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Commander and Builder of Western Forts

The Life and Times of Major General Henry C. Merriam, 1862-1901

Jack Stokes Ballard  

Publication Year: 2012

  During his thirty-eight-year career as a military officer, Henry Clay Merriam received the Medal of Honor for his service in the Civil War, rose to prominence in the Western army, and exerted significant influence on the American West by establishing military posts, protecting rail lines, and maintaining an uneasy peace between settlers and Indians. Historian Jack Stokes Ballard’s new study of Merriam’s life and career sheds light on the experience of the western fort builders, whose impact on the US westward expansion, though less dramatic, was just as lasting as that of Indian fighters such as Custer and Sheridan. Further, Merriam’s lengthy period in command of black troops offers a study in leadership and important understandings about the conditions under which African Americans served on the Western frontier. During the course of his service, Merriam crisscrossed the country, from Brownsville, Texas, to the Pacific Northwest and Vancouver Barracks, serving in eastern Washington, California, and Denver. Drawing extensively on the many letters and records associated with Merriam’s long army career, Ballard presents his service in a wide range of settings, many of which have become the stuff of Western history: from conflict with Mexican revolutionaries on the Rio Grande to the miners’ riots in Coeur d’Alene. Ballard’s careful research provides a vivid picture of the military’s role in the westward expansion.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Title Page

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p. iii


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p. v

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pp. vii-viii

Students of American history are often fooled into the impression that between the civil conflict of the 1860s and the murder of William McKinley, it was all just Boss Tweed, Little Big Horn, and Buffalo Bill. Just like the “Great American Desert” between St. Louis and...

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pp. ix-xi

Numerous individuals in American history made significant contributions to the progress of the nation but remain practically unknown. This book is about one of them, Maj. Gen. Henry Clay Merriam. General Merriam deserves serious recognition for his role in the evolving American...

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1. Medal of Honor

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pp. 1-6

In the morning of April 9, 1865, Lt. Col. Henry Clay Merriam, commander of the 73rd US Colored Troops (USCT), received disturbing news that the Confederate garrison of Spanish Fort, one of several guarding the approaches to the city of Mobile, Alabama, had escaped the Union...

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2. Civil War Experience

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pp. 7-18

Henry C. Merriam’s Civil War experience began in the summer of 1862. Merriam, age twenty-four and moving into his junior year at Maine’s Colby College (formerly Waterville College), had returned to his hometown of Houlton, Maine, in August during a summer college break...

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3. Department of the Gulf

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pp. 19-35

Henry Merriam’s conduct during the Battle of Fredericksburg earned him a brevet promotion to lieutenant colonel (some sources say major). Having distinguished himself as “an able, conscientious, energetic, and gallant officer,” as “certified by his regimental and brigade...

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4. Post-Civil War

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pp. 36-48

With the capture of Fort Blakeley on April 9, 1865, and the simultaneous surrender of General Lee at Appomattox, Civil War fighting came to an end. The South was defeated and demoralized, and Union forces spread throughout the former Confederacy to enforce the beginning...

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5. On the Rio Grande

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pp. 49-64

Henry Merriam returned to his home state of Maine in November 1865, probably depressed about his failure to retain his military career in the post–Civil War army but exhilarated with the reunion with Lucy and the Merriam family. He also had definite...

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6. A New Wife and Troubles on the Rio Grande

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pp. 65-85

After Merriam’s great tragedy at the Concho River and the burial of his wife and daughter at Fort Concho, he took leave and then returned to Fort Bliss. His original objective of contacting Colonel Mackenzie and the 24th Infantry’s headquarters at Fort McKavett...

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7. To the Pacific Northwest

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pp. 86-110

After another long, cross-country journey from San Antonio to Atlanta, mostly by train, the Merriams arrived at McPherson Barracks near the end of October 1876. This move represented a major transition not only in geography but also in scope of size and civilization....

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8. Fort Laramie

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pp. 111-129

Storied Fort Laramie began as a trading post as early as 1834. At one time it was known as Fort William, after William Sublette, the enterprising fur trader, and also Fort John, after John B. Sarpy, an officer of the company that built the fort. But after the army purchased the...

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9. Fort Logan, Colorado

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pp. 130-154

The Merriam family’s move from Fort Laramie to Fort Logan, near Denver, Colorado, in October 1889 was one part of a three-part operation in the transfer of the 7th Infantry. The first elements of the regiment, Companies D and F, under the command of Capt. Constant...

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10. Department of the Columbia

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pp. 155-166

In the summer of 1867, the Merriam family hurriedly packed for the move from Fort Logan back to the Pacific Northwest and Vancouver Barracks. There was an air of excitement and eager anticipation to return to an area they knew well, a region of natural beauty, and a fine permanent...

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11. The Spanish-American War

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pp. 167-173

Despite General Merriam’s desire to lead a combat force during the Spanish- American War, he received very different orders to go to the Presidio in San Francisco, there to assume combined command of the Department of California and Department of the...

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12. Department of the Colorado and the Idaho Mining Riots

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pp. 174-192

General Merriam probably felt a let down with his assignment to lead the Department of the Colorado. After all, he had just been in command of the West Coast and Hawaii for the US Army during the Spanish-American War and had been responsible for ensuring men and...

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13. Toward Retirement

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pp. 193-199

When General Merriam returned from his tumultuous time in Idaho to his command of the Department of the Colorado at Denver, he likely considered that he would not have to face Indian problems, at least of any importance. This proved to be an illusion. Shortly after...

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14. Who was Maj. Gen. Henry C. Merriam?

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pp. 200-206

Maj. Gen. Henry Clay Merriam was the quintessential military man of nineteenth-century American western history. After his Civil War experience, he traveled along the Santa Fe Trail to Fort Bayard, New Mexico; thence down the Rio Grande to Brownsville, Texas; back across...


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pp. 207-210


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pp. 211-230


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pp. 231-238


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pp. 239-252

E-ISBN-13: 9781603446334
E-ISBN-10: 1603446338
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603442602
Print-ISBN-10: 160344260X

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 16 photos.12 maps. App. Bib. Index.
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 776163792
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Commander and Builder of Western Forts

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Subject Headings

  • Medal of Honor -- Biography.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865.
  • Military bases -- West (U.S.) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- West (U.S.).
  • West (U.S.) -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States. Army -- Military life -- History -- 19th century.
  • West (U.S.) -- Biography.
  • United States. Army -- African American troops -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States. Army -- Officers -- Biography.
  • Merriam, Henry C. (Henry Clay), 1837-1912.
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