Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fiddler's Green: Adna R. Chaffee

Adna Chaffee’s story is a very interesting one. Despite the fact that he was the first soldier to rise from the rank of private to the position of Chief of Staff of the Army, and the first Army Chief of Staff who had not graduated from West Point, his accomplishments are much less well known than those of his son, the “Father of the Armor Branch.” This Fiddler’s Green entry will attempt to even the score a bit. The picture of Chaffee is from a 1973 oil on canvas painting by Cedric Baldwin Egeli.

Adna Romanza Chaffee was born on April 14, 1842 in Orwell, Ohio, where there is a historical marker documenting his accomplishments. One of twelve children, he was educated at a nearby country school. He determined to join the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War. While on his way to join a volunteer regiment at the outbreak of the Civil War, he encountered a recruiting party for the 6th U.S. Cavalry and enlisted as a private on July 22, 1861. He was promoted to sergeant in October and served in the Peninsular and Antietam Campaigns in 1862. In September 1862, he was promoted to first sergeant of Company K, 6th US Cavalry. Chaffee was promoted to 2nd lieutenant in the 6th Cavalry by direction of the secretary of war on March 13, 1863, but due to administrative delays he wasn’t discharged to receive the appointment until May 12th.

Chaffee was seriously wounded by a gunshot wound to the thigh at the battle of Fairfield during the Gettysburg campaign. He led a dismounted squadron on the left flank of the regiment which was overrun during the battle. Initially captured by the Confederates, he refused parole as a prisoner and they abandoned him when he could not be transported due to his wounds. He was treated by regimental assistant surgeon William Forwood, and returned to duty in early September. Chaffee received a brevet promotion to first lieutenant on July 3, 1863 for gallant and meritorious service during the battle.

On October 11, 1863, the 6th U.S. Cavalry was caught in an exposed position near Brandy Station and engaged by superior numbers of Confederate cavalry. They were able to fight their way back across the Rappahannock, but Lieutenant Chaffee was again wounded while commanding his company.

Lieutenant Chaffee served as the regimental adjutant for the 6th Cavalry from November 11, 1864 to December 12, 1866. He was promoted to first lieutenant, 6th U.S. Cavalry in February 1865. He was brevetted captain for gallant and meritorious service at the battle of Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia on March 31, 1865.

Chaffee remained in the Army after the war, and was posted with his regiment initially to Austin, Texas. He briefly resigned his commission while his commanding officer was on leave, but was persuaded to remain in the army upon his superior’s return after only a week as a civilian. Chaffee served as the regimental quartermaster from December 12, 1866 to October 12, 1867, when he was promoted to captain, 6th Cavalry. He fought in the Indian wars against various central plains and southwestern tribes from 1867 to 1894.

In February 1868, Chaffee and I Troop were assigned to Fort Griffin, Texas. On March 7h he was brevetted major for “gallant and effective service in an engagement with Comanche Indians at Paint Creek, Texas.” Later that year, he married Kate Haynie Reynolds on September 19th in Austin, Texas. They had two sons who both died in their infancy before she died the following year. Chaffee served the next three years in Texas pursuing hostile Indians and outlaws.

He spent the next three years on assignments in Kansas, Mississippi and the Indian Territory until the Red River War broke out in 1874. Chaffee and his Troop I were attached to Colonel Nelson A. Miles’ column in actions against the Cheyenne Indians. On August 30, 1874, he was cited for bravery for leading his troops in a charge against a superior number of Cheyenne warriors at Palo Duro Canyon, Texas.

On March 31, 1875 he married his second wife, Annie Frances Rockwell, in Junction City, Kansas. They had a son and three daughters, one of whom also died in infancy.

In the early 1880s, Chaffee moved to Arizona and New Mexico, where he had several engagements with the Apache Indians. He and Troop I bested the Apaches at the battle of Big Dry Wash, Arizona in July 1882, and accompanied General George Crook during his pursuit of the Apaches into Mexico on the Sierra Madre campaign of 1883. Finally, Chaffee co-commanded the 1886 expedition that led to the capture of Apache leader Geronimo.

On July 7, 1888, Chaffee was promoted to major in the 9th Cavalry, and spent the next two years constructing Fort Duchesne in southern Utah. He was brevetted lieutenant colonel on February 27, 1890 “for gallant service in leading a cavalry charge over rough and precipitous bluffs held by Indians on the Red River, Texas on August 30, 1874 and gallant service in action against Indians at the Big Dry Wash, Arizona on July 17, 1882. Chaffee served as the acting inspector general for the Department of Arizona from 1890 to 1893 and for the Department of Colorado until the fall of 1894. In 1895 he conducted the restoration of the Bannock Indians to the Fort Hall reservation in Idaho. He served as an instructor of tactics at the Army’s Infantry and Cavalry School at Fort Leavenworth from November 1896 to June 1897.

In June 1897, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 3rd Cavalry, and served as commandant of the Cavalry School at Fort Riley, Kansas until 1898. He was promoted to Colonel of the 8th US Cavalry in early 1899.

At the outbreak of the War with Spain, he was appointed a brigadier general of volunteers on May 4, 1898 and assigned command of the 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Division of volunteers. His brigade was active in the Santiago campaign and effectively ended the campaign with the capture of El Caney in July, 1898. As a result of his performance during the campaign, Chaffee was promoted to major general of volunteers that same month. At the cessation of hostilities, he served as the chief of staff to the military governor of Cuba, General Leonard Wood, from 1898-1900. Chaffee was honorably discharged from volunteer service and promoted to brigadier general of the regular army on April 13, 1899.

When the Boxer Rebellion broke out in China in June 1900, General Chaffee commanded the 2,500 man U.S. China Relief Expedition sent to rescue Western citizens and put down the rebellion. His second in command was Major General James H. Wilson, another Civil war veteran who had won his first stars when Chaffee was a second lieutenant. The expedition consisted of six troops of the 6th Cavalry, a battalion of Marines, Riley’s Battery of six rifled guns, and the 9th and 14th Infantry regiments. His force played a key role in the rapid advance to the imperial capital of Beijing and its capture on August 14, 1900, relieving the siege of the embassy staffs and other Western nationals. Chaffee’s force was also very active in establishing order and halting looting in the city following its capture. The success of his mission made him somewhat of a celebrity among the Chinese as well as his troops and fellow commanders.

Chaffee was promoted to major general in the regular army on February 4, 1901. From July 4, 1901 until October 1902, he served as the military governor of the Philippines, succeeding General Arthur MacArthur. This period included the beginning of the second phase of the Philippine-American War, and his actions have been criticized in some circles as being less than enlightened. He conducted an Indian-style campaign instead of the “humanitarian warfare” approach used by MacArthur. Chaffee subsequently served as the commander of the Department of the East from October 1902 to October 1903. Following this assignment he helped organize the General Staff Corps of the army.

Chaffee was promoted lieutenant general in January 1904, and served as the Army Chief of Staff from January 9, 1904 to January 14, 1906. During his tenure, he oversaw a far-reaching transformation of doctrine, planning and organization in the Army. He served as grand marshal for President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade on March 4, 1905, which also included former adversaries such as Geronimo and Quanah Parker. He also went on a good-will tour of Europe on behalf of President Roosevelt. Chaffee also was awarded the honorary civil law degree of LL.D. from Tufts College in 1905.

Among his other accomplishments as Army Chief of Staff was the creation of campaign medals for the army. The move towards government-issued medals for campaign service actually started in China during the Boxer Rebellion. General Chaffee came into contact with military personnel from other countries who were also involved in the campaign, and was particularly impressed with the campaign medals worn by the British. In 1904, Chaffee wanted to explore the possibility of obtaining similar medals for American soldiers. A proposal was made through the acting Secretary of War to the president to authorize the use of badges to denote the wearer as a veteran of a specific campaign, and that these badges be prescribed and worn as part of the uniform. The important point was that the "badges" were to be designated as part of the uniform, not personal awards for individual veterans. The proposal was approved, and the first Army campaign medals (Spanish-American War; Philippine Insurrection; and the China Relief Expedition) were officially established on January 12, 1905. They were followed by campaign medals for the Civil War and Indian Campaigns on January 21, 1907.

General Chaffee was retired at his own request on February 1, 1906, after a 45 year career. His son, Adna R. Chaffee, Jr., graduated from West Point that same summer. After his retirement, Chaffee moved to Los Angeles, where he was appointed President of the Board of Public Works for the city. He was also named a member of the Board of Visitors of West Point, and served as the first president of the Southwest Museum. Additionally, he was an original member of the District of Columbia Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. He died of typhoid pneumonia in Los Angeles, California on November 1, 1914, and is buried with his second wife at Arlington National Cemetery.


Carter, William G. From Yorktown to Santiago with the Sixth U.S. Cavalry (Austin, TX: State House Press, 1989)

Carter, William G. Life of Lieutenant General Chaffee (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1917).

Heitman, Francis B. Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903), page 292.

Henry, Guy V. Military Record of Civilian Appointments in the United States Army, Volume I (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1873), pgs 142-143.

Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (http://suvcw.org/mollus/)

Muster Rolls, 6th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, NARA.

Webster’s American Military Biographies (Springfield, MA: Merriam, 1978)

Who Was Who in America, Volume I: 1897-1942, page 206.


Eric Wittenberg said...


Nice profile; well done.

The commander of that detachment of the 6th US that went to China with Wilson and Chaffee was Col. Theodore J. Wint, who rose from private to brigadier general in the Regular Army. Wint started out with Rush's Lancers, and was a few months from being promoted to major general when he died on active duty in 1907.

Fascinating stuff.


Don said...

Thanks, Eric. This was a fun one because every time I thought I was finished, I turned up more information. Ironically, about twenty minutes after I posted this, I found out that Chaffee was probably one of the first dozen or so troopers enlisted by Charles Russell Lowell.

Interestingly enough, I haven't seen any mention of his papers anywhere. Given his career, I bet there's some fascinating stuff in there.

Anonymous said...


Nice blog! My great-great-grandfather, Alexander H. M. Taylor [19th Infantry] received an Indian Campaign Medal while serving with Capt. A.R. Chaffee & Company I, 6th Cavalry - on April 12, 1875 at Camp Supply - Do you know where I can find any information on what happened that date?

Thanks, Joanne

Don said...


Thanks for stopping by and your comments. I can think of a few places to look. Both of Carter's books listed in the sources for this post should address the engagement. Alos, check Robert Utley's book Frontier Regulars, which addresses the regular military in the west from 1866 to 1890.

If those don't work, let me know and I'll see what else I can dig up.

Chris Chaffee said...

Fine work you have done on our great-great grandfather. My brother refers to "Sr" as the 'break glass warrior'. He says every time they seem to get him out of battle, the Army would break the glass for emergency and send him in again! His son, Adna R. Chaffee, Jr. was a Major Gen., my grandfather, Adna R. Chaffee III, retired as Lt. Col. and my dad, Adna R. Chaffee IV, is a retired SGM with 32 years of service. My older brother, Daniel Chaffee is retired SSG with 21.5 yrs. and our son, Chadd Chaffee is 6th generation Army, currently with support of 7th Group in N.C.

My dad just made a trip to Camp Chaffee, Ar. this summer for the first time. He was impressed with the way it has been dept up by the National Guard there. He is going to donate some items to the museum.

Don said...


Don't know how I missed your comment for so long, my apologies. I made several trips to Fort Chaffee when the Joint Readiness Training Center was there, but was never able to visit the cantonment area there. Would love to chat with you about him and any family stories there might be. Please contact me at dccaughey AT aol DOT com.