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McCaskey, William Spencer 1903

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Mary S Taylor

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 30, 2010 5:42 am    Post subject: McCaskey, William Spencer 1903 Reply with quote

Biographical Annals of Lancaster County, Pa., Beers, 1903, pp. 122-126
GEN. WILLIAM SPENCER McCASKEY now in command of the 20th United States Infantry, with headquarters at Fort Sheridan, twenty-five miles north of Chicago, Ill., was born near Paradise, Lancaster Co., Pa., Oct. 2, 1843. He is of a family well known in Lancaster city and county, two of his brothers being Prof. J. P. McCaskey, the well-known teacher and publisher, and Dr. J. B. McCaskey, dentist, on East King street. On the side of his father, William McCaskey, who was a man of iron will and fine executive ability, he is of strong Scotch-Irish stock, his grandfather having come to this country about 1795. Among his mother's ancestors are Douglas and Wilson, of Scotland; Davis and Piersol, of Wales; Eckert and others, of Switzerland and Germany, all of whom came to Pennsylvania long before the war of the Revolution. His great-grandfather, William McCaskey, was a freeholder in County Monaghan, Ireland and an officer in the British army on duty in America during the Revolutionary war. Two of his maternal grandfathers, Gabriel Davis and Zaccheus Piersol, were officers in the American army. After removing to Lancaster, in 1855, the subject of our sketch attended the public schools. In 1859 he left the high school and was an apprentice for two years in the Examiner printing office, in Lancaster, until the breaking out of the Civil war. While in this office he belonged to a military company of young fellows who were drilled regularly by the late Dr. E. K. Young. Nearly all the members of the company of boys who had been trained by this earnest drill-master afterward became officers in the army. Perhaps the most noted of them all, and certainly the man who has seen most service, having been a soldier on active duty for more than forty years, is Col. McCaskey. When Fort Sumter was fired upon, April 13, 1861, and President Lincoln issued his call for seventy-five thousand men for ninety days, two companies from Lancaster responded promptly. The Lancaster Fencibles, Capt. Emlen Franklin, of which he was one of the youngest members, not yet eighteen years old, and the Jackson Rifles, Capt. Henry A. Hambright, filled up their ranks at once, and left for Harrisburg April 19th, within less than a week from the fall of Sumter. They were sworn into the United States service April 20th, and became respectively F and K Cos., of the 1st Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers. The first sergeant of the Fencibles was David Miles, afterwards lieutenant-colonel of the 79th Regiment. On the 21st of April, the regiment, with two others, under command of Gen. Wynkoop, was sent toward Baltimore to reinforce the 6th Massachusetts, which had been attacked in that city. Fort McHenry was not then garrisoned, and the object of the movement of the Pennsylvania Brigade was to attract the attention of the Baltimoreans in the direction of Cockeysville, in order that Fort McHenry, on the opposite side of the city, might, be occupied with troops from Washington. During the months of May and June the regiment guarded bridges on the Northern Central Railroad, north of Baltimore, marched through Baltimore to Cantons, thence to Hagerstown, Md., and later was stationed in Frederick City as provost guard, after which it joined Gen. Patterson's army, at Martinsburg, Va., and took part in the pursuit of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's army en route to reinforce Gen. Beauregard at Bull Run. Gen. Patterson's army halted at Charleston, W. Va., and was at that point during the battle of Manassas. The regiment, while at Charleston, volunteered to remain in the service beyond its term if it should be needed. The Fencibles and Rifles, who had all the while been conspicuous in the regiment for discipline, drill and manly conduct and bearing, returned from their ninety-days enlistment July 27th, the regiment having been mustered out at Harrisburg, and were welcomed with enthusiasm by the people of Lancaster. Nearly all of them began immediately to plan for re-enlistment for three years or the war. Of the 75,000 men who answered the first call for volunteers, but twenty remain on the active list of the army (March, 1903) as commissioned officers, and the name of Col. McCaskey is the tenth upon this list of honor. Capt. Henry A. Hambright, of Co. K (Lancaster Rifles), was appointed to a captaincy in the regular army, but was detached for the purpose of raising a regiment of riflemen to be accepted for three years or the war. The regiment was mustered into the service at Camp Negley, Pittsburg, Sept. 5, 1861, as the 79th Pa. Vols. Nine of the ten companies were recruited in Lancaster county. One of these, Co. B, was raised by Capt. David Miles, Lieut. Druckenmiller and Sergt. McCaskey, who was promoted to second lieutenant Oct. 9, 1862, the day following the battle of Perryville, having served one year as first sergeant. He was made first lieutenant April 10, 1863, captain July 1, 1863, and was mustered out with his company July 12, 1865. With the 77th and 78th Regiments and a light battery, the 79th Regiment formed what was known as Negley's Brigade of Pennsvlvania Volunteers. The brigade embarked at Pittsburg and was sent to Louisville in October, 1861, where it was reported to General William T. Sherman. It formed part of the advance to Green River, Ky., and during the spring of 1862 was detached and started to the relief of Gen. Grant at Fort Donelson, Tenn. Its services not being needed, it returned to the Army of the Ohio. During the advance on Nashville, and toward Shiloh, it was detached and stationed at Columbia, Tenn., forming part of Mitchell's flying division. In June, 1862, they made a movement, over two ranges of mountains, and in concert with troops from Huntsville, Ala., feigned an attack on Chattanooga, thereby causing the evacuation on Cumberland Gap by the Confederates, and permitting its occupancy by Federal troops. This was the first movement toward East Tennessee. In September the brigade retired to Nashville, with Gen. Buell's army, and was known thereafter as Starkweather's Brigade. After a year of hard service, in which these men of the Keystone saw much of Kentucky on long and hurried marches, and were drilled into a magnificent fighting organization, the 79th had its awful baptism of fire at Perryville, or Chaplin Hills, Ky. In this bloody engagement, which was a close standup fight, without cover, the regiment lost one-third of its strength in killed and wounded. Starkweather's Brigade, of Rousseau's Division, to which this regiment belonged, stood like a rock in the way of the Rebel advance, and saved the day when the enemy came, driving everything before them, confident of victory. Five men were shot by the side of First Sergt. McCaskey, but the shortening line closed up and they held their ground, bitinig cartridges until tongues and throats were so black and dry they could hardly speak. More than 50,000 troops were engaged in this desperately contested battle, the importance of which has not been generally recognized. Gen. Bragg, with the memories of Shiloh fresh in his mind, wrote: “For the time engaged, it was the severest and most desperately contested engagement within my knowledge.”; Gen. McCook declared it to be “The bloodiest battle of modern times for the numbers engaged on our side”; of less than 13,000 troops of the 1st Corps engaged, 3,299, more than one-fourth, were killed, wounded and missing. The brigade took part in the pursuit of Bragg's army, having the usual rearguard fighting. This was followed by incessant marching, skirmishing, fighting - Murfreesboro, Chattanooga, Chickamauga. On Dec. 31, 1862, and Jan. 1, 2, 3, 1863, the battle of Stone River, or Murfreesboro, was fought, and the regiment did its full share of duty, whatever was required of it. It formed part of Rousseau's 1st Division, 14th Army Corps, under Gen. Thomas. It participated in the Tullahoma campaign, having several engagements. It was also, in the Chickamauga campaign and was engaged in that battle for two days, suffering heavily. It was identified with Gen. Baird's division, still the 1st of the 14th Corps. The division held the key point of the line on Sunday, Sept. 21, 1863, and remained in line until ordered to retire. The 14th Army Corps, under Gen. Thomas, ever afterward known as “the Rock of Chickamauga” saved the army from rout in that great battle. The 79th also passed through the siege and starvation experience of Chattanooga, from September to November, 1863. The 79th went into the battle of Chickamauga with seventeen officers and 350 men, of whom sixteen were killed, sixty-six wounded and forty-seven missing, an aggregate of 129. An incident occurred here which we have heard repeatedly spoken of, showing the coolness of Capt. McCaskey in the midst of the greatest danger. As they lay on the firing line, protected by almost nothing in the way of earthworks, the line of the enemy just beyond, and each firing to kill any who might be exposed, he saw that two of his men had been wounded by the tin cases from a gun in the rear firing grape and canister at point blank range. He got up, walked back to the commanding officer, then to the gun, had its position changed, then to his place in the line and lay down unharmed, all the while a conspicuous mark, the bullets raining about him, and many of them no doubt aimed directly at him. He seemed to bear a charmed life, for, though present in each of the twenty-eight battles in which the regiment was engaged (never absent from the regiment at any time for any cause), and constantly on active duty, he was never wounded. Bullets cut his clothing, spent balls hit him, and he was knocked down by the impact of a cannon ball striking the timbers near his head, but he was never hurt. In March, 1864, the regiment re-enlisted, and came home to Lancaster for a furlough of thirty days. Returning to Chattanooga, they joined Gen. Sherman's army May 7th, and within an hour participated in the first charge made upon the enemy's works on Rocky Ridge, Ga. During the next four months the regiment took part in all the movements and battles of the 14th Army Corps, including Buzzard's Roost, Resaca, New Hope Church, Kenesaw Mountain, Chattahoochie, Peach Tree Creek, Atlanta, July 22d and 28th, and closing with the battle of Jonesboro, Ga., Aug. 31, 1864. During these four months there was hardly a day that the regiment was not under fire. On July 21st, 1864, Capt. McCaskey performed exactly the same service on a different part of the Peach Tree Creek battlefield for which the late Gen. Lawton and the present Gen. Baldwin were granted medals of honor. He led the charge of the regiment, though there were many senior officers present, and they were successful in capturing the enemy's works. The 79th Pennsylvania and the 21st Ohio were ordered to charge the works. Capt. McBride, then in temporary command of the 79th Regiment, asked Capt. McCaskey to lead the charge with his company, saying it was also the wish of the older captains that he should do this. He knew the risk, but accepted it promptly, and led right over the entrenchments, several paces in advance of old Co. B, which followed him with cheers, the whole line rushing forward, as Co. B set the pace. They succeeded in driving out the enemy. Nearly all the medals of honor mentioned in the army register are for similar or less dangerous acts of distinguished gallantry. One of the several brevets for which he was recommended was for this charge at Peach Tree Creek. The 79th formed part of the 1st Division, 14th Army Corps, on Sherman's famous March to the Sea, engaged in the siege of Savannah, Ga., and accompanied the same army on its march through the Carolinas, engaging in the battles of Averysboro and Bentonville, N. C., in the last of which the regiment lost heavily. In the latter part of this engagement it was commanded by Capt. McCaskey. This was the last engagement of any importance between the armies of Gens. Sherman and Johnson. The regiment proceeded to Richmond and thence to Washington, where it participated in the grand review in May, 1865, and was then mustered out of the service, July 12, 1865. From the 19th of April, 1861, until July 26, 1865, with the exception of a few weeks in 1861, he was continuously in the service. He was promoted from second lieutenant to first lieutenant and from that to a captaincy in quick succession, the latter commission dating July 1, 1863. He was seventeen years and six months old when he entered the service, and was a captain before he was twenty years of age. He was never absent from his company or regiment when it was engaged in battle or campaigning, and has lost but one month from sickness in more than forty years. This was during the late service in the Philippines, when the doctors told him he must quit or die. After the close of the war, like many another, Captain McCaskey looked about for something to do in civil life. One day, early in 1866, Thaddeus Stevens, Jr., came into the office of Dr. McCaskey, to say that his uncle, the “Old Commoner” had asked him whether there was any one whom he would like to have appointed second lieutenant in the regular army; that he had an appointment to make, and would name any friend whom he would recommend. “Young Thad” wished Captain McCaskey appointed, with whom he had served as a private in the Fencibles, and whom he knew as a brave and skillful officer. It was some days before a letter was sent to him at Poughkeepsie, where he was then at Eastman's Business College, and before a reply was received Mr. Stevens called again, saying that his uncle must make the appointment within two or three days. He was much surprised and gratified at the offer of a commission. He had not thought of this, but it seemed the thing that fit his case exactly, and it had come to him as a gift from a friend. He received his commission in the regular army April 26, 1866, and has passed through all the grades up to his present rank. He has filled with marked efficiency every position in line or staff that was open to him. From April, 1866, until April, 1898, he served on the frontier in Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Texas and Missouri. He has been associated with troops continuously during his forty and more years of service. He was never on ordinary staff duty, and has commanded troops and served with them a longer period than any other officer now on the active list. He was selected for duty on the staff of the governor of Illinois, and again on that of the governor of Wisconsin, as Instructor and Inspector, but was relieved at his own request, for the reason that he could not afford to live in a city with his large family. He has been on duty at many forts and distant posts in the Northwest, some of which are now thriving cities. In 1876 he succeeded Gen. Custer in command of Fort Abraham Lincoln, near Bismarck, N. D., when that dashing cavalry officer started on his fatal campaign against the Indians in the Big Horn mountains. We have heard him say that the hardest thing he has ever had to do was to tell Mrs. Custer and the ladies of the post the awful news of the disaster, that came during the night, brought down the river by a scout to him as the officer in command of the post. At the outbreak of the Spanish-American war the 20th Infantry was ordered to the Gulf. It left Fort Leavenworth April 19, 1898, and went into camp at Mobile. Col. Hawkins and Lieut. Col. Wheaton, of the regiment, were both made brigadier generals of volunteers, and the command devolved upon Major McCaskey. He took the regiment to Cuba, and was present, in command, day and night, in the battle of El Caney and during the dreadful experiences of the campaign before and after the capture of Santiago. In his official report he says: “The effective strength of the regiment at the beginning of the first day's fight, July 1st, was 23 officers and 570 enlisted men” and gives a detailed account of movements, duty and casualties, with very courteous individual mention of officers of the command. He adds “The non-commissioned staff and other enlisted men of the regiment sustained the reputation of the army for fortitude, intelligent performance of duty, and ability to endure under privations. They were cool under fire or in the charge, were under perfect discipline at all times, and showed remarkable ingenuity in the construction of entrenchments, the lines of which were mainly built with bayonets, meat ration cans or tin cups.” In a racy little book, “What I Saw in Cuba” Burr McIntosh, among other things, pays many compliments to the officers of the 20th Regiment. He went to Cuba on their transport, and when the regiment was landed managed to swim ashore, contrary to Gen. Shafter's orders in regard to newspaper men. He says “I started inland in search of Gen. Bates and his command. A number of camp fires were glowing along the roadside in front of the lines of tents pitched by the men of the 20th and the 3d, the Independent Brigade commanded by Gen. Bates. As I approached them almost the first man I met was Major McCaskey. Aboard ship he had always been the essence of courtesy and kindness, but I knew he was a strict disciplinarian, and it was with some hesitation I ventured within a few yards of his camp fire. He recognized the figure, and with a stern look asked: 'How did you get ashore?' I removed my hat, bowed and answered, 'Please, sir, I fell off the side of the boat. They tried to rescue me, but there were no loose ropes, so I had to swim in. After this edifying explanation I was invited to partake of the evening meal, which was being prepared for him and two of his officers. I remember this most because of the fact that it was the only one I enjoyed during my stay in Cuba” From Cuba Major McCaskey took the regiment to Montauk Point for some weeks, and from there back to the old headquarters at Fort Leavenworth. Like all the other regiments from Cuba, the 20th returned a wreck, and he at once set about and completed the work of reorganization. His own health had by this time been so much impaired that he was ordered on a long sick leave, and was about to go to southern California when orders were received for the regiment to start for the Philippines. Of course, he did not accept the leave, but took the four weeks' voyage to Luzon instead. They left Leavenworth Jan. 21, 1899. Col. Elwell S. Otis, who was in command of the army in the Philippines, with headquarters at Manila, needed a strong garrison in the turbulent city, and chose for this important service his own old regiment, the 20th United States Infantry, of which he had been colonel for more than thirteen years. It was now commanded by his intimate personal friend, Col. McCaskey, with whom he had been pleasantly associated all these years, and in whose vigilance and ability in this trying situation he had the fullest confidence. The regiment was held here for nearly two years, and kept the great city of two or three hundred thousand people in order by vigilant service at all hours of the day and night though conflagration and uprising were all the while threatened. This service was of a special character and of the utmost importance, and the 20th was held as the garrison regiment during the administrations of both Gen. Otis and Gen. MacArthur. Manila was under strict martial law, the curfew regulation was in force and the duties that confronted the regiment were both delicate and important. It was absolutely necessary to prevent the disaffected natives from getting together to form organizations and cause disturbance. At the same time, upon the cosmopolitan inhabitants martial law must be administered without unnecessary harshness, friction or oppression. There were no tribunals, either civil or criminal in existence, except the provost police courts. All disputes of every kind had to be decided temporarily, at least, off-hand, by the military police captains at the various stations, or by Colonel McCaskey, who was chief in command. In addition to the police duties assigned to it the regiment acted for a time as a reserve to the forces in the trenches, and was frequently called upon, and for months was held in constant readiness by day or night to respond promptly to any orders, either to reinforce a threatened point without or promptly to put down disturbance within. The protection of all the high officials and of trains on the railroad, the care and guarding of all prisoners, both civil and military, looking after ladrones and others in the suburbs and elsewhere, the safety of the immense depots of supplies, and especially of the Maestranza Arsenal, which was the focus of all insurgent plans, and the enforcing of Customs regulations, were all a part of the duty of this regiment. The 20th Infantry had been recommended by Gen. Otis to be sent to China in 1900, as a representative organization. Gen. MacArthur also wished it to go, but he found it impossible at that time to take it from the duty in Manila with which it was so familiar, and he would not risk a change at that important juncture. In a personal note to Col. McCaskey, dated March 18, 1902, Gen. MacArthur says” I congratulate you heartily upon your return from the Philippines. I appreciate very warmly all the good work done by your regiment, especially in Manila. It was not showy, but of incalculable value. Nobody knows that fact so well as Gen. Otis and myself. We felt absolutely dependent upon the garrison of Manila, and knew that everything would be secure in the hands of your regiment.” The regiment was relieved from duty in Manila toward the end of January, 1901, and ordered to northern Luzon, where it was kept busy for some months in field duty and cleared the region of armed insurgents. At the time of leaving Manila it numbered 1,500 men, exclusive of officers. Civil government being organized in the north, the 20th was ordered south into Laguna and Batangas provinces, with headquarters at Tanauan. The service here was very trying. Nearly everybody was busy on scouting and other duty to keep the insurgents on the move. When, in December, 1901, Gen. J. F. Bell ordered his famous protection policy of concentration camps, it was welcome news for the regiments operating here, for both officers and men saw an end to their thankless and often fruitless expeditions through almost impassable tropical jungles and swamps, under burning suns or torrential rains. Immediate steps were taken by Col. McCaskey to carry out the policy in his jurisdiction, and the large camp of 18,000 or more people which be organized at Tanauan was pronounced by Gens. Wheaton and Bell the model concentration camp of the provinces. The humane and effective system here carried out, the people well fed, well cared for, with constant occupation, under constant sanitary inspection and medical care, had much to do with the final collapse of the rebellion in these very troublesome provinces. If the 20th did one thing better than another during its three years' service in the Philippines it was the masterly way in which it carried out the new American Protection Policy, which culminated early in April in the surrender of Gen. Malvar and his entire command, thus ending the revolution not only in Batangas Province, but also in the Philippine Islands. The general plan and scheme followed in these camps were formed by Col. William S. McCaskey. To carry out his instructions he detailed a very efficient officer, Capt. H. C. Hale, ably assisted by Lieut. A. M. Shipp and others. When a lieutenant in the Northwest Col. McCaskey married Miss Nellie Garrison of Detroit. Their children are four sons and two daughters, all of whom are living. Two of them, Garrison and Douglas, are first lieutenants in the regular service, the first in the 25th Infantry and the second in the 4th Cavalry. Both won their commissions in the Cuban war, Douglas having special honorable mention for gallantry in the desperate charge at San Juan July 1, 1898. Garrison, after his school course, graduated from the Pennsylvania Nautical School Ship “Saratoga” in 1893, having made four cruises. He was also cadet on Pacific Mail Steamship, 1896 and 1897, served in quartermaster's department, 1897-98, was in the battles of El Caney and Santiago, saw much active service in the Philippines, rescued two soldiers from drowning, in Luzon, at night, commanded army gunboats, 1901-2, escorted troops to Pekin, China, 1902, and is at present senior aid on the staff of Gen. Lee in Batangas province, Luzon. His third son, Douglas, served in the 4th United States Cavalry at Fort Walla Walla, Wash., and Yellowstone Park, Wyoming, 1894 to 1897, was agent of quartermaster's department in 1898, saw hard service in Cuba and the Philippines, and is now on duty at Fort Leavenworth as squadron adjutant of the regiment. The eldest son, Hiram Dryer, after graduating from the Lancaster High School in 1889 and Lehigh University in 1893, with the degree of mining engineer--his thesis being selected for the exhibit of the University at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893--was assayer at the Boston Copper Smelting Works at Great Falls, Montana, 1893-95, and instructor at Yeates Institute, Lancaster, and Military Schools at Mt. Holly, Miss., and San Mateo, Cal. In 1900 he went to Manila, and is now engineer and assayer in charge of the Department of Mines, Philippine Islands, and is a very competent man in his special line of work. The youngest son, Charles, was given his choice to remain at the University of Kansas or go with his father to the Philippines. He preferred to go with the regiment, and was in the action at Guadeloupe Church, Luzon, 1899, as a civilian. He has been on duty in the Customs Department, Manila, since April, 1899, and is now Deputy Surveyor of the port of Manila. The eldest daughter, Margaret, is married to Captain William H. Chapman, of the regular service, and the youngest, Eleanor, is unmarried. Col. McCaskey has a unique record. He is Lancaster county's most noted living soldier. In length of service he ranks first of all her brave sons whom she has at any time sent forth to military duty. In value of service his career is perhaps second only to that of Gen. John F. Reynolds, who must always stand as our foremost representative man in the army of the United States. He was the youngest major in the regular service, and is still, we think, the youngest officer of his rank in the army. He is a man of high honor, excellent habits and irreproachable character, who enjoys the respect and confidence of the officers and men of his command. He is the intimate personal friend, for almost a generation, of such men as Gen. Otis, Gen. Bates, Gen. Wheaton, Gen. MacArthur and others of their class, who give tone to the best element in the army. He has the reputation of being one of the most strict of disciplinarians, but at the same time most watchful of the interests and well-being, of his officers and men of all ranks. His work has been commended, and he has been recommended for promotion by every general officer and every regimental and post commander under whom he has served since he entered in the regular army, in 1866, dozens of such papers being on file in the War Department. Among general officers who have commended him, some of them in strongest terms, are Gens. Sykes, Terry, Stanley, Otis, MacArthur, Chaffee, Wheaton, Bates, Patterson, Holabird, Davis (N. H.), Du Barry, Greene and others. He has been commended by all department inspectors and in all efficiency reports made by regimental or post commanders under whom he has served. He has never been in arrest, tried or admonished, has never been reported for non-payment of debts, is not addicted to the use of intoxicants nor to any other evil habit of army or social life. He is a courteous gentleman, a man of domestic tastes and habits, and it is a fortunate regiment that has such a man for its commanding officer, fortunate no less for officers than men. He could retire with the star of the Brigadier under the recent act of Congress, and that is now practically his rank in the army whenever he chooses to accept it. But he should be a Brigadier in active service rather than on the retired list. He has earned this honorable rank, and it can come to no man more worthily. He could have retired some time since on “term of service” but, being a man of unusual mental and physical vigor, he has had no wish to do so. Should he live until the age of retirement under the law, he will have the unique distinction of being the last officer, the last man, in the regular army who carried a rifle or bore a commission under the flag in the great war of the Rebellion.
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