Wood, Charles E.S., 1LT

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Last Rank
First Lieutenant (Infantry)
Last Primary MOS
11A-Infantry Officer
Last MOS Group
Infantry (Officer)
Primary Unit
1874-1877, 11A, Military Division of the Pacific/Department of the Columbia
Service Years
1874 - 1877
First Lieutenant (Infantry)

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Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by the Site Administrator to remember Wood, Charles E.S., 1LT.
Contact Info
Home Town
Erie, Pennsylvania
Last Address
Los Gatos, California

Date of Passing
Jan 22, 1944
Location of Interment
Not Specified
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Cremated; ashes scattered at sea.

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Last Known Activity
At the time of the death of Charles Erskine Seott Wood he was West Point’s oldest graduate. Had he lived twenty-nine more days he would have been ninety-two years old. But he would have been the first to say, indeed he did say it in the foreword to his uncompleted Autobiography, that years in themselves mean nothing. Their importance is measured by their content. It is because he brimmed the near century of his life with so much and so shining a content that one can indicate but a small part of it in these limited pages.

He was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, on February 20, 1852. His Mother was Rose Carson, a descendant of the famous Scottish Erskines. His Father, Dr. William Maxwell Wood, of English descent, was the first Surgeon General of our Navy, an office created for him because of his distinguished services as fleet surgeon for the Atlantic blockading squadron during the Civil War.

Charles Erskine Scott Wood, appointed to West Point by General Grant in 1870, graduated from that institution in 1874. He was almost immediately assigned to duty on the Pacific Coast. There, in the Department of the Columbia, he became a member of General Howard's staff, serving under that General’s leadership in the Nez Perce, Bannock and Piute Indian campaigns. Before the outbreak of the first of these he was sent to Alaska by General Howard as military escort to a young Chicago gentleman who desired to climb Mt. St. Elias for scientific purposes. The young man, frustrated in this attempt, returned home but Col. Wood, then Lieutenant Wood, decided to remain and explore certain still unmapped portions of Alaska.

While awaiting a reply to his application for extended leave, for the above purpose, he set out on some preliminary explorations, the first white man to set foot in regions described in his Century Magazine articles some years later.

Returning to Sitka to meet the boat bringing the answer to his application for extended leave, he found it had been granted but, in the same mail, learned of the outbreak of the Nez Perce Indians and that his regiment had been ordered into the field against them. He therefore chose to return to his military duties.

After the defeat of the Nez Perces. Col. Wood was given custody of Chief Joseph, the beginning of a long and understanding friendship between that great Indian and the then young Lieutenant. But for Col. Wood’s careful recording of Chief Joseph’s great surrender speech this brief document, as simple as it is noble and moving, would have been lost.

During his years in the army Col. Wood read Law. Then, later, restive under the conviction that the Indians had been unjustly treated, robbed of their lands without proper compensation and, afterward, by a corrupt Indian ring in the Government, of even the blankets, horses and other vital equipment for which Congress had voted appropriations, and fully persuaded that he was unfitted for a military career, he decided to enter the legal profession. To that end he returned to the Atlantic Coast and registered in the Law Department of Columbia University.

While a student at Columbia, he was Adjutant of the Military Academy, living at West Point with his family of wife and two children, one of whom was born there, for in 1876 he had married Nannie Moale Smith, a sparkling and vivacious belle of Washington and Baltimore.

With an increasing family and no money, he eventually opened his Law office in Portland, Oregon, where, during the time he had been stationed across the river at Vancouver, Washington, he had made many friends. His rise was spectacular but also sound. He won his first admiralty case, a case considered hopeless by all the older men in the profession in and around Portland, and woke one morning to find himself locally famous. He became the foremost admiralty lawyer on the Pacific Coast, known everywhere for the brilliance and vigor of his prosecution, his wit, his impassioned earnestness which never clouded in analytical clarity of his mind. Some of his cases, both in and out the field of admiralty law are now part of the history and even of the romance of the West Coast. At one time Judge Williams, the Attorney General under President Lincoln, was a senior member of his firm. His title of "Colonel” was a militia title, given him by the Governor of Oregon for his services in organizing the Oregon State militia.

During these busy years, though trying momentous cases on whose outcome large sums and future legal precedents depended, he nevertheless found time for activity in the interest of social and political betterment. He was an active member of the group who instigated and brought to pass the so-called “Oregon system" of Initiative and Referendum and direct election of Senators, thereby eliminating much corruption. He was constantly in demand for speeches, some of which are still remembered. He had a private office apart from his Law offices and unknown to the public to which he would retire to paint and write. At one time, under various pseudonyms, he contributed to each issue of The Pacific Monthly an article, a story, a book review, a column of contemporary comment and a poem, all without remuneration because a friend had invested a large sum in the magazine which was not prospering. Few, if any, detected the one hand in the many contributions.

While still at the height of his legal fame and success, the urge to give the remaining years of his life entirely to creative writing became irresistible. He retired from the Law and moved to California. There, having previously separated from his first wife, he and his second wife, Sara Bard Field, a poet and writer, built at Los Gatos, high in the Santa Cruz hills, their home called The Cats because of two colossal cats carved in stone that mark, at the highway intersection, the road leading steeply up to the dwelling which overlooks the beautiful Santa Clara fruit-raising valley.

In this peaceful abode the last twenty years of Col. Wood's abundant life continued to bear fruit. His Heavenly Discourse and his less known but most important work, The Poet In The Desert had already been published, but in these latter years Col. Wood was to see Heavenly Discourse go through many editions and be included in English courses in some Universities with the satires of Swift, Voltaire and Anatole France. Parts of The Poet In The Desert are in many leading Anthologies. His Indian Tales were published in these years, having been privately printed before. Also was written Too Much Government and Earthly Discourse, a companion to Heavenly Discourse. At The Cats he also completed, among several lesser dramatic works, his play, Circe called by an eminent dramatic critic and producer “one of the four noblest plays written in our time." This play still awaits publication. He wrote much poetry in these years, only a small portion of which has been published: Poems From the Ranges. There was a private Grabhorn Press printing of a small volume of Selected Poems, uniting some of his and his wife's work under one cover with an introduction by James R. Caldwell of The University of California and also a Grabhorn Press printing of his beautiful Sonnets To Sappho. It is hoped that much of his unpublished work will be brought out in the years to come.

Although his Publisher had long implored him to write the story of his rich and varied life, his vanity was subordinate to his interest in many other literary and artistic labors. He almost completed The Acquisition of California, an important document giving the historical background of his Father's brief but Homeric part in that acquisition. He was obliged to lay this manuscript aside because increasing visual difficulties made the still necessary research impossible.

When nearly ninety Col. Wood decided to attempt his Autobiography. He had never used a typewriter, composing with his pen which he now could no longer do because of (ailing sight. Courageously facing the new medium of a dictaphone he began his life story which came to a too premature final period because he never recovered sufficiently from a slight stroke in May, 1943 to continue his work.

This record of some of his activities and works reflects too palely the man's character and personality. Wherever lie went these were forcibly felt. When he died there came to wife and children letters representing a cross section of humanity. They came from people of all colors, races, classes, ages and religions, from conservatives and liberals and radicals. They all said one thing: what Col. Wood had meant to them as individuals and to his generation as a whole. I think no man was ever more loved not only by family and friends but even by strangers. People paused to watch him pass down the street and this writer has frequently been stopped by strangers asking with reverence who might this man of beneficent face and noble bearing be. Children called him “Santa Claus” and servants said "he has been a Father to me”. He had gentleness and courage. All his life he defended the underdog. Rooted deep in Jeffersonian Americanism, he passionately fought against any infringement of constitutional rights and liberties. Injustice and cruelty were his arch enemies. To counteract ignorance and ugliness his preoccupation. He could not be long in any place without beautifying it. His largesse was spread all around him. He was at home with rich and poor, capitalist and laborer, the famous and obscure but most of all with artists and intellectuals. He was, as one writer has said of him, in himself "an era and a realm.” And a young Filipino now in the service writes: “I saw in his heart a burning candle for the common man.”

Four children of the five born to him by his first wife, survive him. They are Erskine Wood, a distinguished lawyer of Portland. Oregon, Nan Wood Honeyman, former U.S. Congresswoman from Oregon, now collector of the port of Portland, Lisa Wood Smith of San Raphael, Calif., and Berwick B. Wood of Portland. His second son, Wm. Maxwell Wood, died in 1920. He has many grandchildren and great grandchildren and a stepdaughter, Katherine Field Caldwell of Berkeley, Calif.

He was pleased to place on request in the West Point Library his published works. Through them he will influence the thinking of present and future cadets, the only memorial he would desire. He wrote in The Poet In The Desert

I know I, too, am a sentinal Imperious as Orion,

Set upon a celestial watch;


A sentinal pacing the star-built battlements Of Eternity,
Charged with obligation to the dead And those to come
I will be honorably relieved of my guard
When the burden of the night is heavy And the Morning Star pales in the East.

—S. B. F. W.

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  1874-1877, 11A, Military Division of the Pacific/Department of the Columbia
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  1877-1877 Nez Perce War
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  1870-1874, United States Military Academy
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