William H. French (1815-1881)
William H. French was born at Baltimore, Md., on January 13, 1815. He graduated from the Military Academy and was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant, 1st Artillery, July 1, 1837. He began his military career in the Florida War, 1837-1838; served in the Cherokee Nation, 1838, transferring Indians to the West; and on the Northern Frontier, during the Canada Border Disturbances, at Ft. Covington, New York, 1838. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant, 1st Artillery, July 9, 1838. French next served at Troy, Vt., 1838-1839, and Plattsburg, New York, 1839-1840; on Maine Frontier, at Houlton, 1840-1843, pending the "Disputed Territory" controversy; and on the Northeaster Boundary Survey in command of detachment acting as Sappers, May 26-December 20, 1843.
He next served duty in garrison at Ft. Adams, Rhode Island, 1843-1845; Ft. Pickens, Florida, 1845; and Ft. Wood, La., 1845-1846. He was in the Military Occupation of Texas, in charge of Commissary Depot, at Brazos Island, 1846; and at Point Isabel, 1846-1847.
In the War with Mexico, French was Acting Assistant Adjutant-General to Major-General Robert Patterson's division, 1847, being engaged in the Siege of Vera Cruz, March 9-29, 1847; and the Battle of Cerro Gordo, April 17-18, 1847. He was breveted to Captain, April 18, 1847, for gallant and meritorious conduct in the Battle of Cerro Gordo.
French served on the staff of Brigadier-General Franklin Pierce. He was also engaged in the Battle of Contreras, August 19-20, 1847 and the Battle of Churubusco, August 20, 1847. He received a brevet to Major, August 20, 1847, for gallant and meritorious services in the Battles of Contreras and Churubusco. He was engaged in the Assault and Capture of the City of Mexico, September 13-14, 1847.
Promoted to Captain, 1st Artillery, September 22, 1848, he was in garrison at Ft. McHenry, Maryland, 1848-1849, and at Ft. Columbus, New York, 1849-1850. He was engaged in the Florida Hostilities against the Seminole Indians, 1850-1853; in garrison at Ft. Monroe, Virginia, 1853-1855 and Ft. McHenry, Maryland, 1855-1859; as Member of Board to Revise the System of Light Artillery Tactics, which was adopted for the service of the United States, March 6, 1860. He served on Frontier Duty on the March through Texas, 1859; at Ft. Clark, Texas, 1850-1860; and Ft. Duncan, Texas, 1860-1861.
During the rebellion, he was on the march from Ft. Duncan, Texas (which he abandoned), to the mouth of the Rio Grande, where he embarked his command to reinforce Forts Jefferson and Taylor, Florida, February 14-March 20, 1861. He was in command of Key West, Florida, March 27-November, 1861 and received a commission as Brigadier-General, U. S. Volunteers, September 28, 1861, and Major, 2nd Artillery, October 16, 1861.
French served in the Defenses of Washington, D. C., November 30, 1861-March, 1862; on the advance upon Manassas and the Rappahannock, March, 1862. He was in the Virginia Peninsular Campaign (Army of the Potomac), March-August, 1862, being engaged in the Siege of Yorktown, April 5-May 4, 1862; and Battle of Fair Oaks, June 1, 1862. He was breveted to Lieutenant Colonel, June 1, 1862, for gallant and meritorious services at the Battle of Fair Oaks.
He continued in the Peninsular campaign in the Action of Oak Grove, June 25, 1862; Battle of Gaines's Mill, June 27, 1862; Action of Peach Orchard Station, June 29, 1862; Battle of Savage Station, June 29, 1862; Battle of Glendale, June 30, 1862; in command of the Rear Guard on march to Malvern, June 29-30, 1862, and the Battle of Malvern Hill, July 1, 1862; and on the march to join the Army of Virginia at Centreville, Virginia, September 2, 1862.
In the Maryland Campaign (Army of the Potomac), September-November, 1862, French was engaged in the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862 for which he was breveted to Colonel for gallant and meritorious services. He was also on the march to Falmouth, Virginia, October-November, 1862. He was promoted to Major-General, U. S. Volunteers, November 29, 1862.
In the Rappahannock Campaign (Army of the Potomac), December, 1862-June, 1863, he was engaged in the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862 and Battle of Chancellorsville, May 2-4, 1863. In the Pennsylvania Campaign (Army of the Potomac), June-July, 1864, he was in command of the Harper's Ferry District, June 27-30,1863; guarding lines of communication and threatening those of the enemy, July 1-4, 1863. He was in command of III Corps, from July 7, 1863, on the march to Warrenton, Virginia, being engaged in the Action of Manassas Gap, July 23, 1863.
In the Rapidan Campaign, he was in command of III Corps (Army of the Potomac), October-December, 1863, being engaged in the Action of Auburn, October 7, 1863. He was in command of II and III Corps, in forces passage of the Rappahannock at Kelly's Ford, November 7, 1863; and of III Corps, in Operations at Mine Run, November 26-30, 1863 where he lost his entire military reputation. He was blamed, because of the slowness of his corps, for the Union failure to exploit a potential advantage over Robert E. Lee.
He was in winter quarters, December, 1863-March, 1864, at Culpepper, Virginia and promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, 2nd Artillery, February 8, 1864. Upon the consolidation of the various corps in Spring, 1864, the III Corps disappeared and French was mustered out of volunteer service, May 6, 1864.
He was in command of troops assembled at Havre de Grace during the Siege of Washington, July, 1864; in garrison at Ft. McHenry, Maryland, December 27, 1864-January 5, 1865; as Chief and Inspector of Artillery of Middle Department, January 5-July 22, 1865; and in command of 2nd Artillery on Pacific Coast, August, 1865. He was breveted to Brigadier-General, U. S. Army, March 13, 1865, for gallant and meritorious services at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia; and breveted Major-General, U. S. Army, March 13, 1865, for gallant and meritorious services during the Rebellion.
French served as Inspector of Artillery for the defenses of San Francisco Harbor, CA, 1865-1867; as President of Examining Board at San Francisco, of candidates for appointment in the Army, 1866-1867; on Court Martial Duty in Washington, D. C., June 9, 1868-June 21, 1869; in command of regiment, headquarters at Presidio, CA, July 16, 1869-November 14, 1872; of Ft. McHenry, Maryland, November 21, 1872-December 2, 1876; and in command of Artillery Battalion at Washington Arsenal, D. C., February 21-July 18, 1877. He was promoted to Colonel, 4th Artillery, July 2, 1877.
He returned to command of regiment, headquarters at Presidio, CA, December 6, 1877-June 27, 1878; at Angel Island, CA, June 28, 1878-March, 1880; and at Presidio, CA, March 1-18, 1880.
He retired July 1, 1880. French died at Washington, D. C. on May 20, 1881 and is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery.