People & Events
Lt. Gen. Arthur MacArthur, Jr. (1845 - 1912)
Not long before his own death, Douglas MacArthur summed up his feelings about the passing of his father this way: "My whole world changed that night. Never have I been able to heal the wound in my heart."
In a fundamental way, Douglas MacArthur's remarkable career was fueled by his desire to live up to the shining example of his father. From his exploits as a teenaged hero in the Union Army until his death at a reunion of his Wisconsin regiment, Arthur MacArthur, Jr. was a dedicated soldier who was in many ways the archetype of the 19th century U.S. Army officer.
Arthur was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, but at the age of four moved to Milwaukee, where his father established a law practice and soon became a star in local politics. Although just sixteen when the Civil War erupted, Arthur was determined to enlist, ignoring his father's wishes that he train for a career in the law, or at least attend West Point if he insisted on becoming a soldier. But no sooner had Judge MacArthur arranged an appointment to West Point, than his headstrong son forced him into arranging a commission as first lieutenant in the 24th Wisconsin Volunteers.
At first soldiers laughed at the "baby adjutant," but not for long. Quickly impressing others with his coolness and dedication to duty, Arthur first became a highly valued member of the unit, then a genuine hero. In an action which eventually earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor, MacArthur seized the regimental flag from the fallen color bearer and led his men up Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga, Tennessee. The commander who recommended him for the award commented that "he was most distinguished in action on a field where many in the regiment displayed conspicuous gallantry, worthy of the highest praise."
But for career officers like Arthur MacArthur, life in the post-Civil War U.S. Army would hold little glory. Without foreign wars, promotions were few and far between; instead, the Army was asked to make settlement of the West safe from the Indian "menace." For Arthur and his wife Pinky, whom he had married in 1875, this meant raising their young family on a series of dusty Army posts like the one at Ft. Selden, New Mexico. A voracious reader, MacArthur did his best to challenge himself intellectually, and his efficiency reports were always excellent. Nevertheless, these were difficult and frustrating years for the MacArthurs.
That began to change in 1886, when MacArthur's Company K was transferred to the large Army base at Leavenworth, Kansas. Just three years later, his excellent work as an instructor -- and the ceaseless lobbying by him and his well-placed father -- finally paid off, and MacArthur was promoted to major and assigned to the Adjutant General's office in Washington. There, while his family enjoyed the high society that gathered around his father's table, Arthur flourished at the War Department. By the time the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, he was ready for a sizeable command.
Newly-minted Brigadier General Arthur MacArthur, commanding a 4800-man brigade of volunteers, arrived in Manila on August 1, three months after Admiral Dewey's navy had defeated the Spanish navy. When the American army arrived, the Spanish commander in Manila, hopelessly outnumbered by the Americans and Emilio Aguinaldo's Filipino insurgents, negotiated the surrender of his forces after a staged battle. All went smoothly at first, until suddenly MacArthur's brigade ran into heavy fire from a Spanish unit which had not received word of the understanding. Displaying "much gallantry and excellent judgment" during the skirmish, MacArthur defeated the renegade Spaniards. Unfortunately for MacArthur, subduing the Filipinos, eager for true independence after generations of colonial domination, would prove far more difficult.
In April of 1900, in recognition for his work in managing the guerrilla war, MacArthur was appointed military governor of the Philippines, replacing General Otis. As if fighting the Filipinos wasn't hard enough, MacArthur soon faced another challenge: the arrival of a civilian commission from Washington, headed by rising Ohio Republican William Howard Taft. Resentful of what he saw as political interference in an essentially military situation, MacArthur treated Taft coolly at best. Taft, knowing that Washington wanted only good news and the quick establishment of a civilian government, saw MacArthur as an inconvenience and successfully lobbied for his removal.
Upon his return to the States in 1901, MacArthur was first disappointed by the lack of fanfare he received, then by his assignments, which did not conform to his rigid sense of honor. The final straw came in 1909, when he retired after being passed over for the Army's top job, Chief of Staff, despite being the highest ranking officer. For the rest of his life he would harbor bitter resentment against what his biographer called "civilian politicians and deskbound warriors of the general staff." It was a lesson his son Douglas would not soon forget.