of the war he commanded at various points in the South under a multiplicity of formal titles; however, his principal occupation was the enlistment and organization of Negroes, principally ex-slaves, into the Federal army. At the end of hostilities he passed naturally into the newly created Freedmen's Bureau, acting as its assistant commissioner for the states of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida until January, 1866, when he was mustered out of the volunteers. He had been brevetted major general in the volunteers and brigadier general in the Regular Army. He returned, with grade of major, to the Quartermaster's Department, where he served faithfully and competently in various districts and departments across the nation for twenty-two years. He became lieutenant colonel and deputy quartermaster general in 1872, and colonel and assistant quartermaster general in 1882. For the last five years of his service he headed the quartermaster depot in Jeffersonville, Kentucky. After his retirement on October 19, 1888, General Saxton made his home in Washington. He died there on February 23, 1908, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.