Douglas MacArthur's Dad Equally Brave

Article excerpt


On Nov. 25, 1863, an 18-year-old Union lieutenant from Wisconsin grabbed the flag of his regiment (the 24th Wisconsin) from an exhausted color bearer and exhorted his men to continue their valiant charge up the steep slope of Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga, Tenn.

The remarkable charge by Union troops under the command of Gen. George H. Thomas was the culmination of the Battle of Chattanooga, during which Union forces seized control of eastern Tennessee, setting the stage for the campaign to take Atlanta and Gen. William T. Sherman's famous March to the Sea. That young lieutenant, Arthur MacArthur, would again demonstrate remarkable courage and leadership at Kennesaw Mountain in June 1864 and the Battle of Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864.

Though the young Wisconsin soldier was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism and bravery at Missionary Ridge and later attained the rank of lieutenant general in the U.S. Army, he is remembered more for being the father of the man historian William Manchester called the greatest soldier this nation ever produced, Douglas MacArthur, who would be awarded the Medal of Honor in World War II and rise to the rank of general of the Army.

'Boy lieutenant'

Arthur MacArthur joined the Union Army in August 1862. He was the son of a prominent Milwaukee judge. As a young boy, Arthur dreamed about performing heroic deeds as a soldier. He lied about his age and used his father's political influence to enter the Army as an officer.

At first, many of the soldiers under MacArthur's command ridiculed the "boy lieutenant."

"When he shouted out his orders," writes his biographer, Kenneth Ray Young, "the men laughed at his high, squeaky voice." MacArthur soon earned their respect, however, by repeatedly demonstrating extraordinary leadership and courage under fire.

MacArthur's first exposure to hostile fire came near the end of the Battle of Perryville, Ky., in October 1862, when he bravely galloped on horseback up and down the Union line conveying orders to the Wisconsin troops to charge across a cornfield at Confederate positions. The Confederate troops soon fled from the field, and MacArthur and his regiment were ordered to fall back. "[M]any of the men in the regiment," Mr. Young writes, "gawked in amazement at Little Mac's courage."

MacArthur's next test came at the bloody Battle of Stones River, near Murfreesboro, Tenn. Over the course of three days, from Dec. 31, 1862, to Jan. 2, 1863, Union and Confederate forces suffered nearly 24,000 casualties in fierce combat that ended in stalemate.

MacArthur and the 24th Wisconsin helped fend off a horrific Confederate onslaught on New Year's Eve, including holding the line in an area known as the Round Forest, which some combatants renamed "Hell's Half Acre." The 24th Wisconsin lost nearly a third of its men at Stones River. MacArthur's commanding officers praised him for behaving with "great coolness and presence of mind" in the midst of battle.

Missionary Ridge

After surviving a serious illness in the summer, MacArthur returned to his regiment in October 1863. The Union Army had retreated recently to Chattanooga after suffering its worst defeat in the West at Chickamauga. Confederate forces under Gen. Braxton Bragg occupied two seemingly impregnable positions overlooking Chattanooga: Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge.

On Nov. 24, in what later was called "the Battle Above the Clouds," the Confederates were pushed off Lookout Mountain with surprising ease. The next day, more than 20,000 Union troops assaulted Missionary Ridge.

MacArthur's regiment was part of the force that attacked the center of the Confederate line on Missionary Ridge. After seizing Confederate positions at the base of the ridge, Union troops climbed the steep slope in the face of withering enemy fire. …