George Lewis Gillespie Jr.
First Lieutenant, Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army. For actions near Bethesda Church, VA.
May 31, 1864
Born in 1841 in Kingston, TN, Gillespie graduated second in his class at West Point in 1862, was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers on June 17, 1862, and entered service in Chattanooga, TN, and was awarded the Medal of Honor on October 27, 1897.
A Southerner loyal to the Union, Gillespie commanded two companies of the engineer battalion which built fortifications and ponton bridges throughout the Virginia campaigns throughout the Civil War.
He received the Medal of Honor for exposing himself to great danger while carrying dispatches through enemy lines to Major General Philip Sheridan at the Battle of Cold Harbor, Virginia on May 31, 1864. Gillespie was captured, but escaped; when he came in contact with the enemy again and was again ordered to surrender, he dashed away under fire. He later became Sheridan's Chief Engineer in the Army of the Shenandoah and the Military Division of the Gulf.
After the Civil War, Gillespie supervised the improvement of harbors in Chicago, Boston, and New York City, built the famous Tillamook Rock Lighthouse off the Oregon coast, and served for six years as president of the Mississippi River Commission.He was promoted to major in 1871, lieutenant colonel in 1886 and colonel in 1895.
When the Spanish-American War broke out, Gillespie was promoted to brigadier general of Volunteers (1898) and commanded the Army's Department of the East. On October 31, 1898, he was discharged from the Volunteers and reverted to his Regular Army rank of colonel.
Gillespie became Chief of Engineers on May 3, 1901, and promoted to brigadier general. He was acting U.S. Secretary of War in August 1901, in charge of President William McKinley's funeral and laying the cornerstone of the Army War College Building in 1903. His final assignment was as Assistant Chief of Staff of the United States Army from 1904 to 1905.
Gillespie redesigned the Medal of Honor in 1904, replacing the "Minerva repelling Discord" scene with a simple portrait of the helmeted Minerva.