Nelson Appleton Miles (1839-1925)

Nelson Appleton Miles (August 8, 1839 - May 15, 1925) was an American soldier who served in the American Civil War, Indian Wars, and the Spanish-American War.

He was born near Westminster, Massachusetts on his family's farm. Miles worked in Boston and attended night school, read military history, and mastered military principles and techniques.

Miles worked as a crockery store clerk when the Civil War broke out. He entered the Union Army on September 9, 1861 as a volunteer and fought in many crucial battles. He became a Lieutenant in the 22nd Massachusetts Infantry and was commissioned Lieutenant-Colonel of the 61st New York Volunteers on May 31, 1862. He was promoted to Colonel after the Battle of Antietam. Several other battles he participated in included Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and the Appomattox campaign. Wounded four times in battle, he received a Brevet of Brigadier-General of Volunteers and was awarded the Medal of Honor for gallantry, both in recognition for his actions at Chancellorsville. He was advanced to full rank on May 12, 1864 for the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse, eventually becoming a Major General of Volunteers at age 26.

In July 1866 Miles was appointed Colonel in the regular Army, and in March 1869 became Commander of the 5th U.S. Infantry. On June 30, 1868, he married Mary Hoyt Sherman.

After the Civil War, Miles played a leading role in nearly every phase of the Army's campaign against the tribes of the Great Plains. In 1874-1875, he was a field commander in the force that defeated the Kiowa, Comanche, and the Southern Cheyenne along the Red River. Between 1876 and 1877 he participated in the campaign that scoured the Northern Plains after General Custer's defeat at the Battle of Little Big Horn, forcing the Lakota and their allies onto reservations. In the winter of 1877, he drove his troops on a forced march across Montana and intercepted the Nez Perce band led by Chief Joseph that had defeated and/or eluded every unit sent against it over a 1500 mile stretch from Oregon to the Canadian border. For the rest of Miles' career, he quarreled with General Oliver Howard over the credit for Joseph's capture.

In 1886, he replaced General George Crook as Army Commander against Geronimo in Arizona. Crook relied heavily on Apache scouts in his efforts to capture the Chiricahua leader, but Miles replaced them with white troops who eventually traveled 3000 miles trailing Geronimo through the torturous Sierra Madre Mountains. He finally succeeded in negotiating a surrender, under the terms of which Geronimo and his followers were exiled to confinement on a Florida reservation.

In 1890, the last uprising of the Sioux, known as the Ghost Dance, on the Lakota reservations brought Miles back into the field once more. His effort to restore peace throughout the area led to Sitting Bull's death and the massacre of 200 Sioux, which included women and children at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890. Miles reacted to these developments by asserting U.S. authority over the Indians, believing that all Lakota should be placed under military control.

In 1894, Miles commanded the troops mobilized to put down the Pullman strike riots. He was named Commanding General of the U.S. Army in 1895, a post he held during the Spanish-American War. Miles commanded forces at Cuban sites such as Siboney, and after the surrender of Santiago de Cuba by the Spanish, he personally led the invasion of Puerto Rico, landing in Guánica. He served as the first head of the military government established on the island, acting as both head of the army of occupation and administrator of civil affairs. He achieved the rank of Lieutenant General in 1900 based on his performance in the war.

Called a "brave peacock" by President Theodore Roosevelt, Miles retired from the service in 1903.

He died at age 85 on May 15, 1925, from a heart attack while taking his grandchildren to the circus. He was later buried at Arlington National Cemetery.