Little Visits with Great Americans

by Orison Swett Marden

General Nelson A. Miles

General Miles has had a remarkable mihtary career. He was not quite twenty-two when Fort Sumter was fired upon, and was, at the time, employed in a store near Boston. He spent his money in organizing a company, of which he was elected captain, but was commissioned only as a lieutenant, on account of his age. But he rapidly rose to be captain, colonel, brigadier-general and major-general. General Hancock quickly discovered his abilities. He was in charge of that commander's line at Chancellorsville, and held his own successfully against every attack by Lee's veterans. The second day, he was seriously wounded, and General Hancock, in a letter to Washington urging his promotion, said: "If Colonel Miles lives, he wall be one of the most distinguished of our officers." In February, 1865, this young man of twenty-six commanded the Second Army Corps. Never before had an American officer, at that age, had charge of so large a body of soldiers. When Lee surrendered at Appomattox, he had command of the First Division of the Second Army Corps.


General Miles is best known as an Indian fighter. His six years of work among the Indians covered a belt of country from the Rio Grande to Canada, and four hundred miles wide. In 1874, powerful Indian tribes roamed over this land. But Miles and his companions-in-arms, officers and soldiers, guarded the newly constructed railroads, and the towns which arose on the plains, until civilization prevailed. In 1876, he fought at Staked Plains, defeating the Cheyennes, Kiowas and Comanches. He subjugated the Sioux, and drove Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and other braves across the Canada line. In September, he conquered the Nez Perces, with Chief Joseph; in 1878, the Bannocks. For five years, —(1880-1885),—he commanded the Columbia Department; in 1885, he was transferred to the Arizona Department, and subdued the Apaches under Geronimo and Natchez. He was made a major-general. United States Army, April 5, 1890; in 1891, he closed the war with the Sioux.

General Miles carries the honorable scars of four serious bullet-wounds. His wife was a Sherman, daughter of Judge Sherman, and niece of ex-Secretary Sherman and of General William Tecumseh Sherman. She is a "comrade" as well as a home-companion, and went with him to inspect fortifications and visit our southern camps during the late war.


In the Civil War he was noted for his audacity and dash. He was a fighting commander. He never hesitated to obey an order to advance, and he never wanted to retreat. His courage was an inspiration to his troops, and undoubtedly prevented disaster on more than one occasion. Hancock had the utmost confidence in Miles, and put him to the front to bear the brunt of the enemy: the latter never failed his chief. When the break took place at Reams' Station, —that unfortunate battle, the name of which is said to have been printed on the heart of Hancock like Calais in the heart of Queen Mary, —Miles and his stafif pushed to the very front to stay the backward rush of the troops, and the gallant defense which he oflfered to the victorious enemy saved the day from becoming one of the great catastrophes of the war.

While Miles is famous for his gallantry as a commander, he is equally noted for his coolness and good judgment. He always insisted upon the proper treatment of his men by the commissary department, and his division, the Second Corps, never had any reason to complain of want of attention on the part of their general to their comforts. "Good treatment and good fighting" was his rule.


As commander of the army, General Miles is not different from the Miles of thirty years ago. Tliose who knew him then say that he has changed very little in appearance, and not at all in his devotion to duty and to the army. He was always above petty jealousy, and never withheld from a subordinate the credit due to him, —and this is a prominent trait in Miles today. The public wondered that Miles showed no impatience when he was not sent in command of the troops to Cuba, but those who knew the General felt that he was too firm a believer in discipline to object to any lawful act of his commander-in-chief. Miles is known to have been anxious to lead the fighting in the only war likely to offer him an opportunity to prove his ability as a general in command, but he obeyed without a murmur the orders which placed in other hands the leadership of the troops in the field. He maintained a vigilant supervision of all that was going on, and was especially watchful of the supplies which had been intended for the support of the army at the front. His criticism of those supplies has caused a widespread sensation and there were earnest demands that all the facts should be known, and the responsibility fixed.


General Miles is not willing to see callers when he is busy with his official duties. At other times, he is readily approached. He said to me that he did not care to talk about matters pending in connection with the army. I assured him at once that I had no intention of questioning hint in regard to the matters to which he alluded, but would be glad to have his opinion about the chances of a young man in the army, and the proper qualifications for one seeking to enter the service.

General Miles replied that he would not object to answering questions on that point.

I asked the general if he thought an education necessary for a good soldier.

"Certainly," was the reply ; "education is a good thing for a soldier, and he ought to be educated in more than reading, writing and arithmetic. He ought to have character, stability, energy and a willingness to obey. These qualities are largely brought out by the right kind of education. It can be set down as a rule, that a worthless civilian would be a worthless soldier. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but the man who has the right kind of training to make him a good citizen is the best man for the army."


"And such a man will get along best in the army?" I suggested.

"Most assuredly," answered General Miles. "You can see that by looking over the list of heroes in the past. They have always been men of character. An officer should be a man of character, in order to command the respect of his men. Without their respect and esteem, he cannot succeed. With them, he can accomplish great things, if the opportunity offers. Look at the regard which the Enghsh soldiers had for the Duke of Wellington. It was chiefly based on his character, for he was not what might be called a lovable man. His men were ready to go anywhere that he sent them, for they knew their commander, and had confidence in him. Character is as important in a great general as in a great statesman or a great merchant. Character is just as necessary, also, in the private as in the officer. It will command recognition in time."

"Would you say. General, that the army really holds out very great chances for advancement?"

"I think it holds out as many chances as any profession or business does; for in the army, as in business, merit wins every time, and if a soldier has real merit, it is bound to be recognized, sooner or later."

"There is a chance, then, for every man who goes into the army as a private to become a general?"

"I don't know that I would make the statement as strong as that, but I believe that every soldier who deserves it will be promoted."

"Would you advise young men to select the army in preference to other professions ?"

"That depends," the general replied, "on the young man. If he is fairly educated and properly trained, if his tastes are military, and he understands the importance and duty of discipline, if he is willing to learn and to obey, he will make no mistake in entering the army. There are, of course, other circumstances, such as family claims and associations which must have their bearing upon the choice of a career, but, speaking from the standpoint of the army, I would say that it is a good place for any young American with the right qualifications."


When asked about the conduct of our troops in the late war. General Miles answered : "Our soldiers fought bravely, but nothing else could be expected from American soldiers. They have no superiors in the field, and American history has shown that they can cope successfully with any foe. Courage is a natural virtue with all Americans, and the late war has shown that it has not been weakened any by years of peace. There is no better material in the world for an army than the young men who grow up in the cities and towns and on the farms of the United States. I have already said that a young man who enters the army should have education, and the intelligence of the average American soldier is one of his most valuable traits. He is not merely a machine; he is an intelligent machine. He is conscious of his duty and his responsibilities.

"What do you think of the future of the army, General?"

General Miles replied deliberately: "The American people will never have any occasion to be otherwise than proud of their army. It will be found equal to every call that can possibly be made upon it, and prepared to face any danger in defense of the nation."

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