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Bill Thayer

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[image ALT: A head-and-shoulders photograph, profile left, of a middle-aged man. He is balding, and has a short moustache; he wears a plain United States Army uniform tunic with a low-rising collar; on his left shoulder (the only one we see clearly) an epaulet of rank. He is William Herbert Baldwin, a West Point graduate and Army officer whose career is detailed on this webpage.]

Lieutenant-Colonel William Herbert Baldwin

The preceding image, and the text that follows, are reproduced from (the report of the) Thirty-Eighth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 13th, 1907.

 p36  William Herbert Baldwin
No. 2702. Class of 1877.
Died August 28th, 1905, at Manila, P. I., aged 51.

William Herbert Baldwin was born in West Bradford Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, February 23, 1854. His father, John R. Baldwin, is living on the homestead. His mother was Esther Walter. Both parents were descended from the early Swedish, Welsh and English settlers along the Delaware. They had received instruction at an Academy at Unionville, Pa., and before marriage had been successful teachers.

The boyhood of the subject of this sketch was full of activity. Brothers and sisters furnished plenty of emulation, and he was never at a loss to find ways of adopting the material found on the farm so, that fun and diversion were obtained. As the children grew older, specific duties were assigned to each, partly to get the farm work done and partly to direct  p37 surplus energy into right habits. To William and his twin brother were assigned the feeding of cattle at a barn some distance away. After a time their father noted that one steer was not gaining weight. Suspecting negligence, on the part of these two sons, he came upon them at feeding time and found them practicing the arts of the equestrian and the cavalry­man mounted on the steer. Wrestling, boxing, swimming, corner ball, fox hunting and catching fish with the hands or with a spear were sports that William liked. It may be noted that a prominent feature in these sports is the putting forth of special effort at an opportune moment.

He attended a country school until his sixteenth year, when he was sent to an academy for six months. After teaching for a few months he chose pharmacy as a profession. The method of preparation was practical and utilitarian. The candidate handled and compounded drugs under the direction of a preceptor, and then helped to sell them.

When a competitive examination to select a candidate for a cadet­ship at the United States Military Academy was announced by Mr. Townsend, Congressman of the Seventh District of Pennsylvania, in the summer of 1873, it was "farwell to my boke and my devocion" to pharmacy. He had two weeks left to brush up his knowledge after appointment before he reported at West Point.

During the period at the Academy and afterward he held the interest of those who knew him at this time. He was thoroughly loyal to old associations. He graduated with the Class of '77. Except for four months, with his wife in Europe, his leaves of absence were spent among the scenes of his youth.

He was married to Julia, daughter of James Thorne and Hannah Cromwell Townsend, of Cornwall, N. Y., January 13, 1881.

Colonel Baldwin had five sons. Only two survive him. The first, John Townsend, was born March 7th, 1882, at Fort  p38 Meade, Dakota and died at the same place April 26th, 1885. The second son, Herbert, named for his father, was born at Fort Meade, Dakota, June 30, 1885 and is living in San Francisco, where he is engaged in business. He married Emilie Reed, daughter of Mr. & Mrs. George Whitney Reed, of the same city, January 26th, 1905. Then came Marion, the third son, named for the Colonel's twin brother. He was born near Jessup, Iowa, October 4th, 1886, and died eleven years later in Berkeley, California, November 21st, 1897. The fourth son, James Cromwell, was born in Berkeley August 31st, 1898, and died suddenly of diphtheria in San Jose, Cal., while the Colonel was on duty in Manila. The fifth, named Julian, for his mother, was born in Berkeley on July 11th, 1901, and is a fine active boy, living with his mother, who is temporarily at her old home in Cornwall, N. Y.

The Colonel was a most devoted father, and the loss of his boys was a series of crushing blows, from which he never could quite recover.

His family joined him in Manila nearly a year before his death and the recollection of a very large man romping with a very small boy (then only three) on the Lunetta, in the evenings, must remain in the memory of those who happened to observe it as an unusual sight.

His wife was with him at every station, often following with the children after he had prepared a home for them. She, with her two sons and a sister, accompanied the Colonel's remains from Manila to Pennsylvania. Colonel Baldwin was buried in the Bradford Friends' Meeting Cemetery with his three sons, close by the place of his birth, which he had, shortly before his death, prepared to purchase for a permanent dwelling against his retirement. As his home was the center of his life, he contemplated with pleasure the day when the homestead would yield him that delight of age — the pivot of all family movements.

 p39  Colonel Baldwin had abundant strength and energy. He was pleased when an additional opportunity offered for enterprise in his line of duty. Real character in men absorbed his interest; efficiency in any one excited his admiration. His great vitality, perhaps, caused him to act almost impulsively in favor of any one who had the least claim on his assistance. While in the Commissary Department he kept in mind the welfare of soldiers on expeditions or at distant stations. Often he referred to the facetious saying of soldiers, "when a cannon ball passes to the rear," and would add "I don't want them to feel that way."

The following circular succinctly states the career of Colonel Baldwin after he graduated from the Military Academy:

War Department, Office of the Commissary General

September 8, 1905.

(Circular No. 2) :—

The Commissary General announces with profound regret the death of Lieutenant Colonel William H. Baldwin, Deputy Commissary General, U. S. Army which occurred on August 28, 1905, at the Division Hospital at Manila, Philippine Islands of septicaemia.

Colonel Baldwin was born at Mortonville,​a Pennsylvania, on February 23, 1854, and was graduated from the U. S. Military Academy at the age of 23. He was then attached to the 5th Cavalry, but in 1877 was assigned to the 7th Cavalry, and served for a time as regimental quartermaster. He was appointed 1st lieutenant of the 9th Cavalry in 1890, and transferred to the 7th Cavalry two years afterwards. In 1896 he entered the Subsistence Department as a captain, and was for a short period stationed at Chicago in the depot there. He attained his majority in 1898, and was promoted to be lieutenant colonel and deputy commissary general in January, 1905. Soon after the beginning of the Spanish-American war he was made a lieutenant colonel and chief commissary of volunteers, and in 1899 was appointed a colonel and commissary of subsistence, under the act of July 7, 1898, and held that rank until the following spring when he was honorably discharged. On May 10, 1901 the Commissary General recommended Major Baldwin for promotion to the grade of brigadier general of volunteers.

In the early portion of his army career he was stationed on the frontier and participated in the notable Indian campaigns of the 7th Cavalry. He was transferred to San Francisco in 1896. During and  p40 following the Spanish-American war, while stationed there as purchasing commissary, he rendered arduous and important service, and in every way proved himself fully equal to the great responsibilities that devolved upon him. He did more purchasing and had a wider experience during the period when there was a big army in the Philippines and during the China expedition, than any other officer in the department. While holding the office of subsistence superintendent of the army transport service in San Francisco, and when that service was at its maximum, he labored indefatigably and effectively, and acquitted himself with the greatest credit.

Colonel Baldwin left the United States for the Philippines in January, 1903, to take charge of the depot at Manila, and had an active and successful tour in the islands, cut short by his untimely end. He proved an able administrator, met every demand made upon him in a time of trial and difficulty, and through his exertions and vigilance saved thousands of dollars to the Government. His work at that depot can not be too highly commended.

He exhibited energy, foresight and executive capacity in his work. He possessed initiative, was quick of decision, thorough in method, and untiring. He was a big man in every way — in physique, in brain, in heart — and was in a marked degree a man of action. He did things, and this positive element was reflected in earnest convictions, in strong attachments, and in a loyal nature.

Colonel Baldwin was a man of the highest character — was conscientious, generous and appreciative. Popular alike with soldier and civilian, he made friends easily and held them. In every field of service, as well as in social life, he won respect and confidence, and met that infallible test which bears testimony to the nobility of man's nature — that of being beloved by his subordinates.

His death came suddenly and as a great shock, while yet in the prime of physical and mental manhood and at a time of his greatest usefulness. The Corps has lost one of its ablest officers and administrators and the Commissary General a loyal and devoted friend, but he will long be mourned and remembered by a circle far wider than that circumscribed by the Army.

By authority of the Secretary of War.

J. F. Weston,

Commissary General, U. S. Army.

Thayer's Note:

a Mortonville proper — today — is a tiny place just outside West Bradford Township, but the western area of the township includes several farms that are much closer to Mortonville than to any other population center.

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Page updated: 5 Jan 15