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Wesley Merritt

1st American Military Governor of the Philippines
In office
August 14, 1898 – August 28, 1898
Preceded by Emilio Aguinaldo (Philippine President)
Succeeded by Elwell S. Otis

Born June 16, 1836(1836-06-16)
New York City, New York, United States
Died December 3, 1910 (aged 76)
Natural Bridge, Virginia, United States

Wesley Merritt (June 16, 1836[1] – December 3, 1910) was a general in the United States Army during the American Civil War and the Spanish-American War. He is noted for distinguished service in the cavalry.


Early life

Merritt was born in New York City. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1860 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Dragoons (heavy cavalry), serving initially in Utah under John Buford. He became the adjutant for the unit when it was renamed the 2nd U.S. Cavalry.

Civil War

In 1862, Merritt was appointed captain in the U.S. Cavalry and served as an aide-de-camp to Brig. Gen. Philip St. George Cooke, who commanded the Cavalry Department of the Army of the Potomac. He served in the defenses of Washington, D.C., for the rest of 1862. In 1863, he was appointed adjutant for Maj. Gen. George Stoneman and participated in Stoneman's Raid in the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863.

In the Gettysburg Campaign, Merritt commanded the Reserve Brigade, 1st Division, Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac. He was slightly wounded in the Battle of Brandy Station; soon after (June 29, 1863), he was appointed brigadier general of volunteers for his "gallant and meritorious service" at Brandy Station and Upperville. Being promoted directly from captain to brigadier general was an unusual step, even for the Civil War, but Merritt shared this honor on that date with Captain Elon J. Farnsworth and First Lieutenant George Armstrong Custer.

In the initial cavalry actions of the Battle of Gettysburg, Merritt saw no action; his reserve brigade guarded the lines of communications of the Army of the Potomac. On July 3, 1863, however, he participated in the assault ordered by division commander Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick on the Confederate right flank, following Pickett's Charge. His fellow general, Elon J. Farnsworth, was killed during this futile assault against infantry troops. Merritt took over command of the 1st Division of the Cavalry Corps following the death by typhoid fever of its commander, John Buford, in December 1863. Brig. Gen. Alfred Torbert was the initial commander of the 1st Division but was gone for most of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign in 1864, so Merritt acted as commander in his place. He received a brevet promotion to lieutenant colonel in the regular army for his actions at the Battle of Yellow Tavern, the engagement in which Confederate cavalry commander Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart was killed.

During Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan's Valley Campaigns of 1864, Merritt commanded the 1st Division, Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Shenandoah. Arriving at the opportune moment, his division routed the Confederate forces at the Third Battle of Winchester, a deed for which he received a brevet promotion to major general. He was second-in-command to Sheridan during the Appomattox Campaign and was one of several commissioners for the surrender at Appomattox Court House. He was brevetted brigadier general in the regular army, in March 1865, for bravery at the Battle of Five Forks and the Appomattox Campaign.

Frontier duty and West Point

After the war's end, Merritt continued to serve in the cavalry along the frontier. He was appointed a lieutenant colonel in the regular army on July 28, 1866, and commanded the 9th Cavalry out of Fort Concho in San Angelo, Texas. He was promoted to colonel of the 5th U.S. Cavalry on July 1, 1876, which he commanded in the Battle of Slim Buttes during the Indian Wars. He served on the frontier until being appointed superintendent of West Point, a post he filled from 1882 to 1887. In 1887, he was appointed a brigadier general in the regular army. He was promoted to major general in the U.S. Army in 1895. Merritt presided over the court of inquiry that looked into the death of Custer in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Spanish-American War

After George Dewey defeated the Spanish navy at the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898, the U.S. began to organize ground forces to attack and capture the city of Manila. Merritt was placed in command of the VIII Corps being raised in California. In June 1898, Merritt and the last of the VIII Corps departed from San Francisco for the Philippines.

Once Merritt arrived on Manila's island of Luzon, he and Dewey made preparations for the attack on the city. The two intentionally kept Emilio Aguinaldo out of the plans for the attack, since neither wanted Aguinaldo's Insurgents to have any control over the city. It is widely believed that Merritt and Dewey made arrangements with General Fermin Jaudenes, commander of the Spanish garrison, to surrender the city to the U.S. only after the latter put up a token resistance. In any case, the city fell on August 13, and Merritt became the military governor of the Philippines. He later advised the U.S. in the peace negotiations at the Treaty of Paris.

Merritt retired from the Army in 1900 and died ten years later in Natural Bridge, Virginia. He is buried in the Post cemetery, United States Military Academy.

See also



  1. ^ Eicher, p. 387. Official records differ on his birth date; June 16, 1836, and June 10, 1837, have also been cited.
Military offices
Preceded by
Oliver Otis Howard
Superintendents of the United States Military Academy
Succeeded by
John G. Parke
Government offices
Preceded by
Emilio Aguinaldo (Philippine President)
Military Governor of the Philippines
August 14–29, 1898
Succeeded by
Elwell S. Otis

General Merritt was married twice. His first wife was Caroline Warren Merritt, who died on June 12, 1893, at the age of 44. Caroline Warren Merritt is at rest in the cemetery at the United States Military Academy, at West Point. General Merritt's second wife was Laura Williams Merritt, whom he met in the late 1890s, and she was in her mid-twenties. General Merritt and Laura Williams were married on October 24, 1898. On December 3, 1910, General Merritt died, with the cause identified as arteriosclerosis, at the age of 74.


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

WESLEY MERRITT (1836-), American soldier, was born in New York City on the 16th of June 1836. He graduated at West Point in 1860, and was assigned to the cavalry service. He served in Utah (1861) and in the defences of Washington (1861-62); learnt the field duties of his arm as aide (1862) to General Philip St George Cooke, who then commanded the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac; became brigadier-general, United States Volunteers, in June 1863; and in September 1863 was placed in command of a brigade of regular cavalry in the Army of the Potomac. He won great distinction in the Virginian campaigns of 1864-65 and in Sheridan's Valley campaign, being brevetted major-general of volunteers for his conduct at Winchester and Fisher's Hill, and brigadier-general of the regular army for his services at Five Forks. In the final campaign about Richmond he did such good service in command of a cavalry division that he was brevetted majorgeneral in the regular army and was promoted major-general of volunteers. With two other Federal commissioners he arranged with the Confederate commanders for the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. He was mustered out of the Volunteer Service in February 1866, and in July became lieutenant-colonel of the 9th cavalry in the regular army, being promoted gradually to major-general (1895). He served in the Big Horn and Yellowstone Indian campaigns (1876) and in the expedition to relieve the command of Major Thornburgh, who was killed in 1879 by the Utes; was superintendent at West Point (1882-87); and commanded the military department of Missouri in 1887-95, and that of the Atlantic in 1897-98. He was assigned in May 1898 to the command of the United States forces that were sent to the Philippines, after Admiral Dewey's victory; stormed Manila on the 13th of August; and was military governor of the islands until the 30th of August, when he left Manila for Paris to join the peace commission. From 1899 until his retirement from active service in June 1900 he commanded the Department of the East.

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