Samuel David Sturgis was born on June 11, 1822 in Shippensburg,
Pennsylvania. Samuel Sturgis graduated 32nd
of 59 from the United States Military Academy in 1842. His graduating class contained several
prominent officers for both the Confederate and Union forces.
He served as a cavalry lieutenant and captain during the
Mexican-American War. Mexican forces
captured and held him for eight days near Buena Vista, Mexico while performing
a reconnaissance mission. He continued
service in the American west serving in the Nez Perce War against multiple
Captain Sturgis commanded the 1st Cavalry at Fort
Smith, Arkansas when the Civil War began.
Many of his troops defected to the Confederacy leaving him with scarce
personnel and equipment. Knowing he
would have to surrender if he remained at Fort Smith he ordered the movement to
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. His promotion
was for the movement of the 1st Cavalry from Fort Smith, Arkansas to
Fort Leavenworth under threat of Confederate forces.
Major Sturgis obtained
the rank of brigadier general in March of 1862, for actions taken after the
death of General Nathaniel Lyon during the Battle of Wilsons Creek. At this battle General Lyons died while
securing Bloody Hill. Major Sturgis
assumed command and held the ground until depleting ammunition and lack of
reinforcements forced the Union to retire to Springfield. In his official report Major Sturgis said
this of General Lyons “Thus gloriously fell as brave a soldier as ever drew a
sword, a man whose honesty of purpose was proverbial, a noble patriot, and one
who held his life as nothing when his country demanded it of him”. (Iron Brigadier para. 15)
General Sturgis went on to defend Washington DC with General
Pope. General Sturgis was obtaining
priority for railroad movement of troops from General Haupt when he was told he
would have to wait for General Pope to finish his movement of supplies. It was at this time that General Sturgis
became known for his statement “I don’t care for John Pope one pinch of owl
dung”. General Sturgis took command of IX
Corps and fought battles throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, Mississippi, and
Tennessee. General Forrest defeated
General Sturgis at the battle of Brice’s Cross Roads, Mississippi. Brice’s Cross Roads was the last battle of
General Sturgis’ Civil War command.
General Sturgis reverted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel
to take command of 6th Cavalry. He achieved the rank of Colonel upon taking
command of the 7th Cavalry. His
lieutenant colonel was George A. Custer who would go on in infamy for actions
at Little Bighorn. Colonel Sturgis led
multiple campaigns against Nez Perce throughout 1877. He followed the Indians through what is now
Yellowstone National Park, however failed to capture them as they progressed
north to Canada. It was during his time
leading the 7th Cavalry that he arrived in South Dakota. General Sturgis established Camp J.C. Sturgis
in honor of his son, killed in action at Little Bighorn.
This site and Camp Ruhlen paved the way for what is today
known as Fort Meade. Local business men
and miners established a town outside the post that later became the town of
Sturgis, South Dakota. The town constructed a sculpture of him, mounted on
horseback, at the intersection of Highways 34 and 79. Sturgis, South Dakota is known today for the
Sturgis Motorcycle Rally held annually each summer.
General Sturgis retired in 1886. He went on to recruiting for three years
until his death on September 28, 1889. His
wife Jershua Wilcox Sturgis survived him until her death in 1915. They had six children many of whom served in
the military. Previously mentioned his
son James Sturgis died at Little Bighorn.
His son, Samuel D. Sturgis, served as commander of American
Expeditionary Forces during World War One.
His grandson, Samuel D. Sturgis Jr., served as a general in the Army and
Chief of Engineers for three years. General
Sturgis and his family are interred in Section 2 of Arlington National