Valor Frday

| July 3, 2020


Pvt Charles H. McVeagh, USA

Mason has done it once again. Our very own Skippy, poking around ghost towns in New Mexico for reasons known only to himself, came across a this anomaly, a recent headstone of one Charles H. McVeagh, Medal of Honor awardee. I forwarded his find on to Mason to work his magic on, and here it is.

Mason
Our own Skippy happened across this unique gravestone in his travels recently. It’s a very modern stone in an otherwise bleak cemetery in White Oaks, New Mexico. Private Charles H McVeagh’s gravesite had been lost for some years. Rediscovered in the 2010’s, the Private’s headstone was updated and rededicated May 9th, 2015 in honor of his bravery in combat during the Indian Wars. That explains the stone, now let’s explore the man under said stone.

Charles H. McVeagh was born in 1833 (unknown date) in New York, New York, specifically Manhattan County. There are few records on McVeagh, but we can piece together some of his life.

He enlisted from San Francisco, date unknown, where before signing up he’d been working as a butcher. It is known that he was with Company B, 8th US Cavalry in 1868. The 8th Cavalry Regiment was formed in 1866, comprised mostly of enlisted men from the west coast, the regiment’s officers all veterans of the recently concluded Civil War.

It’s likely that McVeagh, a private at the time of his Medal of Honor citation in 1868, was enlisted around the time of the regiment’s formation. In fact, Company B was activated at the Presidio in San Francisco on October 23, 1866. This is probably where and when McVeagh set out on his new adventure.

The 8th Cavalry’s enlisted troops were largely made up of men who had been “49ers”, part of the California Gold Rush. It’s said that the men of the 8th Cavalry were of the adventurous type, such as a young man like McVeagh who would have struck out from New York in search of riches on the Pacific coast. Seeking a new adventure in the Wild West US Cavalry, after not finding it in the goldfields of California, many of these uncivilized vagabonds were not suited to military life. By the end of 1867 the regiment had lost 41% of its strength to desertion.

The 8th Cavalry’s first commanding officer was Colonel John Gregg. A veteran of the Mexican-American War and the Civil War, he’d started as a private in the 2nd Pennsylvania Infantry in 1846 and would end the Mexican-American War two years later as a captain. During the Civil War he was commissioned a captain with the Army promoting him to colonel of the 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry (though retaining the substantive rank of captain). As an officer in the Army of the Potomac, he would receive five brevet promotions through the course of the war for gallant and meritorious service. By the time the war ended he was a substantive colonel in the Regular Army, a brevet major general of Volunteers, and a brevet brigadier general in the Regular Army.

The 8th Cavalry Regiment served in the Pacific Northwest briefly and then the Southwestern US in the Arizona and Nevada Territories. In both regions, the regiment was tasked with providing safety to settlers and keeping the lines of commerce open.

The 8th Cavalry’s B and L Companies were in Arizona by the spring of 1868. The Apache had been battling American Army (and even Confederate Army for a time) troops for more than 20 years in the area. The bulk of the Apache were eventually forced onto reservations by 1886 with the surrender of the famous war party leader Geronimo. Before that could happen, the men of the 8th Cavalry were engaged all summer long in battle after battle with the rebellious Natives.

By August, the Apache were terrorizing the settlers. They murdered men, women, and children and stole livestock, preventing settlement of the future state. Through only the constant battering B and L Companies gave them was any territory made available. The Apache did their best to avoid the cavalry troopers, only battling them when cornered. Instead, they were waging an insurgency or terror by focusing on attacks against civilians and their farmsteads.

Through August, September, and October 1868 the horsemen of B and L Companies constantly pursued the Indians. Their numbers depleted to a total of no more than 60 men through desertions and combat attrition. The troopers would often find themselves attacked in ambush. They’d no sooner engage the enemy before the Apache took off into their mountainous hideouts.

In the area of the Black Mountains in northwestern Arizona the cavalry and the Apache continued to play their cat and mouse game of war. The men of the cavalry fought gallantly against their relentless foe. If captured, the cavalrymen faced prolonged torture before being executed.

Riding through the heat of an Arizona summer, spending the majority of their waking hours in a saddle, the men of the two companies were diligent in pursuit of their enemy. For their valorous conduct through these three months, 34 enlisted men of the 8th US Cavalry’s B, D, and L Companies were awarded Medals of Honor. Twenty-seven of those medals went to men of B Company (six to non-commissioned officers and 21 to privates and buglers), including Private Charles McVeagh.

United States Army Medal of Honor

McVeagh’s medal citation reads simply, “for bravery in scouts and actions against Indians from August to October 1868.” Eloquence in the written word was not as important in award packages back then I guess. There’s no doubt that McVeagh spent a lot of time riding a horse through some arduous territory and was subject to fierce fighting by determined foes.

McVeagh’s personal life included a marriage to Maria Warner, with the two divorcing at some point. Children of this marriage included William Garrett (b. 1858), Edward Erastus (b. 1860). He settled in Lincoln County, NM. Lincoln County was the site of the Lincoln County War which began in 1878. This was the Old West conflict between rival factions, the most famous participant being Billy the Kid.

McVeagh later married a second time, to Clara Stapleton, born 1860, so 27 years his junior. This marriage resulted in two children. The first, daughter Nellie McVeagh (later Zamora), was born 1878 at Fort Stanton, NM (in Lincoln County). Second daughter Barbara (later Romero) was born 1879.

Charles McVeagh died in New Mexico at Fort Bayard in 1880 at 57 years old, leaving behind his young wife and two young daughters. His second wife Clara died in 1891 at age 30 from causes unknown.

Piecing together what McVeagh did after his time in the Army is a tad challenging. It’s known that he returned to working as a butcher. I don’t think he remained in the Army much past his initial enlistment. He appears to have worked at the Mescalero Apache Agency (part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs) from at least 1874 and likely until his death.

Records of his employment at Mescalero came in an odd location. There’s a record in the 1874 second session of the 45th Congress, House of Representative 1877-1878. In the official Congressional record there’s a payment made to Charles McVeagh noted as; “April 1 to April 7, 1874 $10.50 – For services as butcher at the Mescalero.” This amount was noted as a deficiency in payment from fiscal year 1874. This amount would be roughly equal to $225 today.

Furthermore, Nellie’s obituary from 1957 lists her father as having been a soldier at Fort Stanton (which was part of the Mescalero) at the time of her birth. Though since she was a toddler when her father passed and lost her mother before she was a teenager, it’s possible he was not still a soldier and instead was an employee. The fort was a part of the Mescalero Apache Reservation, which is where Charles had been working as a butcher a few years prior.

Nice to see Dispersing is still screwing up per diem.

This from a pic of a stone in the desert. Great work Mason, thanks. Thanks as well to Skippy for getting the ball rolling.

Hand Salute. Ready, Two!

Category: Guest Post, The Warrior Code, Valor

Comments (3)

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  1. 5th/77th FA says:

    BZ to the ones who found and replaced the grave marker for this Warrior. From my studies the Apache didn’t care who they were fighting, just so long as they had someone to fight. Mexican Soldiers, Confederate Soldiers, Union Cavalry, other Native Tribes, Jayhawkers, Redlegs, Missouri Go-rillas, Gila Lizards. Maybe it was the Spirit of Cochise who took the original marker.

    Hand Salute to the Troopers of the 8th Cavalry Regiment. And John Gregg, who unlike Artie Custer, was a Soldier’s Soldier.

    Thanks Mason.

  2. Skippy says:

    I had no idea this was where I found it
    It was a week or so after Memorial Day
    And I was playing tour guide to my brother-in-law
    Everything here is closed so I did a road trip
    With him and two kids I had no idea what we were in store for that day !!!!!!
    I done a little reading on the history of the Apache wars here in the southwest see this grave marker
    Jumped out at me. there is a flag pole and because
    Of Memorial Day it was decorated
    I had no idea that a MOH awardee was here and
    I paid my respects. The number of famous and noted people here is quite impressive the 1st governor of New Mexico a quite a few personalities
    From the Lincoln country war and a big list of veterans from the cilvil war of other conflicts
    My salute to all resting here
    And thank you AW1Ed and Mason for the background on this unknown hero

  3. Poetrooper says:

    Thanks Skip, Mason, Ed…

    Lived 6500 feet up on a mountain side in Lincoln County from 2005 to 2013 and loved it. It’s beautiful country…truly the Old West.

    I do wish civilians would learn how to spell cavalry.