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Bill Thayer

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 [decorative delimiter] Class of 1806

Vol. I

(Born Mas.)

Eleazer D. Wood

(Ap'd N. Y.)

Eleazer Derby Wood: Born Dec., 1783, Lunenburg, MA.

Military History. — Cadet of the Military Academy, May 17, 1805, to Oct. 30, 1806, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to

Second Lieut., Corps of Engineers, Oct. 30, 1806.

Served: as Asst. Engineer in the construction of the defenses at Governor's Island, New York harbor, 1807; at the Military Academy,

(First Lieut., Corps of Engineers, Feb. 23, 1808)

1807‑8; as Asst. Engineer at Fts. Norfolk and Nelson, Va., 1808‑10; at West Point, N. Y., 1810‑12, as Military Agent; and in the War of

(Captain, Corps of Engineers, July 1, 1812)

1812‑15 with Great Britain, in General Harrison's Campaign of 1813, in the Northwest, and in the Campaign of 1814, on the Niagara Frontier, being engaged in the Defense of Ft. Meigs, Apr. 28-May 9, 1813, participating in the Sortie of May 5, on the British batteries and approaches,

(Bvt. Major, May 6, 1813, for Distinguished Services in the Defense of Ft. Meigs)

— Skirmish at Chatham, U. C. (in command of the Artillery), Oct. 4, 1813, — Battle of the Thames, U. C., Oct. 5, 1813, — Capture of Fort Erie, U. C., July 3, 1814, — Battle of Chippewa, July 5, 1814, — Reconnoissance of Ft. George, July 21, 1814, — Battle of Niagara, July 25, 1814, — and Defense of Ft. Erie, Aug. 3-Sep. 17, 1814, including its

(Bvt. Lieut.‑Colonel, July 25, 1814, for Gallant Conduct in the Battle of Niagara, U. C.)

Bombardment, Aug. 13‑15, Repulse of the enemy's Assault, Aug. 15, and Sortie from it, Sep. 17, 1814, when, while gallantly leading and directing a column on the British batteries and siege works, he was

Killed, Sep. 17, 1814, in the Sortie from Ft. Erie, U. C.: Aged 31.

Buried (?),​a1 West Point Cemetery, West Point, NY.

Biographical Sketch.

Bvt. Lieut.‑Colonel Eleazer Derby Wood was born, Dec., 1783, at Lunenburg, Mass., and was descended from brave New England stock.

Except that young Wood commenced the study of medicine at Alburg, Vermont, we know little of his early history before going, May 17, 1805, to West Point. While a Cadet he was noted for his soldierly qualities, rigid compliance with regulations, devotion to duty, and fondness for the sciences, in which he displayed such proficiency that he was at times detailed for engineer duty in New York harbor. He was graduated from the Military Academy and promoted, Oct. 30, 1806, to be a Second Lieutenant of Engineers, U. S. Army, and was immediately placed on duty with Colonel Williams, the Chief Engineer, to assist in the construction of the defenses of Governor's Island, New York harbor. In the winter of 1807‑8, he was occupied in his professional studies at West Point, the headquarters of the Corps of Engineers, in which he became a First Lieutenant, Feb. 23, 1808. Soon after, he was ordered to Norfolk, Va., to aid in fortifying its harbor, where he remained until 1810, when he again returned to West Point, becoming then the Military Agent of the post till 1812. From there he was ordered to the charge of the defenses of New London harbor, Conn., and to erect a battery at Sag Harbor, Long Island, N. Y.

In November, after Hull's surrender of Detroit, Wood received his much-coveted orders for service "where war is most active." He had long felt the great wrongs suffered by our country, and deeply deprecated the apathy of the nation in not resisting continuing insults and British oppression.

 p73  In General Harrison's Campaign of 1813, in the Northwest, Wood was virtually the Chief Engineer, Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Gratiot being most of the time absent on other duty, or too sick for active service. Wood's comprehensiveness of mind, his remarkably mature judgment, and fertility of resources, were exhibited in every step and detail of this most arduous campaign. General Harrison, in his official despatch, says: "Captain Gratiot, of the Engineers, having been for a long time much indisposed, the task of fortifying the post devolved on Captain Wood. It could not have been placed in better hands. Permit me to recommend him to the President, and to assure you that any mark of his approbation bestowed on Captain Wood would be highly gratifying to the whole of the troops who witnessed his arduous exertions." On the recommendation of his commanding general, Wood was brevetted, May 6, 1813, a Major "for distinguished services in the Defense of Ft. Meigs." In his order of the day to his command, Harrison further says: "Where merit was so general, indeed almost universal, it is difficult to discriminate. The General cannot, however, omit to mention the names of those whose situation gave them an opportunity of being more particularly useful. From the long illness of Captain Gratiot, of the Corps of Engineers, the arduous and important duties of fortifying the camp devolved on Captain Wood, of that corps. In assigning to him the first palm of merit, as far as relates to the transactions within the works, the General is convinced his decision will be awarded by every individual in the camp who witnessed his indefatigable exertions, his consummate skill in providing for the safety of every point, and in foiling any attempt of the enemy, and his undaunted bravery in the performance of his duty in the most exposed situations."

After raising the siege of Ft. Meigs, and being foiled in his attack upon Ft. Stephenson, Proctor, with his British forces and savages, retreated across Detroit Straits to Malden, Can., which he abandoned after Perry's victory on Lake Erie, and was pursued by Harrison to the Thames River, where Proctor and Tecumseh were utterly routed, Oct. 5, 1813, Major Wood in this battle being again highly distinguished.

After spending a few weeks at West Point, the headquarters of the Corps of Engineers, deeply absorbed in study and preparation for coming events, he joined the "Army of the Niagara" as assistant to Major Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.McRee, its Chief Engineer. In the campaign of 1814 of this army, he was much distinguished in the Action of Chippewa, Battle of Niagara, and Defense of Ft. Erie, in the sortie from which, at the head of a column of 400 regulars and 500 volunteers under his command, he was mortally wounded, Sep. 17, 1814, and died the night after, professing the most ardent attachment to his country, and a jealous solicitude for the honor of her arms, commending her, with his last breath, to the favor and protection of the Almighty.

Thus ended the brief and brilliant career of this noble soldier, who had few equals and was surpassed by none of his profession and peers. Young in age, he was a veteran in the art of war. His eight years of army life "had uniformly been an exhibition of military skill, acute judgment, and heroic valor;" and, in the language of his commanding General, "no officer of his grade could have contributed more to the safety and honor of the Army." He was truly the soul and genius of every enterprise in which he was engaged; one of "the immortal names that were not born to die." His daily companions loved him, for he was social and genial, the most honorable and generous of men, and as affectionate and gentle as a maiden. His official superiors vied in their tributes to his worth, for he was the intellectual light of the council and the lion of the battlefield. Though extremely retiring and modest in manner, his form, features, military air and bearing disclosed the beau-idéal soldier, the real preux chevalier, who, wherever danger appeared,  p74 was there as calm, fearless, and self-possessed as upon a quiet parade. On the field of Niagara, meeting Brown almost fainting from his wound, Wood exclaimed, with great emotion: "Never mind, my dear General, you are gaining the greatest victory which has ever been won for your country." He thought not of physical pain, but, amid the carnage of battle, his heroic soul glowed with lofty enthusiasm for his country's glory. His nobility of nature impressed every one.

It was Wood's peculiar good fortune to be prominent in every branch of his profession; whether as an engineer, making the daring reconnoissance, or directing defenses; as an artillerist, pursuing the flying foe to the Thames, or serving in the battery at Chippewa; as a Paladin cavalier, in the final rout of Proctor's last fugitives or the accomplished infantry commander leading the column and charging the besiegers at Ft. Erie. While first in battle, he was also first in the estimation of those he so faithfully served. Harrison assigns to him "the first palm of merit" at Ft. Meigs, and highly praises his efficiency in the invasion of Canada; Brown reports his marked distinction at Niagara, where his "high military talents were exerted with great effect," and to whose "assistance a great deal is fairly to be ascribed;" Gaines says, "In the command of a regiment of infantry he has often proved himself well qualified, but never so conspicuously as in the repulse of the British assault on Ft. Erie;" Ripley, on the same occasion, acknowledges his indebtedness to "this officer's merits, so well known that approbation can scarcely add to his reputation;" Porter, under whom he led a column in his sortie from Ft. Erie, reports to Brown, "You know how exalted an opinion I have always entertained of him;" and his Commanding General, when this pillar of his power lay prostrate in death, pronounced this truthful eulogy on his worth: "Wood, brave, generous, and enterprising, died as he had lived, without a feeling but for the honor of his country and the glory of her arms. His name and example will live to guide the soldier in the path of duty so long as truth true heroism is held in estimation."

All authority warrants us in saying that, during the whole operations on the Niagara, no terms of praise could do justice to Wood's gallantry, zeal, skill, and perseverance, whether in reconnoitring the enemy, ascertaining and reporting his position, encouraging the troops, conducting columns to their destination, planning judicious movements, providing against emergencies, devising defenses, seeing the key-point of the battlefield, or grasping the whole problem of the campaign.

After the termination of the war, Major-General Brown ordered, Sep. 12, 1816, a monument to be erected to Wood's memory on West Point, at his expense, as a testimonial of his "respect for the hero and the man." This simple shaft, so well known to all the earlier graduates of the Military Academy, was removed, in 1885, from its conspicuous position, where it was a marked feature of that exquisite view of the Hudson above West Point, as was also the graceful mound upon which it stood, — a natural moraine of the glacial period. All appreciators of this memorial tribute to true heroism, every devotee of geological science, and the many lovers of the picturesque who often gazed upon that fitting foreground to one of the most beautiful panoramas of land and water in the world, must regret this unnecessary iconoclastic sacrifice to some unexplained caprice.​a2

Thayer's Note:

a1 a2 Prof. Rickey's page, in addition to valuable and detailed bibliographical information on primary sources at the U. S. M. A. Library, has nearly a dozen photographs of the Wood Monument, now in West Point Cemetery. The inscriptions on the monument give no indication that Wood is actually buried beneath it, and the earliest explicit statement I can find to that effect is in Taps, a supplement to Assembly Magazine, Vol. LXVII, No. 1 (Sept.‑Oct. 2008), once online, but now gone with the continued shrinkage of the Web. I don't believe it — the one-page article otherwise contains at least one definite mistake, if a small one — but I haven't found any other trace of Wood's grave.

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Page updated: 1 Feb 20