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Bill Thayer

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 p160 
[image ALT: A photograph of a middle-aged man with a brush mustache and a serious but alert air, wearing a dress military uniform with a long looping braid on the right shoulder, a few large medals on the left breast. He wears cotton gloves and holds his hat in his right hand, his arm folded across his waist so as to show the gold insignia of rank on his sleeve. He is Henry Heistand, a West Point graduate whose career is detailed on this webpage.]

Colonel Henry Olcot Sheldon Heistand

The preceding image, and the text that follows, are reproduced from (the report of the) Sixtieth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 11, 1925.

Henry Olcot Sheldon Heistand
No. 2745 Class of 1878.
Died, August 8, 1924, at Washington, D. C., aged 68 years.

Henry Olcot Sheldon Heistand was born in Richwood, Ohio, April 30, 1856. His father, his grandfather and his great grandfather were Methodist ministers. His character and his ability entitled him to follow in their footsteps, but he chose instead to serve his country.

His early education was limited to that offered by the grammar school of the town. But he was naturally studious and was fortunate in having an exceptionally well qualified teacher, Mr. Wilber Ferguson, a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University. Mr. Ferguson was so thorough in his methods that Heistand gave him credit for laying the foundation of all his later success.

At the age of sixteen, he himself began teaching in a district school. For two years he taught, while working at night in a drug store and studying medicine, hoping to follow in his father's profession, his father having been a physician before he went into the ministry. Here he read one day of a competitive examination due three days later for a vacancy in the Military Academy. He presented himself with twelve others and there won his appointment. This short notice in the daily paper changed his whole later life.

 p161  He entered the Military Academy on September 1, 1874. Upon graduation he was assigned as an Additional Second Lieutenant to the 11th Infantry, in which regiment he had all of his line service. While on graduation leave, on Sep. 19, 1878, he married Mary Jane Rippey of Delaware, Ohio. His groomsmen were three classmates, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.J. Franklin Bell, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.James S. Pettit and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Nat W. Phister,º Bell being his best man.

His first station was on the frontier at Fort Custer, Montana. Almost immediately he was sent out in command of a detachment from his regiment to build a telegraph line from Fort Custer to Helena, Montana. On one occasion on this expedition, being unable to make camp near wood during a blizzard, the party was forced to use some of its stores for fuel. During a part of the time they had no salt. What fresh meat they had they got with their rifles. All the party suffered from frost bite during the winter.

The following year, 1879, he was Quartermaster of the column that left Camp Custer and established Camp Poplar River near the Fort Peck Indian agency. This command marched to the site, went into temporary camp, built its own quarters and store houses from timber that the men cut down nearby, in the death of a Montana winter. His wife accompanied him on this expedition, as she did on all of his moves except when he was in the field against the hostile Indians.

In 1881 he took the field as Quartermaster for the large command that was gathered for the Sitting Bull Campaign.

Other frontier posts at which he was stationed were Fort Abraham Lincoln and Fort Yates, Dakota, and Whipple Barracks, Arizona. He also served for a time in the East at Fort Ontario and Fort Niagara, New York.

His close association with the Indians on the frontier, in garrison and in campaign, combined with his keen observation, made him one of our foremost authorities on Indian affairs. His wife also profited by her experiences. Her many interesting stories of the Indians and of the military forces on the frontier have been widely read.a

Like all the junior line officers of his time, it fell to his lot, owing to the scarcity of staff officers, to perform the duties of Quartermaster, Commissary, Ordnance, Engineer and Signal Officer — sometimes all of these duties at the same time. His industry and ability in these staff duties, as well as his proper duties, gained him frequent commendatory notice from his superiors. He was noted for his zeal and good judgment in the performance of all his duties. He set for himself a high standard early in life and lived up to it, earning quickly the reputation that brought him honor in later years.

 p162  His attention to his military duties did not prevent his taking part heartily in the sports available to frontier garrisons of early days. He spent long days in the open hunting and fishing. He was particularly expert with shot gun and rifle, a medallist in department competition. At this time, building on the strong constitution that he had inherited, he laid the basis of the good health that carried him through the confining duties of his later service. A clean life and exemplary habits contributed in no small amount to his good health.

He was a man of unusual attainments in literature and art, being one of that small group of gifted artists that is numbered among the graduates of the Military Academy. These and other outside interests were his diversion. His writing on military, patriotic and public questions were numerous and widely published. Among them were a book on Alaskab and numerous book reviews. As a public speaker, too, his services were in constant demand at military and civil gatherings. He was a steward in his church and a trustee of the American University in Washington. Another of his interests, and to him one of the most important, though little known even to his most intimate friends, was the obtaining of employment for discharged and retired enlisted men. All these activities were carried on in addition to the ever increasing load of his military duties. His personal correspondence incident to them was enormous.

His discretion, his loyalty to the Government and his superiors, and his diplomatic handling of public affairs soon earned him the confidence of his associates. As a consequence he was frequently entrusted with delicate and important Government missions, all of which he terminated with great success.

Following many years of service with his regiment, most of which had been spent west of the Mississippi River, he was appointed Military Aide to Mr. McKinley, then Governor of Ohio. Upon Mr. McKinley's nomination to the Presidency, Heistand was appointed his confidential secretary. When Mr. McKinley assumed his position as President the Heistands moved to Washington, where the then Captain Heistand was placed on duty in the Secretary of War's office as Military Aide to the President. The close friendship of the McKinleys and the Heistands terminated only with the death of President McKinley and his wife.

In the Fall of 1898, being still on duty in Washington, he was appointed Aide to President Sanford Dole of the Hawaiian Islands, then with a party on an official visit to the United States. He met them in Chicago, escorted them to Washington, and was in charge of the extensive entertainment accorded the party for two weeks, including a reception at the White House.

 p163  At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War he was appointed Adjutant General of the 2nd Army Corps. Upon his relief from this duty he was appointed Military Attaché to the American Embassy in France under General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Horace Porter. His duties included those of American Military Attaché to the Paris Expedition. During his tour of duty at the French capital he secured permission to fly the American flag from the top of the Eiffel Tower during the celebration of the Fourth of July by the American colony in Paris, a courtesy that had never been accorded before to any nation. Surely no soldier was ever more loyal to or loved his flag more than he. During this celebration, General Porter, the ambassador, addressed an enormous gathering in the Place de la Concorde.

While in Paris he received orders to join the China Relief Expedition. He joined by the shortest route, through the Suez Canal. He served throughout this campaign as General Chaffee's Chief of Staff.

There followed a short tour of home service in Washington and San Francisco, after which he went again on foreign service as Adjutant General of the North Philippines, and later as Adjutant General of the Philippine Department. He had now reached the rank of Colonel in the Adjutant General's Department.

He returned home to serve as Adjutant General of the Division of the Atlantic and of the Department of the East. Another tour of foreign service soon followed, again as Adjutant General of the Philippines Division. Upon his return from what was to be his last tour of foreign service he went to Washington, where for a time he acted as Adjutant General of Army. He then went to Chicago as Adjutant General of the Central Department. He was on this duty when the United States entered the World War.

His next station was Camp Grant, Illinois, where as Camp Adjutant and Adjutant of the 86th Division, he organized the administrative forces required for these two commands. He carried on the administration of these two offices with thousands of drafted men passing through, without friction. His ability as organizer and administrator were never more fully try or more fully demonstrated.

As his failing health prevented his going overseas, he returned to the Central Department. A few months later, at the request of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Barry who was commanding the Department of the East, he was transferred as Adjutant General to that department with station at Governor's Island, New York. There he was retired on April 30, 1920, after forty‑six years of service, having reached the statutory age for retirement.

He plunged immediately into Red Cross work in New York City as it irked him to be idle for a moment. While in the midst of this work, one year later, he was struck down by the illness that later was to become fatal.

 p164  During the last two weeks of his illness he passed into long periods of unconsciousness as he became weaker and weaker. Rousing himself a short time the day before he died, he reaffirmed his faith in his Maker and bade his wife goodbye.

He died on August 8, 1924, in Washington, and lies in Arlington Cemetery. So passed away one of the most loyal sons of the Academy, a high-minded American citizen and a sincere Christian gentleman.

W. R. S.


Thayer's Notes:

a Elizabeth Heistand was the author of An Army Doctor's Wife on the Frontier • Letters From Alaska and the Far West, 1874‑1878.

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b The Territory of Alaska (Hudson-Kimberly Publishing Co., Kansas City, 1898). Col. Heistand wrote also a book-length biography, Abraham Lincoln (privately printed, 1909).


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Page updated: 5 Jun 16