Hardly known today, this soldier not only earned two Medals of Honor, a rare distinction indeed, but also served his country in conflicts stretching from the Civil War through the Indian campaigns of the Old West and even to World War I, albeit by then strictly as an administrator. His enemies during all those years ranged from the Confederate defenders of Atlanta to Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse to Filipino Insurrectos.
Responding to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers in April 1861, Frank Dwight Baldwin soon was serving with the 19th Michigan Infantry as a second lieutenant. There would be many stops along the way, but his career really peaked during his years as an Indian fighter.
Even so, he did earn his first Medal of Honor during the Civil War—for leading his men in a countercharge in the Battle of Peachtree Creek on July 12, 1864, a significant moment in Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s Atlanta campaign. And no…not only leading the charge, his citation notes, but actually outstripping his men “under galling fire,” penetrating the enemy line alone, and then “capturing and bringing back 2 commissioned officers, fully armed, besides a guidon of a Georgia regiment.”
He had been captured himself more than a year before, held briefly at Libby Prison in Richmond and then exchanged. He had also acquitted himself heroically in the Battle of Stone’s River at Murfreesboro, Tenn., where he again was captured, only to be released later the same day. Those apparently were his first two combat experiences…not an auspicious start, true.
Baldwin, however, soon “found his stride as a soldier,” noted Robert C. Carriker in his biographical sketch in the book Soldiers West: Biographies from the Military Frontier. “From May 1864 until April 1865, Baldwin participated in 15 engagements against the Confederates. He distinguished himself in several battles, most especially at Peachtree Creek, near Atlanta.”
Soon promoted to captain, Baldwin was a lieutenant colonel of volunteers by war’s end. Like so many other Civil War veterans, he returned to civilian life…but not for long. “A brief fling at farming, even a return to college, could not measure up to the enterprising life he had known in the military,” Carriker noted.
In early 1866 Baldwin joined up again, this time as a second lieutenant in the Regular Army. He found a home out West with the 5th U.S. Infantry. There, he would serve under the colorful Colonel Nelson A. Miles—a fellow Civil War veteran, Indian fighter and future Medal of Honor recipient, as well as the future commander in chief of the U.S. Army. With Miles as his mentor, Baldwin became the 5th Infantry’s chief of scouts for the Red River War in the Texas Panhandle in 1874 and 1875.
As also noted by biographer Carriker, “The scouts normally operated outside the full command, seeking the best trails, locating water holes and camping spots, and reporting Indian movements.” Thus they were in advance positions that “often put them in direct conflict with hostile warriors.”
In the meantime, Baldwin was soon noted for his distinguished conduct in the first Battle of Palo Duro Canyon. He then led three men in such a tough and daring ride carrying dispatches to Camp Supply— 180 miles in 31⁄2 days with Indians in pursuit—that their dash became known as “Baldwin’s Ride.”
Just three weeks later, he earned his second Medal of Honor while leading his soldiers in an attack at McClellan’s Creek in Gray County, Texas, that led to the recovery of Julia Arminda and Nancy Adelaide German, two young sisters who had been captured and held as hostages by the Indians. In this affair, surprised to stumble upon the camp of Cheyenne Chief Grey Beard on November 8, 1874, “Baldwin launched an attack using nine wagons and his entire command of scouts, plus a company of infantry at his disposal, about 125 men in all.”
Already known for his “Ride,” Baldwin now was famous for his “Charge of the Wagon Train.” For all that, promotions in the Army for young officers like Baldwin were few and far between, but Miles did what he could for his trusted subaltern. Thus it was with Miles’ support that Baldwin was awarded both of his Medals of Honor three years apart in the early 1890s—long after the actions cited. And it came as no surprise when Baldwin was named Miles’ battalion adjutant, as the 5th Infantry took to the field in pursuit of Sitting Bull after the Battle of the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876. Baldwin and his men dispersed the Sioux chief’s camp at Redwater Creek, although Sitting Bull himself escaped into Canada. Baldwin quickly earned his brevet to major for rallying his troops in an assault against Crazy Horse.
Made a permanent major in 1898, a lieutenant colonel in 1900 and a brigadier general in 1902, Baldwin retired after fighting rebel forces in the Philippines in the wake of the Spanish-American War. He went back into service during World War I for a stint as Colorado’s adjutant general before ending his years of service as a retired major general.
He may not be all that well remembered today, nor was he even when he died in 1923, but in the settlement of the 19th-century American West, noted his eulogist, General William C. Brown, “few names stand higher than that of Frank D. Baldwin.”
Originally published in the April 2006 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.