by Jack Stokes Ballard
College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2012. Pp. xiv, 252.
Illus., maps, notes., biblio., index. $35.00. ISBN: 160344260X
The life and service of a Union volunteer who went on to become a major general in the Regular Army.
Henry C. Merriam (1837-1912) was one of the many citizens who went off to help save the Union and, by war’s end, had not only done his bit but had also found a calling in military service. An unusually well educated young man from the north of Maine, he joined the later-famous 20th Maine when it was formed in 1862. By war’s end Merriam had risen to the command of several regiments of U.S. Colored Troops, helping to prove that former slaves could become good soldiers and hard fighters, in the process earning himself a Medal of Honor. In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, he served on occupation duty in Texas, where he commanded troops on the Rio Grande, who might have been called upon to intervene in Mexico against the French-puppet Maximilian regime, and he passed into the Regular Army. Merriam spent over three decades in the usual round of administrative and garrison duty all over the west, a round of routine that was familiar to most American soldiers of the day, and like most of his comrades, actually never saw combat again before he retired. Meanwhile, he
proved adept at establishing new posts on the frontier and invented several useful items, though his “Merriam Pack” was despised by the troops. Two of the best chapters come toward the end of the book, one dealing with Merriam’s ultimately unsuccessful efforts to secure a combat command during the Spanish-American War
and the other with his unpleasant experiences during the Idaho mining disorders of 1899.
In Commander and Builder of Western Forts, Dr. Ballard gives us a book that will prove rewarding reading for those interested in the Civil War, the USCT, and military life on the frontier.