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Henry W. Wheeler was an Arkansas native who earned a Medal of Honor for valor while fighting with a Maine regiment during the 1861 Battle of Bull Run in Virginia.
Henry W. Wheeler was born in Fort Smith (Sebastian County) on September 23, 1841, the son of Hiram Wheeler and Elizabeth Wheeler. His father may have been working as a carpenter during construction of the second U.S. military installment at Fort Smith when Wheeler was born, but the family had returned to his father’s native Maine by 1860; at that time, Hiram Wheeler recorded 1,800 in real property and $2,000 in personal property in Bangor. Henry Wheeler, age eighteen, was working as a clerk, and the family included a second son and a daughter.
When the Civil War began, Henry Wheeler enlisted as a private in Company A, the Bangor Light Infantry, in the Second Maine Infantry Regiment on April 25, 1861. The Second Maine mustered in at Willets Point, New York, on May 28, 1861, for two years of service.
The Second Maine was brigaded with three Connecticut regiments under Colonel Erasmus D. Keyes when it fought in the July 21, 1861, first Battle of Bull Run. Keyes’s brigade attacked a hill but was repulsed. Sustaining heavy casualties, they left their fallen flags and their wounded behind. Colonel Charles D. Jameson called on volunteers to join him in recovering the flags and their fallen comrades and, in his report of the battle, cited six men, including Henry W. Wheeler, “for nobly volunteering to accompany me to remove the dead and wounded under a very heavy fire of artillery and musketry.” Wheeler and a man from Company D of the Second Maine, Abiather J. Knowles, would receive the Medal of Honor in 1898 for their actions on that day. The Second Maine lost thirteen killed, twenty-four wounded, and 118 missing in the fight at Manassas, Virginia.
Wheeler probably mustered out with the rest of the two-year men in the Second Maine (those who had enlisted for three-year terms were moved to the Twentieth Maine) when the regiment disbanded in early June 1863. He was listed as coming from “civil life” when, at age twenty-two, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in Company F of the Eighty-First U.S. Colored Infantry at Port Hudson, Louisiana, on April 26, 1864. He served with the Eighty-First, excluding a stint as aide-de-camp to General George Andrews and a furlough to Bangor to recover from illness, until he mustered out at New Orleans, Louisiana, on November 30, 1866. He was made a brevet captain in August 1866 for “faithful and meritorious service during the war.”
Wheeler’s family had moved to California by 1870, so he might have moved to Washington DC after the end of his service. By 1880, he was working as a clerk in the nation’s capital, living in a boardinghouse. He was employed as a department clerk, probably in a government office, and living with his sister in Washington in 1900.
Henry Wheeler died on April 17, 1904, and is buried in Section 3, Site 1496, in Arlington National Cemetery.
For additional information:
Detzer, David. Donnybrook: The Battle of Bull Run, 1861. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2004.
History of Penobscot County Maine. Cleveland: William Chase and Co., 1882.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I, Vol. 2, pp. 351, 357. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1880.
Mark K. Christ
Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated 11/14/2017
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