William Grafton Austin MOH

b. 06/01/1858 Galveston, Texas. d. 15/07/1929 Los Altos, California.

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 29/12/1890 Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

William G Austin MOH

William Grafton Austin, born at Galveston, Texas, on January 6, 1868, was the eldest of three children of Charles William and Georgia Bell (Grafton) Austin. His father was a former steamship captain and in the US Civil War came to prominence when designing and captaining the first ironclad vessel. 

Young William Austin received his primary and secondary education at the Barnard School, the Massie School, and the Chatham Academy. Seeking adventure, if not fortune, William headed north to New York City, where two weeks after his nineteenth birthday he enlisted in the army. He indicated that he was twenty-four years old, thus avoiding the requirement for parental permission to serve under age. Austin’s recruiter, Lieutenant Wheeler, recorded that Austin was formerly employed as a clerk, stood five feet, nine and a half inches in height, with gray eyes, auburn hair, and a fair complexion. He was assigned to E Troop, 7th U.S. Cavalry, joining the unit at Fort Yates in the Dakota Territory, and later moving with his unit to Fort Sill, Indian Territory. By the summer of 1890 he had risen to the rank of Sergeant.

Completing his five-year enlistment as a Sergeant with a characterization of service of ‘excellent’, William Austin returned to Savannah where he entered the mercantile business inspecting cotton. His father had passed away in 1889, and William took up residence with his mother, brother and sister. In the mid 1890s he married Caroline J. Ratz, known as Carrie, the daughter of Charles Ratz and Elizabeth Kraft. Her father, Charles, left his native Germany at the age of eighteen and emigrated to America arriving in New York City in June 1869.

In the summer of 1897, William and Carrie Austin were expecting the arrival of their first child. Carrie gave birth in the third week of July, but apparently it was a difficult delivery and she died of postpartum hemorrhaging on July 23. Her infant  child died the following day. Mother and child were buried in the Laurel Grove North Cemetery, in the same plot as Carrie’s father and not far from where William’s father, Charles W. Austin, was laid to rest eight years earlier.

While building his mercantile business, William Austin continued to serve his state and his country by enlisting in the Savannah Volunteer Guards in 1894 rising from a private to captain of Company A. Redesignated the 2nd Georgia Infantry, U.S. Volunteers, during the Spanish-American War, Austin mobilized with the unit in command of M Company. The regiment took up station in Tampa, Florida, awaiting transport to Cuba or Puerto Rico, and like so many other regiments, never made it into the war before Spain surrendered its colonies and signed a peace treaty in August 1898. Following the war, Austin continued his service in the Fourth Georgia Heavy Artillery. Captain Austin in 1905 displayed his marksmanship, for which Lieutenant Sedgwick had commented on following Wounded Knee, when he competed in a national pistol competition in which he finished seventh out of 118 entrants winning a silver medal and $15 cash.

William Austin continued to succeed in Savannah in the first two decades of the new century.  He served for six years as the city’s chief of police and served on the board of the Savannah Automobile Club along with Mayor George Tiedeman and other noted leaders of the port city. Austin later became president of the Savannah Motor Car Company representing the newly formed Cadillac Automobile Company, an offshoot of the Henry Ford Company.

In the winter of 1907, William Austin met a leading actress whose company was performing in Savannah. Her stage name was Marie Shotwell and she was the widow of William Hawley. Austin and Shotwell were married on September 24, 1908, at her home at Dyker Heights in Brooklyn. Mrs. Austin again stepped away from the stage upon marrying Savannah’s chief of police. The couple lived prominently in Savannah and Marie’s son, Frank, took his step-father’s last name, dropping the Hawley all together. Ultimately the marriage failed with Marie filing for divorce in 1916 on the grounds of desertion testifying that Austin had rarely spoken to her in the past four years even while living in the same house.

As the nation moved to a war footing again in 1917, William Austin donned the uniform of a major in the newly formed National Army. He served as a Quartermaster in the Reserve Crops where he plied his skill in managing stevedores in France as the first elements of the American Expeditionary Forces arrived in Europe. He met with such success that he was promoted to colonel and sent back to the United States to recruit several regiments of stevedores. He then took command of the 302nd Stevedore Regiment composed of 127 officers and almost 7,000 enlisted men. Colonel Austin returned to the United States again in March 1918 at General John J. Pershing’s direction to recruit additional stevedore regiments.

The forty-nine year-old Colonel was able to carve out time in 1917 to rendezvous with Mrs. Frances Alice Brooks of Allenhurst, New Jersey. The two met up in Washington, D.C., on August 25 and were quickly married that day after purchasing a marriage license. Believing they could not have children, Frances and William adopted a toddler, Hope Brooks, and mother and daughter resided in Savannah while the colonel was in Europe and traveling the U.S. on his recruitment duties. Following the war, William Austin moved his family to the West Coast and settled in Palo Alto, California, where he enjoyed the final chapter of his life in retirement. He and Frances had a daughter, Margaret Grafton, in 1919, and spent the next decade on numerous cruises in the Pacific. Austin passed away on July 15, 1929, at the age of sixty-one. His body was cremated and the ashes given to the family.



While the Indians were concealed in a ravine, assisted men on the skirmish line, directing their fire, etc., and using every effort to dislodge the enemy.