Civil War Echoes: Douglas MacArthur and the Return to the Philippines
70 years ago today, General Douglas MacArthur waded ashore on Leyte, fulfilling his famous pledge to return to the Philippines. The photo of him at that moment (shown here, center, with his staff) is one of the iconic images of World War II in the Pacific. It is also an echo of the Civil War.
Douglas was the youngest son of Arthur MacArthur, who as a 17-year-old boy became a Lieutenant and adjutant of the 24th Wisconsin in 1862. A year later he earned the Medal of Honor at Chattanooga for leadership under fire, and in 1864 commanded his regiment at the age of 19. Staying in the Army after the war, he married a Virginian (Mary Hardy, from Norfolk) in 1875 and had three sons. Arthur fought on the frontier and then in the Philippines, retiring in 1909 as a Lieutenant General. He died on September 5, 1912, while addressing the 50th Anniversary reunion of the 24th Wisconsin. “My whole world changed that night,” wrote Douglas in 1963. “Never have I been able to heal the wound in my heart.”
The Civil War was an important part of Douglas MacArthur’s identity. He grew up wanting to be a general like his father, and learned early on about both his father’s exploits and also the careers of his four maternal uncles, all Army of Northern Virginia veterans. Douglas inherited his father’s extensive library on military history and the Civil War. In 1951, he referred to himself as a “son of Virginia,” and “the reunion of blue & gray personified.” These sentiments led him to choose Norfolk, Virginia, as his final resting place (today’s MacArthur Memorial).
The Civil War also helped him arrive at Leyte in 1944. The loss of the Philippines in 1942 was a major personal blow. In July 1944, as U.S. commanders debated the next steps in the Pacific War, President Franklin Roosevelt journeyed to Pearl Harbor to discuss options with MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz, his two top Pacific commanders. While arguing for the liberation of the Philippines, General MacArthur alluded to his father’s actions at Chattanooga in 1863, picking up the national flag when it fell and carrying on to victory.
Among MacArthur’s landing forces on 20 October 1944 were several units with Civil War pedigrees, most notably the 5th U.S. Cavalry (1st Cavalry Division) and 17th (7th Infantry Division) and 19th (24th Infantry Division) U.S. Infantry Regiments. The former two carried battle honors from the Army of the Potomac, while the latter was once in the Army of the Cumberland’s Regular Brigade.
Arthur MacArthur’s papers, Medal of Honor, and other effects were destroyed in the Manila Hotel in 1945.
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Details of Arthur MacArthur’s fight at Missionary Ridge (as you probably know) is told in his son Douglas’s autobiography: “They come then; …with a rush and a roar, a blue tide of courage, a whole division of them. Shouting, cursing, struggling foot by foot, heads bent as if in a gale! Gasping breath from tortured lungs! Those last few feet before the log breastworks seem interminable! Men tumble over like tenpins! The charge is losing momentum! They falter! Officers are down? Sergeants now lead! And then, suddenly, on the crest – the flag! Once again that cry: “On Wisconsin!” Silhouetted against the sky, the adjutant (Arthur) stands on the parapet waving the colors where the whole regiment can see him! Through the ragged blue line, from one end of the division to the other, comes an ugly roar, like the growl of a wounded bear! They race those last few steps, eye blazing, lips snarling, bayonets plunging! And Missionary Ridge is won.
The adjutant suddenly falls to the ground exhausted, covered with blood and mud, hatless, his smoke-blackened face barely recognizable, his clothes torn to tatters. Sheridan, the division commander, utters not a word – he just stares at him – and then takes him in his arms. And his deep voice seems to break a little as he says; “Take care of him. He has just won the Medal of Honor.”
And later at the Battle of Franklin – November 30, 1964 as described by the 24th Wisconsin’s adjutant, Captain Edwin Parsons:
“The whole army was imperiled unless the breach could be closed. I saw the Colonel (Arthur MacArthur) swing into his saddle and heard his yell. “Up Wisconsin”. There was no time to form lines. We just rushed pell mell to meet the enemy in a desperate hand to hand melee. I saw the Colonel sabering his way toward the leading Confederate flag. His horse was shot from under him, a bullet ripped open his right shoulder, but on foot he fought his way forward trying to bring down those Stars and Bars. A Confederate Major (John R. Holman, 28th Tennessee Volunteers, Co. B) now had the flag and (pistol) shot the Colonel through the breast. I thought he was done for but he staggered up and drove his sword through his adversary’s body, but even as the Confederate fell (dying) he shot our Colonel down for good with a bullet through the knee.
The other regiments of the reserve were now up and we drove the enemy back and healed the breach. When I returned to the Carter House where they had brought the Colonel, I saw four dead generals lying on the porch side by side.”
A side story relative to Major Holman: As late as 1991 interested historian Tim Burgess was endeavoring to identify and locate the graves of all the 1,750 Confederate soldiers who perished at Franklin. As a result of his efforts he succeeded in identifying about 300 of the 525 unknown soldiers buried in the McGavock Cemetery. Subsequently, Holman’s grave was found (I believe in the Nashville area) – I have a copy of a photograph of the stone.
I often have issue with some of the seemingly overly-dramatic descriptions of these horrific fights; but, 1) I wasn’t there, was I? And, 2) there is no mistaking the courage of Arthur MacArthur and John Holman!
Lastly, the four dead generals must have been among the six Confederate officers later seen on the porch of the McGavock house.