Along the Heritage Trail

The well-traveled soldier

But Henry W. Lawton always called Fort Wayne home

By Tom Castaldi
Henry W. Lawton was born on March 17, 1843, in the town of Manhattan, Ohio, near Toledo. His father George, a millwright, came to Fort Wayne to build mills in Allen County and moved his young family into a home south of the Main Street Bridge on the bank of the Saint Mary’s River. While he was yet a child, Henry’s mother died and Mrs. E.D. Moore took charge of the infant’s well-being, spending several years in Ohio before returning with his father to Fort Wayne in 1858.

Back in Fort Wayne, young Henry attended the Fort Wayne Methodist College and eventually grew to the height of 6 feet 3 inches, earning him the name “Long Hank.” He joined the first Indiana regiment in 1861 when the Civil War erupted soon to find himself in the state’s first skirmishes against the Confederacy. A volunteer entering the service as a private, he rose to the rank of captain. It was, however, during the William Tecumseh Sherman-led Atlanta campaign that Lawton earned the Congressional Medal of Honor, the first for anyone from Fort Wayne to achieve that citation. By 1865 when the war was over, Lawton at the age of 22 had reached the rank of colonel.

Military life appealed to Henry. After the Civil War he joined the regular army to fight in the Indian Wars then being staged on the western plains and southwest deserts. During 1876, the year Custer made his unfortunate stand, Lawton was battling the Sioux and in 1879 it was the Utes he encountered. Few U.S. Army officers were trusted by the Indians, and Henry Lawton was one of only two or three who enjoyed the honor. He was given the respectable title of the “Tall White Man” and a Cheyenne chief said, “He was a good man, always kind to the Indians,” referring to Lawton’s concern that there was always enough meat, bread and coffee for those among whom he was assigned. Most impressive was his willingness to stand up to his superiors when he felt promises were being broken or ignored.

Back in Fort Wayne on December 12, 1881, Captain Lawton married Mary Craig, the daughter of Alexander and Annie Craig of Louisville, Ky. Later, she was to accompany him to Manila in the Philippines.

Lawton was a man who stuck to his soldierly duty. During the years 1886 and 1887 his men engaged the Apache band led by Geronimo. Across Arizona and into Mexico they followed the Apaches, and it was one of Lawton’s officers who convinced the great Apache chief to surrender.

A decade later in 1898, the now General Lawton was in Cuba with Teddy Roosevelt during the Spanish American War. The next year he was placed in charge of the American forces during the Philippine Insurrection. On Dec. 19, 1899, the campaign advanced into the Marikina Valley east of Manila. Here a sharpshooter might easily have found Lawton, with his white helmet and yellow slicker. One of the American party was Lieutenant Breckinridge, who was hit and while lying wounded on the ground urged his general to divest himself of his slicker because, “It makes a regular target of you.” With bullets flying nearby, Lawton assessed the situation and moved toward better cover. Even so, he turned his field glasses on the enemy to study their positions. Suddenly Lawton grasped his breast and told Captain King that he had been shot through the lungs. Aides caught their leader and gently lowered him to the ground. General Lawton was pronounced dead.

Historian Bert Griswold published a letter Lawton addressed to a Fort Wayne friend dated Aug. 8, 1898, five months before the general died. In part the letter read, “I have never wavered in my allegiance to the state of Indiana and have never for a moment contemplated a change of residence — Fort Wayne, Ind., is the only place where I could legally cast a vote or where I could have voted since I attained my majority. I have heard of the death of many of the old comrades, and feel often that the time is close at hand when I, too, must join the great majority as they go marching along.”

A saddened Fort Wayne witnessed the funeral train carrying the body of Henry Lawton when it arrived in town on Feb. 5, 1900. In 1899, the old North Side Park was renamed Lawton Park in honor of General Henry Lawton. Over the years admiration remained high for Henry Lawton and on Oct. 22, 1921, the city erected a heroic bronze statue dedicated to the memory of General Lawton and placed it in Lakeside Park.

Tom Castaldi

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi, a retired Essex vice president, hosts "On the Heritage Trail," which is broadcast at 6:35 a.m. and 8:35 a.m. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM, and "Historia Nostra" heard on WLYV-1450 AM.

Posted: Fri, 10/19/2012 - 12:47 pm
Last updated: Mon, 01/07/2013 - 4:32 pm