Nelson Appleton Miles
Nelson Appleton Miles was born on August 8, 1839, on a small family farm just outside of Westminster, Massachusetts. On his father's side the family was descended from Welsh ancestors who fought in King Philip's War in 1675 and in the American Revolution a century later. Nelson's parents, Daniel and Mary, were devout Baptists and ardent patriots. As a child, Nelson helped on the family farm and attended school in Westminster. In 1856, as a young man, he moved to Boston where he clerked in a store selling crockery. He recognized the need for a good education and studied nights while in Boston. As the civil war grew nearer he studied military tactics with a retired French veteran.
In 1861 he borrowed money and raised a company of 100 recruits in Roxbury, Massachusetts. His company was absorbed into Colonel Henry Wilson's 22nd Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment, he was commissioned a captain of volunteers, and given command of the unit. Shortly thereafter, however, his commission was revoked and the command of his unit was given to another person. The reason given was that Miles was too young to command the company. (The real reason probably also involved politics.) Miles stayed with the 22nd Massachusetts Regiment as a lieutenant. Within a short time he was selected to be aide-de-camp to General Oliver Otis Howard. Miles saw action at the Battle of Seven Pines and helped turn back the Confederate attack. In the same action, General Howard was wounded and had his arm amputated.
Miles went on to participate in a number of important battles and eventually came to the notice of Colonel Francis Barlow of the 61st New york Volunteers. In 1882, on Barlow's recommendation to the governor of New York, Miles was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the 61st New York and assigned as Barlow's executive officer. In the Battle of Antietam Barlow was severly wounded and Miles assumed command of the 61st. Following the battle Barlow was promoted to Brigadier General of Volunteers and Miles to Colonel. As Colonel he took command of the 61st and was severely wounded in the Battle of Fredericksburg and again in the Battle of Chacellorsville. In each of these battles he distinguished himself and at Chancellorsville was awarded the Medal of Honor. Following a lengthy period of convalescence he was promoted to brigadier general and given command of a brigade. He continued to distinguish himself and was wounded a fourth time at Petersburg. After Petersburg he assumed command of the First Division when Barlow had to convalesce. Miles was twenty four years of age. After the Battle of Reams Station, Miles was promoted to brevet major general and at the very end of the war served briefly as commander of the Second Army Corps.
After Appomattox Miles was given command of Fortress Monroe in Virginia. Confederate President Jefferson Davis was imprisoned in Fortress Monroe and Miles became his jailer. During this period Miles was criticized for being overly harsh in his treatment of Davis. In October 1866 he was mustered out of the New York Volunteers and sworn into the regular army with a full colonelcy. He was assigned to Raleigh, North Carolina, to serve under Brigadier General O.O. Howard in the Freedman's Bureau. On June 30, 1866, Miles married Mary Sherman in Cleveland, Ohio. Mary was the daughter of Judge Charles Sherman, a commissioner of the Union Pacific Railroad, and the niece of Lieutenant General William T. Sherman. Generals Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Meade, Hancock, Howard and Barlow were among the invitees at the wedding.
In March 1869, Miles was assigned to command the Fifth Infantry in Fort Hays, Kansas. A month after Miles assumed command of the Fifth Infantry, Lieutenant Colonel Custer, and the Seventh Cavalry, returned to Fort Hays from the expedition during which they had attacked Black Kettle's Cheyenne on the Washita River. Custer and Miles were close friends, but Miles envied Custer's position as a cavalryman. In the fall of 1869 Miles was transfered first to Fort Harker and then on to Fort Leavenworth. He lobbied unceasingly for a command that would permit him to see action against hostile Indians. In 1874, after the Battle of Adobe Walls, Miles participated in the Kiowa-Commanche campaign as commander of a mixed infantry-cavalry force operating out of Fort Dodge, Kansas, in concert with two other columns operating out of Texas and New Mexico. The campaign lasted eight months and forced most of the Indians to turn themselves in to the various government agencies located in the region. The units under Miles command performed well, but Miles felt that his accomplishments were under appreciated, particularly when he was passed over for command of the Department of the Platte, which went to George Crook in the spring of 1875.