Book Review: Henry Ware Lawton: Union Infantryman, Frontier Soldier, Charismatic Warrior


by Michael E. Shay

Columbia: University of Missouri, 2016. Pp. xvi, 324. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 0826221009

From Volunteer to National Hero

Shay, a retired a Connecticut Superior Court Senior Judge, who has proven himself an able independent historian, authoring several useful works, including Sky Pilots, on chaplains in the AEF's 26th Division, and Yankee Division in the First World War, has produced what is the first proper biography of Henry War Lawton (1843-1899).

Shay opens with a short look at Lawton’s family background and childhood. He then follows Indianan Lawton into the Volunteer Army within days of Lincoln’s call for volunteers at the outbreak of the Civil War, and his rise from enlisted man to brevet colonel, by dint of good service at Shiloh, Chickamauga, and Atlanta, for the last of which he was awarded a belated Medal of Honor after the war.

Shay devotes most of the volume (four of his ten chapters) to Lawton’s service in the “Indian Fighting Army,” during which he campaigned widely. Lawton was noted not only as an able fighter, but a good diplomat who knew how to avoid bloodshed, and a careful planner, who earned the respect of his enemies, though at times a hard drinker. His most notable feats were the defeat of a band of Cheyenne, Comanche, and Kiowa at Palo Duro Canyon and his capture of the noted Apache war chief Geronimo.

The final chapters cover Lawton’s service as inspector general of the Army, as a division commander in Cuba, leading from the front at Las Guasimas, El Caney, and Santiago, and in the Philippines, where he proved an able military governor, but was killed in action against Filipino troops commanded, ironically, by Maj. Gen. Licerio Gerónimo.

In telling Lawton’s story, Shay also looks at family life, American society in the Gilded Age, the army, and many of the people whom Lawton encountered, such as Ambrose Bierce, Ranald McKenzie, Geronimo, Leonard Wood, Phil Sheridan, and Theodore Roosevelt. This is a rewarding read for anyone interested in American military history.

Note: Henry Ware Lawton is also available as an e-book, ISBN 978-0-8262-2083-7.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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