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Distinguished gallantry while holding with his command an advanced position against repeated assaults by a strong force of the enemy; was severely wounded.
Colonel, 61st New York Infantry. Place and date: At Chancellorsville, Va., 2_May 3, 1863. Entered service at: Roxbury, Mass. Birth: Westminster, Mass. Date of issue: July 23, 1892.
Nelson Appleton Miles (August 8, 1839 – May 15, 1925) was an American soldier who served in the American Civil War, Indian Wars, and the Spanish-American War.
He was the last General to hold the position of the Commanding General of the US Army. The position was abolished after his retirement, and the Army went to the Chief of Staff system thereafter.
Miles was born in Westminster, Massachusetts, on his family's farm. He worked in Boston and attended night school, read military history, and mastered military principles and techniques, including battle drills.
Miles was working as a crockery store clerk in Boston when the Civil War began. He entered the Union Army on September 9, 1861, as a volunteer and fought in many crucial battles.
He became a lieutenant in the 22nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, and was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the 61st New York Infantry Regiment on May 31, 1862. He was promoted to colonel after the Battle of Antietam.
Other battles he participated in include Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and the Appomattox Campaign. Wounded four times in battle (he was shot in the neck and abdomen at Chancellorsville), he was appointed (on March 2, 1867) brevet brigadier general in the regular army in recognition of his actions at Chancellorsville, and brevet major general for Spotsylvania Court House.
He received the Medal of Honor (on July 23, 1892) for gallantry at Chancellorsville. He was appointed brigadier general of volunteers as of May 12, 1864, for the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House. On October 21, 1865, he was appointed major general of volunteers at age 26.
After the war, he was commandant of Fort Monroe, Virginia, where former Confederate President Jefferson Davis was held prisoner. During his tenure at Fort Monroe, Miles was forced to defend himself against unfounded charges that Davis was being mistreated.
In July 1866, Miles was appointed a colonel in the regular army. In March 1869 he became commander of the 5th U.S. Infantry Regiment. On June 30, 1868, he married Mary Hoyt Sherman (daughter of Hoyt Sherman, niece of William T. Sherman and John Sherman, and granddaughter of Charles R. Sherman).
Miles played a leading role in nearly all of the Army's campaigns against the American Indian tribes of the Great Plains. In 1874-1875, he was a field commander in the force that defeated the Kiowa, Comanche, and the Southern Cheyenne along the Red River. Between 1876 and 1877, he participated in the campaign that scoured the Northern Plains after Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer's defeat at the Battle of Little Big Horn and forced the Lakota and their allies onto reservations.
In the winter of 1877, he drove his troops on a forced march across Montana and intercepted the Nez Percé band led by Chief Joseph. For the rest of Miles' career, he would quarrel with General Oliver O. Howard over credit for Joseph's capture. While on the Yellowstone, he developed expertise with the experimental heliograph for sending communications signals. It was supplied by Brig. Gen. Albert J. Myer of the Signal Corps. In 1880, he was promoted to Brigadier General, Regular Army.
In 1886, Miles replaced General George Crook as Army Commander against Geronimo in Arizona. Crook had relied heavily on Apache scouts in his efforts to capture the Chiricahua leader. Instead, Miles relied on white troops, who eventually traveled 3,000 miles (4,800 km) without success as they tracked Geronimo through the tortuous Sierra Madre Mountains. Finally, First Lieutenant Charles B. Gatewood, who had studied Apache ways, succeeded in negotiating a surrender, under the terms of which Geronimo and his followers were exiled to confinement on a Florida reservation.
The exile included even the Chiricahuas who had worked for the army, in violation of Miles' agreement with them. Miles denied Gatewood any credit for the negotiations and had him transferred to the Dakota Territory. During this campaign, Miles's special signals unit used the heliograph extensively, proving its worth in the field. The special signals unit was under the command of Captain W. A. Glassford.
In 1890, Miles was promoted to Major General, Regular Army. That same year last major resistance of the Sioux on the Lakota reservations, known as the Ghost Dance, brought Miles back into the field. His efforts to subdue the Sioux led to Sitting Bull's death and the massacre of about 300 Sioux. This included women and children at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890. Miles was not directly involved at Wounded Knee and was critical of the commanding officer. Overall he believed that the US should have authority over the Indians, with the Lakota under military control.
Spanish-American War and later life
Miles commanded the troops mobilized to put down the Pullman strike riots. He was named Commanding General of the United States Army in 1895, a post he held during the Spanish-American War. Miles commanded forces at Cuban sites such as Siboney. After the surrender of Santiago de Cuba by the Spanish, he personally led the invasion of Puerto Rico, landing in Guánica in what is known as the Puerto Rican Campaign. Miles was a vocal critic of the army's quartermaster for providing rancid canned meat to the troops in the field (see Army beef scandal).
He served as the first head of the military government established on the island, acting as both head of the army of occupation and administrator of civil affairs. He achieved the rank of Lieutenant General in 1900 based on his performance in the war. Called a "brave peacock" by President Theodore Roosevelt, Miles retired from the service in 1903 when he reached retirement age. A year later, at the Democratic National Convention, Miles received a handful of votes from supporters who wanted him to become the party's presidential nominee. Upon his retirement, the office of Commanding General of the U.S. Army was abolished by an Act of Congress and the Army Chief of Staff system was introduced.
Miles served as a commander in the Civil War, the Indian Wars, and the Spanish-American War. In his late 70s, he volunteered to serve in the army during World War I as well, but was turned down by President Woodrow Wilson because of his age.
Miles died at age 85 from a heart attack while attending a circus in Washington, D.C., with his grandchildren. He was one of the last surviving Civil War soldiers on either side to serve as a general officer during the conflict. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in the Miles Mausoleum. It is one of only two mausoleums located within the confines of the cemetery.
Miles City, Montana is named in his honor. His legacy as an Indian fighter has seen him portrayed by Kevin Tighe in the film Geronimo: An American Legend and by Shaun Johnston in the film adaption of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.