Book Review: Commander and Builder of Western Forts: The Life and Times of Major General Henry C. Merriam, 1862-1901


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.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

Buy it at



Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close