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The preceding image, and the text that follows, are reproduced from (the report of the) Thirty-Third Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 9th, 1902.
William Herman Wilhelm, who was mortally wounded in action in the Philippines on his thirty-fourth birthday, was born at Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, the son of James Henry and Martha M. Weaver Wilhelm. He was descended from pioneer German and Huguenot settlers in the colony of Penn; among these were Rev. John Bechtel, one of the Fathers of the Reformed Church in America, who located at Germantown, Philadelphia, in 1726, and is prominently known in the ecclesiastical history and literature of that community; George Weaver, a private soldier of the provincial forces in the Indian wars of 1756‑57; and Cornelius and Jacob Weygandt, father and son, the former active in the deliberations of the Northampton County, Pennsylvania, Committee of Observation and Inspection, and of its Standing Committee of Committee Correspondence, 1776‑77, and the latter a Captain of Militia of Northampton County, who was frequently in active service during the Revolutionary war. From the services of these and others, came his right to the membership he held in the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution, and in the Society of Colonial Wars in the District of Columbia. He was also a member of the Masonic Order.
p49 He was educated in the public schools of his native town, and at Ulrich's Preparatory School, Bethlehem, Pa., and entered Lehigh University in 1883, where he won the esteem of the faculty and students; here, by invitation, he became a charter member of the Psi Upsilon Fraternity, a college friendship which he specially prized.
Professor Edward H. Williams, Jr., of Lehigh, writing of him, says:
"I remember very well his coming as a freshman, and even then he was quite a popular boy, and is affectionately remembered by all who came in contact with him. He was a lovable boy and a good student. When I wish to think of a gentleman (in the best sense of the word) I think of I think Captain Wilhelm."
A vacancy occurring in the United States Military Academy for the Eleventh Congressional District of Pennsylvania, a competitive examination was held, and Wilhelm being the successful contestant, Congressman Storm appointed him to the cadetship, and in June, 1884, he was admitted to the Academy — the youngest man in his class.
At West Point he ranked among the first in discipline, and in several of his studies, and after the first year, to the end of the course, he was an officer in the battalion of cadets, "selected from those cadets who have been the most studious, soldier-like in the performance of their duties, and most exemplary in their general deportment."
Major General Wesley Merritt, who was then Superintendent of the Academy, says of him:
"I knew Captain Wilhelm when a Cadet, and at that time he impressed me as an earnest, determined youth, who was duly impressed with his duties, and who was bound to make his mark in his profession. I was greatly saddened to hear of his early, though glorious death. I recollect him well, and I am not mistaken when I say he understood his position as a young soldier, and had enough of the character that makes men of youth. I remember him as an earnest, well-balanced lad who was made for success. He was popular with his classmates, and very justly a favorite with all who knew him." ****
He also won the esteem of his instructors for his ability, p50 soldierly manner, performing every duty with punctuality, attention to details, respect for his superiors, kindliness to his inferiors, together with his manly, genial nature — qualities which remained with him through life.
With his classmates he was a general favorite, many of whom have borne testimony to his great popularity, amiable disposition, uniform courtesy and high standard of honor; to these the news of his death was a great shock. He was the first of his class to meet death in action.
One who knew him well, writes:
"He was a noble fellow whom I knew well as a classmate in the class of '88, United States Military Academy, and I have followed his subsequent honorable career with pride in my friend. He in his life upheld the dignity of an officer and a gentleman, and in his death typified the brave and faithful soldier."
The tribute of another classmate is:
"There was no more popular and thoroughly beloved man in the class of '88. A gentleman always, with a pleasant smile and greeting for everyone, with a strong and beautiful character, he was truly the most universally loved and respected man in his class. No one ever did or could say a thing against him. He was a cadet of the highest type and one whose presence and self were habitually known and felt in sustaining the high ideals of the Military Academy."
One who was with him after he was wounded, says:
"His men fairly worshipped him. The army had no braver officer, and his untimely death is a great loss to the service. His task, though comparatively short in duration, is done, and it was a duty well performed. To him can indeed be applied with perfect propriety, the beautiful lines:
'None knew thee but to love thee,
Nor named thee, but to praise.'
"While we of '88 deeply mourn the departure from our midst, yet we are all, and can justly be proud, of having had such a one in our class."
With the cadets generally he was held in high esteem. On the day of his death the class of 1886 held its annual reunion at Manila. Expression of regret at his death was made in the following minute:
"As a soldier, his natural place was where death met him, leading p51 men. He was not an intriguer for place or position, but found his duty and pleasure running parallel in scrupulously exercising the functions of his office. A man of high ideas and generous impulses, he was naturally beloved by a large circle of friends, and what is so great as friendship — the only reward of virtue is virtue — the only way to have a friend is to be one.
He graduated June 11, 1888, thirty-fifth in a class of forty-four, and was commissioned Second Lieutenant in the Tenth Infantry.
He was on graduating leave at Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, to September 28, 1888, when he joined his company at Fort Crawford, Colorado, and served at that post to April, 1889; with his regiment (Battalion Adjutant, April to September, 1889, and Acting Quartermaster and Commissary, September 5 to November, 1889) in the field in Oklahoma to April, 1890; Fort Reno, Indian Territory, to May, 1890; with company in Oklahoma to August, 1890, being in command of company July 23 to August 14, 1890; on duty with Indian scouts at Fort Reno, Oklahoma, from August 16, 1890, to December 31, 1890, and commanding Indian scouts at Fort Reno and in the field January 1 to March 25, 1891; on duty at Fort Lewis, Colorado, to September 16, 1891; on leave at Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, September 17, 1891, to January 14, 1892; with his company at Fort Stanton, New Mexico, from January, 1892, to September, 1893, being Post Quartermaster and Commissary from June, 1892, to July, 1893; at Rio Rindoso, New Mexico, to October, 1893; on leave at Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, October 23 to December 12, 1893; with company at Fort Stanton, New Mexico, to October, 1894, being in command of company July to November 15, 1894; with company at Fort Sill, O. T., to March, 1895; undergoing examination for promotion at Fort Leavenworth, Kas., March 16 to April 6, 1895; with company at Fort Sill, O. T., to August 10, 1895; promoted First Lieutenant July 31, 1895, and joined Fourteenth Infantry August 15, 1895, p52 and served with it at Vancouver Barracks, Washington, to October, 1897, commanding company from November 28, 1896, to March 19, 1897; on detached service in Indian Territory, November 1 to 22, 1896, and on detached service at Warm Spring Indian reservation, July 20 to August 3, 1897; at Willets Point, New York,º under instructions at the Torpedo School, from October 21, 1897, to April, 1898; whilst here, war with Spain was declared. Eager to engage in active service, he was permitted to join his former regiment (Tenth Infantry) then (April 23, 1898) at Mobile, Ala., on its way to Cuba. Soon after reaching Tampa, Fla., (May 1) he was appointed an Aide-de‑Camp to Brigadier General Simon Snyder, United States Volunteers, commanding the Second Division, Fourth Army Corps, under whom he had served in the Tenth Infantry ten years previous. He remained at Tampa until September, 1898, when he received a month's leave to recuperate from the arduous duties of the summer's campaign. On October 24th he joined General Snyder at Huntsville, Ala., and on December 1st accompanied him with the Army of Occupation to Cuba (sailing from Savannah, Ga., on the "Manitoba") and spent the winter in Sancti-Spiritus, in the Province of Santa Clara, of which General Snyder had been made the Military Governor. He returned to the United States from Havana, where he was examined for promotion, reaching New York April 5, 1899. On March 31, 1899,a he was promoted to Captain, with orders to proceed to the Philippines. He left Philadelphia on April 11, 1899, and arrived at San Francisco April 15th, and on the 26th sailed on the United States transport "Morgan City," reaching Honolulu on May 4th, where he remained until May 6th. He arrived at Manila May 27th, and on the 31st joined his regiment (Fourteenth Infantry) in the trenches at Pasay, where they were continuously under fire for about a month.
On June 26th, with his company, he reached Bacoor, where they did outpost duty, and incidentally guarded a rather p53 important bridge. Their arrival there was a termination of a very hot campaign, begun on the 9th of June, against the Insurgents; the regiment lost heavily, and of four engagements had during that time, that at Zapote River was the most important. Here his regiment lost two officers and nine enlisted men and thirteen wounded; sixty‑two Insurgents were buried in front of their position, and others were known to have been killed.
Early in August Captain Wilhelm was assigned to the Twenty-first Regiment of Infantry, and placed in command of one hundred and fifty selected men from the Twenty-first, which, with a like number from the Fourth Cavalry and the Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth Regiments of Infantry, began a movement against the Insurgents, which, after continuous hard fighting, led up to the battle of San Mateo (where General Lawton lost his life in December following) on August 12th. In this engagement he displayed such conspicuous bravery as to merit a recommendation from the commanding officer, Major James Parker, Fourth Cavalry, and endorsed by Brigadier General Samuel B. M. Young, who was an eye‑witness to the engagement, for the "brevet of Major for gallant and meritorious services, brave action and cool and deliberate judgment while commanding his company in action under a galling fire from a superior force of the enemy protected behind strong breast-works." He was also recommended for a medal of honor for bravery in action.
Following his engagement his company lay for five weeks in the trenches near Calamba, where, on October 3rd and 23rd, they engaged the enemy with considerable loss to the Insurgents, that of the American forces being slight; in the latter engagement a rifle ball passed through his hat carrying with it a lock of his hair.
On December 26th, with the troops, he left Calamba, and the following day reached Culi Culi, there to recuperate, as the regiment was badly broken in health; upon their departure p54 from Calamba, a complimentary concert, by the Thirty-ninth Infantry Military Band, under the command of F. Mortimer Howe, Chief Musician, was tendered him on the evening of December 24th.
After four months of quiet rest at Culi Culi, the troops, early in May, took up quarters at Pasay, and by the end of the month all the troops had been removed from there, excepting Captain Wilhelm's company (B).
Early in July, 1900, the Fourteenth Infantry, which had charge of the Binando District, San Fernando, Manila, was sent to China, and Captain Wilhelm, with troops of the Twenty-first Infantry, was placed in charge of this, the most lawless district in Manila, a perilous duty which he performed with signal ability.
Upon the return of the Fourteenth Regiment from China, in November, the Twenty-first was assigned to various points, Captain Wilhelm's Company (B) and Company "D" being ordered to Batangas Province, with headquarters at Lipa, the second largest city in the Island of Luzon.
On December 7 he was placed in command of a detachment from Companies "B" and "D," consisting of one hundred men, and fifty of Troop "M," First Cavalry, and ordered to clear out a certain section of country on Laguna de Taal; here they struck the enemy about dawn of the 7th, killing and capturing a number of Insurgents with rifle and ammunition. In this engagement Captain Wilhelm lost two men killed and one wounded, and at 5 P.M. of that day was back in Lipa, having marched •twenty-eight miles, Up to this time he had taken part in eight distinct actions, and during his residence here scarcely a day passed that the enemy was not encountered.
On January 22, 1901, with a detachment of his company, he left Lipa for Guinayangan, Tayabas Province, and arrived there February 2nd, on which day he again engaged the enemy, p55 the mountains thereabouts being infested with band of native robbers.
On April 24, 1901, he was appointed Regimental Commissary and was ordered to headquarters at Lipa. This position he occupied until the day of his death. On his return to Lipa, in addition to his duties as Commissary Officer, he became active in searching for the men of Malvar's command (the most important Insurgent force yet at large), and succeeded in gathering in several prisoners, arms and ammunition. He was keen for these "hikes," which were frequently made by him into the surrounding country.
It was destined that Captain Wilhelm should fight his last fight on anniversary days of more than ordinary interest to him — that of his birth, and of his graduation from the Military Academy. At 1 A.M., June 10, 1901, Captain Wilhelm, and Lieutenant Anton Springer, and Lieutenant Charles R. Ramsey,b of the Twenty-first Infantry, and Lieutenant Walter H. Lee, of the Engineers, with a command of forty-five men, composed of sixteen men of the regimental band, five native scouts, and the remainder from Company "D," proceeded towards the foot-hills •about six miles northeast of Lipa. Here a body of Insurgents were found intrenched with an abundance of ammunition and a force which probably outnumbered Captain Wilhelm's five to one. When within easy range the enemy opened fire, and early in the fight a bullet passed through his hat, and Lieutenant Springer was the first officer to fall, dying instantly. Lieutenant Lee was wounded, losing two fingers. Not waiting to have these dressed, he, with rifle in hand and firing as he pressed forward, received the fatal wound resulting in his death half an hour later. Lieutenant Ramsey was the next officer to fall, receiving a wound in the left breast from which he died a month later.
At this juncture Wilhelm withdrew his forces a short distance from its advanced position to get better cover, and it p56 was then that he received his fatal wound — just as the enemy was dispersing and before the arrival of Troop "M," First Cavalry, and a detachment of the Sixth Cavalry, which had been sent to reinforce him.
He was wounded in the right breast, the ball, after piercing the lung and fracturing the shoulder blade, lodged in his back.
One non‑commissioned officer (Corporal Rogers, Company "D") and a native scout, were killed, and two non‑commissioned officers (Sergeants Stearns and Gregory, of Company "D") and one private (Cork, of the band) were wounded. Gregory's wound proved fatal. The Insurgent's casualties were quite considerable.
Captain Wilhelm was immediately removed to the United States hospital at Lipa, where he died about 2 P.M. of June 12th.
On June 17th the funeral services were held at minister. The last sad rites for the burial of the dead, of the Protestant Episcopal Church, were read by Chaplain Charles S. Walkley. Governor Taft, with the Civil Commission (which adjourned an important meeting) and a large number of officers, with some ladies and civilians, were in attendance. The floral offerings were profuse and beautiful.
The honorary pall bearers were Captains Herman Hall and Almon L. Parmerter,º of the Twenty-first Infantry; Charles H. Martin and Henry G. Learnard, of the Fourteenth Infantry, and his classmates, Captains William R. Sample, Third Infantry, and Guy H. Preston, Ninth Cavalry. The bearers were six Sergeants of the Fourteenth Infantry — Captain Wilhelm's former regiment; Company H, commanded by Captain Joseph Frazier, acted as escort, and the band of the Fourteenth headed the procession, playing a solemn funeral march. On reaching the Mortuary Chapel, where the remains lay awaiting shipment, "taps" were sounded. On June 20th, all p57 that was mortal of this gallant soldier was forwarded from Manila on the transport "Indiana," and reached San Francisco on July 17th, and his old home at Mauch Chunk, Pa., where his parents reside (he having been unmarried) on the 26th.
On July 30th, Captain Wilhelm's body — its features natural as if in sleep — was laid to rest. The citizens of his native place, desirous of attesting their appreciation of his noble life and achievements, and their sorrow at his death, were privileged to take charge of the funeral arrangements. The services in his old home, and at St. Paul's M. E. Church, were in charge of the Rev. Wm. Quigley Bennett, S. T. D., Ph. D., other local clergymen participating. The military escort consisted of men of the Forty-ninth Coast Artillery from Fort Columbus, New York, under command of Captain John Conklin — Sergeants therefrom acting as bearers. The local escort consisted of the citizens' committee, Grand Army of the Republic, Sons of Veterans, Soldiers of the Spanish-American War, and various organizations and the citizens generally. At the cemetery a dirge was played by the Trombone Choir of the Moravian Church of Bethlehem, taps were sounded by a bugler of the Artillery in attendance, and re‑echoed by the adjacent hills and mountains overlooking the beautiful Lehigh Valley, over which Captain Wilhelm as a boy loved to roam.
Captain Wilhelm was richly endowed with all the qualities that make a gentleman and a soldier, and these are summed up in the following eulogy by a brother officer who knew him well:
"To the officers of the army he was 'Billy,' and we loved him as a comrade and soldier. Brave, true, devoted and loyal. Respectful to his superiors, considerate and kind to those under his command. Captain Wilhelm won the respect of every one with whom he came in contact. Courtly in his manner, obliging and willing to advise those in distress, and ever ready to assist those in want."
"A brave officer, true gentleman, loyal to his country, loyal to his p58 flag, loyal to the uniform he so proudly wore. Loyalty was his motto. As he lived — he died. Loyal to his country, loyal to his God."
"He had not an enemy in the world. In battle he was brave, but not rash. For his life he cared not, but the lives of his soldiers were ever his thought. For the enemies of his country he had no consideration, until they met defeat. His prisoners of war were treated with kindness, the wounded and sick received attention and care."
"Poor Billy Wilhelm, we loved, respected and admired you. Your memory will ever be cherished by your friends. Your bravery, loyalty and devotion to duty will ever be our pride."
"Taps never sounded over a better, braver, more devoted and loyal soldier than dear old Billy Wilhelm."
"God bless him."
The esteem in which he was held by the enlisted men is indicated by the following resolutions passed by his company:
Guinayangan, Tayabas Prov., P. I., June 24, 1901.
"Whereas, It seems eminently fitting that the member of Co. B should while the army in sorrow bears his remains to the grave, give formal expression to their profound grief on account of this, their irreparable loss; therefore, be it,
"Resolved, By Company B, Twenty-first Infantry, that it is no idle, or feigned tribute to his memory to say that one of the most uninterrupted, successful careers ever known in these islands came to an end when Captain William H. Wilhelm, Twenty-first Infantry, met his death from a Filipino bullet in the far‑off island of Luzon while leading his men. Thus peremptorily called into eternity while in the maturity of his powers, and at the pinnacle of his fame, with his last breath uttering words of counsel to his men, died an officer in whom all the kindlier feelings of the human heart flowed in a perpetual stream during his whole life long, and who often shared his last drop of water or hard tack with his men. He was as simple in many things as a child, and that his nature was essentially fine and lovable is proved by the character of his friends. His Colonel burst into tears when the news of his death reached him."
"Resolved, That to the bereaved family of the distinguished dead, the members of Company B, Twenty-first Infantry, beg leave to tender the assurance of their profoundest sympathy and condolence in this their great affliction."
"Resolved, That a copy of the foregoing resolution be forwarded the family of the deceased, and also to the Army and Navy Journal."
"Quartermaster Sergeant Company B, Twenty-first Infantry."
p59 The official regimental orders announcing his death is as follows:
"Headquarters Twenty-first Infantry,
Lipa, Province of Batangas,
Luzon, P. I., June 12, 1901.
"The regimental commander announces the death of Captain W. H. Wilhelm, Twenty-first Infantry, from the effect of a wound received in a fight with insurgents on June 10, 1901."
"Captain Wilhelm was born at Mauch Chunk, Pa., June 9,º 1867, entered the Military Academy June 15, 1884, and upon graduation, in June, 1888, was assigned to the Tenth Infantry. He served as First Lieutenant of the Fourteenth Infantry, and was promoted Captain of the Twenty-first Infantry March 31, 1899. He joined the regiment in the Philippines, August 5, 1899, and has served with it continuously since."
"His whole service has been conspicuous for efficiency and conscientious devotion to every duty. At all times ready and anxious for active service, in which he displayed the highest order of courage and judgment, he was no less efficient as a staff officer."
"In his last fight, although largely outnumbered and operating over a most difficult ground, he kept his men perfectly in hand, and when he fell, left them disposed in the best possible order. In his death the service loses one of its most valuable officers."
"As a mark of respect the officers of the regiment will wear the usual badge of mourning for thirty days."
"By order of Colonel Kline.
(Signed,) C. M. Truitt,
Captain Twenty-first Infantry, Adjutant."
The esteem in which Captain Wilhelm was held, and the value placed upon his professional ability, is evinced in the following extracts from letters:
"I first met your son shortly after he graduated in 1888. We served together on General Snyder's staff, and since he joined the Twenty-first Infantry we have been together a great deal, and I soon learned to appreciate his sterling qualities. He was a general favorite in the regiment and honored and esteemed by all who knew him, and his death has cast a deep gloom over us." (Captain Charles M. Truitt, Adjutant Twenty-first United States Infantry.)
"He died nobly, he died bravely, his death was a soldier's death to which he had dedicated his life. It has left a void it will be hard to fill. (Colonel Jacob Kline, Commanding Twenty-first United States Infantry.)
p60 "I had admirable opportunities of knowing the splendid professional work that this officer did in the Philippines. His last service in which he lost his life, was an admirably pre‑arranged plan to take a Filipino stronghold, which undoubtedly would have succeeded, as all the dispositions were made with great wisdom and discretion, had it not been for the extraordinary fact that every officer in the command was killed or wounded. I cannot speak too highly of Captain Wilhelm." (Major General Arthur MacArthur, United States Army, Commanding Division of the Philippines.)
"He was one of the most promising officers of the United States Army, and had already endeared himself to all with whom he came in contact, by his genial manner, his lofty character and marked professional zeal. By his death the army has lost one of its bravest men, and his many friends a comrade of signal worth and attractions." (Lieutenant General Nelson A. Miles, Commanding the United States Army.)
By directions of the President of the United States, War Department General Orders No. 16, February 14, 1902, a battery on the Fort Flagler, Washington Military Reservation, has been named "Battery Wilhelm" in his honor, and in the nominations made by the President, and sent to the Senate for confirmation, is that of Captain Wilhelm, for promotion to the brevet rank of Major, "for distinguished gallantry in action at San Mateo, Luzon, August 12, 1899."
No higher tribute could be paid him than that of one of his ranking officers, who knew him well:
"Captain Wilhelm, knightly soldier, kindly gentleman, sterling friend; living you were an example of all that is good in American manhood; dead your memory is an inspiration for American patriotism and self-sacrifice."
Ethan Allen Weaver.
Philadelphia, April 11, 1902.
a Sic: the date of his promotion is given in the printed text as being before the date of his examination for it.
b Heitman's Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army spells his name differently, identifying him as Charles Rufus Ramsay. (Not a West Point graduate.)
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