General Henry Clay Merriam

Henry Clay Merriam was born November 13, 1837 in Houlton, Maine.

His father, Lewis, came to Houlton from New Salem Massachusetts around 1830. Henry worked on his father’s farm and learning carpentry skills and developing a strong work ethic.

 

He went to local schools in Houlton and worked his way through Houlton Academy and then entered Colby College.

He was a natural leader and an early life show the traits of courage and perseverance that distinguished him in later walks of life.

He graduated from Colby College in the class of 1864 and was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa and received his Master’s degree and later the degree of LLD.

 

He enlisted with his classmates in the second year of the Civil War and in August he raised a company of volunteers in Houlton and was commission Captain of Co. H 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry.

 

He was given command of a regiment of Colored Volunteers and at their head he distinguished himself and won promotion to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

During his volunteer service he won three brevets, and the Congressional Medal of Honor for “conspicuous gallantry in battle”

 

At the close of the Civil War Col. Merriam remained in the regular army as Captain he married Miss Lucy Getchel of Waterville in 1866.

 

He was commission Major of the 38th Infantry, and took command at Fort Bayard, New Mexico in 1867 in the midst of the Apache War and served along the turbulent Mexican border.

 

His wife and baby daughter were drowned with eleven soldiers in a flash flood which occurred in the nighttime on Staked Plains of Texas in 1870. The Colonel was away from the station fighting Indians at the time of the tragedy.

 

He protected American citizens on both sides of the Rio Grande during the uprising of 1873 and 1876, saving many lives and much property by his decisive action. In appreciation of his service, the citizens of Texas presented him with a beautiful sword.

 

From the Rio Grande, he was sent to Washington State organizing Fort Spokane. His administrative ability in the that work was highly commended by his commander, General Oliver O. Howard.

 

Later, he commanded in other departments of the west, building the large post at Couer d’Alene. He was made Brigadier General in 1897 and given command of the Department of Columbia.

He organized, and forwarded in mid-winter, a relief expedition to the Klondike, Central Alaska, where many mining prospectors were in danger of starving. General Merriam sent to Houlton, Old Town, and Norway, Maine, to try to get snowshoes and other equipment for his troopers suitable for the Arctic climate.

He was finally obliged to establish a factory in the Sate of Washington to get them in sufficient quantities.

 

When the war with Spain broke out, General Merriam applied for active field service, but his administrative ability was more needed in the zone of the interior. His command was extended to include the entire Pacific coast and to the Hawaiian Islands. His duties now include the difficult Alaskan Work, and the organization, equipment, and forwarding of troops to the Philippines a Work involving the development of an ocean transport system.

 

After the war with Spain, his most conspicuous service was in 1899, when the United States was compelled to intervene to suppress the riots in the Coeur d’Alene mine district in Idaho. The General received the personal commendation of President McKinley for his skill in handling the difficult situation.

 

The Merriam Infantry Pack was his invention, to which he gave much time and study. This device to aid the common soldier won for him a gold medal from the French Academy of Inventors. This pack was used in WWI.

Merriam Infantry Pack

General Merriam married Miss Una MacPherson MacNeil of Kingston, Jamaica, as his second wife. They had five children. After his retirement from the Army, General Merriam made his summer home in Portland till his death in November, 1912.

 

On his last visit to Houlton, he went to the Cary Memorial Library to find the names of those men who had enlisted in his Company fifty years before, and who had fought under him in the battles in the South.

 

Houlton has cause to remember with pride this distinguished soldier who led a Houlton Company of infantry into those historic battles of the War between the States, and who is the only Houlton man to win the highest United States military decoration.

Learn more about Henry Clay Merriam in our very own Cary Library.

Commander and Builder of Western Forts by Jack Ballard.

Call # BIO Mer

Works Cited

Putnam, Cora M. Carpenter. The Story of Houlton. Portland, Me.: House of Falmouth, 1958. Print.

Ballard, Jack S. Commander and Builder of Western Forts: the Life and Times of Major General Henry C. Merriam, 1862-1901. Texas A & M Univ. Press, 2012.

​​​​© 2015 Aroostook County Historic & Art Museum

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