George Lewis Gillespie Jnr MOH

b. 07/10/1841 Kingston, Tennessee. d. 27/09/1913 Saratoga Springs, New York.

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 31/05/1864 Betheseda Church, Virginia.

George L Gillespie MOH

George Lewis Gillespie was born October 7, 1841, in Kingston, Tennessee. He graduated second in the Class of 1862 at the United States Military Academy and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers on June 17, 1862.

A Southerner who remained loyal to the Union, Gillespie joined the Army of the Potomac in September 1862. He commanded two companies of the engineer battalion which built fortifications and pontoon bridges throughout the Virginia campaigns until General Robert E. Lee’s Surrender at Appomattox in April 1865.

On October 27, 1897, Gillespie received the Medal of Honor for carrying dispatches through enemy lines under withering fire to Major General Philip Sheridan at the Battle of Cold Harbor, Virginia on May 31, 1864. He was later Sheridan’s Chief Engineer in the Army of the Shenandoah and the Military Division of the Gulf. At the end of the war, Gillespie held the Regular Army rank of captain and a brevet (honorary promotion) to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

After the Civil War, Gillespie successively supervised the improvement of harbors at Cleveland, Ohio, Chicago, Boston, and New York City. He initiated construction of the canal at the Cascades of the Columbia River and built the famous Tillamook Rock Lighthouse off the Oregon coast. Gillespie also served on the Board of Engineers and for six years as president of the Mississippi River Commission. He was promoted to major on September 5, 1871, lieutenant colonel on October 12, 1886 and colonel on October 2, 1895.

With the outbreak of the Spanish–American War, Gillespie was promoted to brigadier general of Volunteers on May 27, 1898. He commanded the Army’s Department of the East until October 31, 1898 when he was discharged from the Volunteers and reverted to his Regular Army rank of colonel.

Gillespie was appointed as Chief of Engineers on May 3, 1901 and promoted to brigadier general the same day. He was acting U.S. Secretary of War in August 1901. He had charge of ceremonies at President William McKinley’s funeral and at the laying of the cornerstone of the Army War College Building in 1903. In 1904 he redesigned the United States Army’s version of the Medal of Honor.

The new design replaced the original design dating from 1862 which was often erroneously mistaken for the membership badge of the Grand Army of the Republic—an organization for Union veterans of the American Civil War. General Gillespie’s design entirely changed the planchet to feature the head of Minerva in the center of a star surrounded by a wreath. The ribbon was changed from red, white and blue stripes to a light blue ribbon with thirteen white stars.

Gillespie’s final assignment was as Assistant Chief of Staff of the United States Army from 1904 to 1905 with the rank of major general.

Gillespie was a companion of the District of Columbia Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS) and was assigned MOLLUS insignia number 4061. He was also a member of the Society of the Army of the Potomac.

Major General Gillespie retired from the Army on June 15, 1905, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 64. He died on September 27, 1913, in Saratoga Springs, New York. He was buried at West Point Cemetery. General Gillespie left a widow, Rhobie Frances McMaster (1844-1921). By her he had two sons – Robert McMaster Gillespie (1871-1947) and Laurence Lewis Gillespie (1876-1940).



Exposed himself to great danger by voluntarily making his way through the enemy’s lines to communicate with Gen. Sheridan. While rendering this service he was captured, but escaped; again came in contact with the enemy, was again ordered to surrender, but escaped by dashing away under fire.