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Henry Ware Lawton

by William P. Meyers

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Henry Ware Lawton was a remarkable American soldier whose exploits were celebrated in his own era. Unfortunately here we want to point out that his talents were put to use in a way that made him a war criminal. Let's begin by reproducing his entry in the University Encyclopedia [New York, The Cooperative Publication Society, 1902]:

Lawton, Henry Ware, an American military officer, born in Manhattan, O., March 17, 1843; entered the military service as a private, April 16, 1861; became a sergeant of Company E, 9th Indiana Infantry, Aug. 20, 1861; captain, May 17, 1862; lieutenant-colonel, Feb. 15, 1865; mustered out Nov. 25, 1865; entered the regular army as 2d lieutenant in 41st Indiana Infantry, July 28, 1866; transferred to the 4th U.S. Cavalry in January, 1871; promoted to captain, March 20, 1879.

In 1876 he was conspicuous in the expedition against the hostile Sioux, sharing every privation and going into dangers into which he would not send one of his soldiers. He took part against the Ute Indians in Colorado, in October , 1879, reliquishing [sic] his command to join the expedition. In the spring of 1886 he was selected by General Miles to lead a picked body of troops into Mexico in pursuit of the murderous Geronimo. For three months he led his little command in pursuit of the savages from one range of mountains to another, sometimes scaling peaks 9,000 to 10,000 feet about sea level, and then descending into the depths of the cañons where the heat was almost intolerable. During this time Lawton and his command marched 1,396 miles. The country was mostly parches and barren desert. Saltless mule meat and sometimes little of that, was their staple ration. But Lawton and his men were undaunted, and kept up the chase till Geronimo and his band were captured.

At the beginning of the American-Spanish War Lawton was a lieutenant-colonel and was made a Major-General of volunteers, July 8, 1898. he was in command of the 2d Division of the 5th Army Corps before Santiago, and was in the thick of the fighting preceding the capture of San Juan Hill and will go down in history as the "hero of El Caney."

At the close of the war with Spain General Lawton was transferred to the Philippines were he began active operations against the insurgents; captured Santa Cruza, a Filipino stronghold, April 10, 1899, and San Isidro, May 15; was placed in the command of Manila, June 1, and early in the fall began an offensive campaign looking toward the capture of Aguinaldo; arrived at Arayat Oct. 19, and made Cabanatuan his headquarters. On Dec. 19, he was on the firing lines at San Mateo, where owing to his tall figure and brilliant uniform he was easily picked out by insurgent sharpshooters. He had scarcely been warned of his danger when he cried, "I am shot," and fell dead.

The critical take away here is that Henry Lawton began his military career in the Civil War, then became an Indian killer, continuing the U.S. tradition of stealing Native American Indian lands and committing genocide, a crime against humanity. The U.S. war of aggression against Spain has some moral ambiguity because there had long been a Cuban nationalist insurgence that was happy to have U.S. aid in fighting Spain. But in the Philippines, a nationalist movement had already defeated the Spanish before the American invaders arrived. Spain sold the Philippines to the United States, but it was not theirs to sell. The U.S. soldiers who had grown used to killing brown-skinned Native Americans simply moved their operations to the Philippines. In the end Henry Lawton was a war criminal, not a hero. He fought against poorly armed Filipino soldiers, and still managed to get himself killed.

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