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Bill Thayer

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The text that follows is reproduced from (the report of the) Thirtieth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 7th, 1899.

[image ALT: A photograph of a rather thin young man in a United States Army uniform of around 1890. He has an oval face, and wears a neat moustache. He is William Headley Osborne, the subject of this webpage.]

William Headley Osborne

 p69  William Headley Osborne
No. 3405. Class of 1891.
Died August 23d, 1898, at Montauk Point, L. I., aged 28.

Lieutenant William Headley Osborne, of the First U. S. Cavalry, was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., in February, 1870. He belonged to a family which has had representatives in almost every war on this continent. His great great grand-father, Thomas Osborne, of Captain Marsh's troop of Light Horse, was killed at the battle of Monmouth in 1778. On his mother's side, two ancestors took part in the Revolution, and his great grand-father was a Captain in the War of 1812. Finally his father, General Edwin S. Osborne, has a record for gallant service during the Civil War.

 p70  Lieutenant Osborne attended the public schools of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., until he was 14 years of age. He was then sent to the Maryland Military and Naval School, at Oxford, Maryland, where he received his first military training, and where he remained until he received his appointment as a cadet at West Point.

He entered West Point in June, 1887, the youngest member of his class. During his course at the Academy he excelled in mathematics, drawing, engineering and philosophy, and though he did not study especially hard, graduated in June, 1891, number 21 in a class of 65 members, and after spending a two months' graduating leave, in company with several classmates on a European tour, he reported for duty with the First U. S. Cavalry, to which he had been assigned, at Fort Custer, Montana, the headquarters of that regiment.

Lieutenant Osborne was married at Fort Custer, Montana, June 7th, 1893 to Miss Sarah Norvell, daughter of Major Stephen T. Norvell, of the Tenth U. S. Cavalry. Two months afterwards Lieutenant Osborne was sent to Fort Grant, Arizona, the new headquarters of his regiment, where he led the ideal outdoor life of the soldier on the plains, much of the time scouting after renegade Apache Indians, one of the number being the notorious "Kid."

In 1895 Lieutenant Osborne accompanied his troop to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he remained until the breaking out of the Spanish-American war found him ready to share the fortunes of war and if necessary to sacrifice his life for the flag he loved so well. He accompanied his regiment to Chickamauga in April, and in May went with it to Lakeland, Fla., where it was brigaded with the Tenth U. S. Cavalry and the First U. S. Volunteer Cavalry (Roosevelt's Rough Riders).

Lieutenant Osborne accompanied his regiment to Cuba and served with gallantry in the successive battles of the Santiago campaign.

After the surrender of Santiago, on July 17th, the cavalry was  p71 put in camp on high ground. But now the fighting and excitement being over, the reaction set in and officers and men succumbed to fever by the score. The Quartermaster of the First Cavalry was sent home sick and Lieutenant Osborne was designated to take his place. This designation was perhaps his death warrant. He became a martyr to duty, and was obliged to go to Santiago, several miles away, in the hot sun, every day to superintend the unloading of supplies for his regiment. About the 1st of August he remarked that his stomach was beginning to fail him, but he continued to do duty without a murmur. By what must have been superhuman efforts, he kept up until the regiment was loaded upon a transport and started for home August 8th, then he collapsed.

Throughout the voyage he was very ill and fellow officers took turns sitting up with him at night. The day the transport landed at Camp Wickoff,º Montauk Point, N. Y., he seemed somewhat better, and managed to walk off the ship supported by two officers. He was taken to the general hospital and seemed a little better the first day. He was then so thin and wasted that his wife could hardly recognize in him the same splendid specimen of manhood and picture of health whom she had parted with two months before.

Notwithstanding the tender care which his wife hastened to bring him, he grew weaker and weaker until he died, about 7 o'clock on Tuesday evening, August 23d. His remains were taken to Washington and buried in the portion of Arlington National Cemetery reserved for the officers who have fallen in the war with Spain. Close beside where Lieutenant Osborne lies is the grave of General Joseph T. Haskell; a few steps away is that of the brave artillery Captain, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Allyn K. Capron, Sr., and a strange coincidence, that of the son of the latter, Captain Allyn Capron Jr., of the "Rough Riders," a Lieutenant in the Seventh U. S. Cavalry, and who was also Lieutenant Osborne's next door neighbor at Fort Sill, Indian Territory, at the outbreak of the war.

 p72  Fate was unkind to Lieutenant Osborne. If instead of suffering the horrors of a crowded transport, and dying of fever in a camp hospital, he had fallen gloriously, as he would have preferred, on the heights of San Juan, his name would now be acclaimed with those of his friend Capron and a score of others which are almost household words. And yet, Lieutenant Osborne did all that they did and more, for after the fighting was over he sacrificed his fast failing strength in the line of duty in the service of his regiment and his country.

Possessed of a very sunny disposition, warm-hearted, generous, idolized by his men, respected by his superiors, a kind and affectionate husband. Such was the late Lieutenant Osborne.


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Page updated: 5 Jun 16