Nelson A. Miles

Born Westminster, MA, in August 8, 1839, Miles became a lt. general in the Army and served in the Civil War, Indian Wars and Spanish-American War. He attended night school in Boston and studied military history and tactics and was working as a store clerk in Boston when the Civil War began. Miles joined the Union Army on September 9, 1861, at Roxbury as a lieutenant in the 22nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and later a lieutenant colonel in the 61st New York.

He fought at Antietam, Fredericksberg, Chancellorsville (where he was severely wounded in the action that resulted in his Medal of Honor), Appomattox and other major battles and became a major general in 1865 at the age of 26. He commended Fort Monroe (VA) while Jefferson Davis was a prisoner there.

During the Indian Wars, he commanded the 5th Infantry in most major campaigns, including actions against the Kiowa, Comanche, Cheyenne, Chief Joseph and the Nez Percé, and in the campaign against Geronimo. Miles’ special signal units proved the worth of the heliograph in the field.

When the campaign against the Sioux led to Sitting Bull's death and the massacre of about 300 Sioux at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890, Miles was highly critical of the commanding officer. Miles described Wounded Knee as “The most abominable criminal military blunder and a horrible massacre of women and children,” and afterward fought for compensation for survivors of the massacre.

He became Commanding General of the United States Army in 1895, during the Spanish-American War, and personally led the invasion of Puerto Rico, later becoming its military governor. Miles, whom President Theodore Roosevelt called a “brave peacock,” retired in 1903. He died at age 85 and is buried in one of only two mausoleums in Arlington National Cemetery.

Miles City, MT, and a steamship, the General Miles, were named for him. Kevin Tighe played Miles in the film Geronimo: An American Legend, and Shaun Johnston in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Miles Street and the Miles Neighborhood in Tucson, AZ, are named for him, and a bust of Miles stands in the Massachusetts State Capitol. General Miles’ son, Sherman, graduated from West Point in 1905 and rose to the rank of major general during World War II.

Citation: Distinguished gallantry while holding with his command an advanced position against repeated assaults by a strong force of the enemy; was severely wounded.