Wesley Merritt, one of eleven children of an impecunious attorney, was born in New York City on June 16, 1834. The family moved to a farm in St. Clair County, Illinois, when he was seven, and his father subsequently was a farmer, newspaper editor, and member of the legislature. Wesley pointed toward a legal career, but in 1855 accepted an appointment to West Point. He was graduated in the class of 1860, ranking twenty-second out of forty-one members in what was the most distinguished of classes to pass into the regular service immediately before secession. After some routine frontier service in Utah as a lieutenant of dragoons, Merritt was recalled to Washington, and in February, 1862, became aide-de-camp first to General Philip Cooke, who was then commanding the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac, and later to his successor, General George Stoneman. His first important service was as commander of the reserve cavalry brigade during Stoneman's abortive raid in the Chancellorsville campaign, although he ranked as only a captain of the 2nd (Regular) Cavalry. On June 29, 1863, he was promoted brigadier general of volunteers and led his brigade, mostly Regulars, in John Buford's division during the Gettysburg campaign. From then until the end of the war General Merritt was with the Army of the Potomac, commanding a brigade and then a division in the campaigns which followed Gettysburg. He was brevetted repeatedly in both the regular and volunteer services, and as of April 1, 1865, was made a full rank major general of volunteers. During the Appomattox campaign Merritt was second in command to Philip Sheridan and acted as one of the three Federal commissioners to receive the Confederates' formal capitulation. After the war he became lieutenant colonel of the 9th Cavalry, colonel of the 5th Cavalry in 1876, brigadier general, U. S. Army, in 1887 and in 1895 major general. During these thirty years he discharged much duty on the Indian frontier, was superintendent at West Point, and commanded various military departments. At the outbreak of the war with Spain, he was in command of the Department of the East, with headquarters at Governors Island, New York. Although now past his sixty-fourth birthday (he was carried on the rolls as sixty-two), he was given command of the first Philippine expedition. Upon his arrival there he assumed command of the United States forces investing Manila, and in the weeks that followed, he performed, in cooperation with Admiral George Dewey, the unprecedented feat of forcing the surrender of the defending Spaniards, while at the same time preventing the entrance of the Philippine insurgents under Emilio Aguinaldo, who were also besieging the city. With the islands under American control, General Merritt was ordered to Paris to confer with the peace commission there. After his return to the States, he reassumed command of the Department of the East and was retired by operation of law on what was supposedly his sixty-fourth birthday, June 16, 1900. During his last years General Merritt divided his time between his residences in Washington and Natural Bridge, Virginia, where he died, December 3, 1910. His remains were taken to West Point for burial.
Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.