Civil War Wiki
William Rufus Shafter
Personal Information
Born: October 16, 1835 (1835-10-16)
Place of Birth: {{{place of birth}}}
Died: Template:Death-date and age
Place of Death: {{{place of death}}}
Nickname: "Pecos Bill"
Birth Name: {{{birth name}}}
Other Information
Allegiance: United States of America
Participation(s): {{{participations}}}
Branch: United States Army
Union Army
Service Years: {{{service years}}}
Rank: Major General
Service number : {{{servicenumber}}}
Unit: 7th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment
Commands: 17th Infantry Regiment
24th Infantry Regiment
V Corps
Battles: American Civil War

Indian Wars
Spanish-American War

  • Santiago Campaign
  • Battle of San Juan Hill
  • Battle of El Caney
  • Siege of Santiago
Awards: Medal of Honor
Relations: {{{relations}}}
Other work: {{{otherwork}}}

William Rufus Shafter (October 16, 1835 – November 12, 1906) was a Union Army officer during the American Civil War who received America's highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his actions at the Battle of Fair Oaks. Shafter also played a prominent part as a major general in the Spanish-American War. Fort Shafter, Hawaii, is named for him, as well as the city of Shafter, California. He was known informally as "Pecos Bill"[1].

Early life[]

Shafter was born in Galesburg, Michigan on October 16, 1835. He worked as a teacher and farmer in the years preceding the Civil War.

Civil War & Indian Campaigns[]

Shafter served as a 1st lieutenant the Union Army's 7th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment at the battles of Ball's Bluff and Fair Oaks. He was wounded at the Battle of Fair Oaks and later received the Medal of Honor for heroism during the battle. He led a charge on the first day of the battle and was wounded towards the close of that day's fighting. In order to stay with his regiment he concealed his wounds, fighting on the second day of the battle. On August 22, 1862 he was mustered out of the volunteer service but returned to the field as major in the 19th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He was captured at the Battle of Thompson's Station and spent 3 months in a Confederate prison. In April 1864 after his release he was appointed colonel of the 17th Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops and led the regiment at the Battle of Nashville.

By the end of the war, he had been promoted to brevet brigadier general of volunteers. He stayed in the regular army when the war ended. During his subsequent service in the Indian Wars, he received his nickname "Pecos Bill". He led the 24th Infantry, another United States Colored Troops regiment, in campaigns against the Cheyenne, Comanche, Kickapoo and Kiowa Indians in Texas. While commander of Fort Davis, he started a controversial court-martial of second lieutenant Henry Flipper, the first black cadet to graduate from West Point. In May 1897 he was appointed as a brigadier general.

Spanish-American War[]

Just before the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Shafter was commander of the Department of California. Shafter was an unlikely candidate for command of the expedition to Cuba. He was aged 63,[clarification needed] weighed over 300 pounds and suffered from gout. Nevertheless he received a promotion to Major General of Volunteers and command of the V Corps being assembled in Tampa, Florida. One possible reason for his being given this command was his lack of political ambitions.

Shafter appeared to maintain a very loose control over the expedition to Cuba from the beginning. The corps made a disorganized landing at Daiquiri on the southern coast of Cuba. Shafter sent forward his cavalry division under Joseph Wheeler to reconnoiter the road to Santiago de Cuba. In a complete disregard of orders, Wheeler brought on a fight which escalated into the Battle of Las Guasimas. Shafter apparently did not realize the battle was even underway nor did he say anything to Wheeler about it afterward.

A plan was finally developed for the attack on Santiago. Shafter would send his first division of infantry to attack El Caney while his second infantry division and cavalry would attack the heights south of El Caney known as San Juan Hill. Shafter planned to lead from the front but suffered greatly from the tropical heat and was confined to his headquarters far to the rear and out of sight of the fighting. Shafter's battle plan was overly simple and vague, yet the American forces eventually took both El Caney and San Juan Hill, but not without heavy losses.

Shafter's lack of political understanding became more apparent after the battle when he proposed to Washington that he would pull his army back several miles to safety and where supplies could reach the troops more easily. However, by the time this message reached Washington a very different turn of events was actually taking place in Cuba. Instead of pulling back, Shafter demanded the surrender of Santiago. The Spaniards did not surrender the city immediately and Shafter conducted siege operations against the city. The naval Battle of Santiago de Cuba sealed the fate of the city and shortly after the Spaniards surrendered the city.

File:William R. Shafter headstone.JPG

Shafter's headstone at San Francisco National Cemetery

With disease rampant in the American army in Cuba, Shafter and many of his officers favored a quick withdrawal from Cuba. Shafter personally left Cuba in September 1898 and arrived at the quarantine Camp Wikoff. Shafter returned to command the Department of California where he oversaw the supplying of the expedition to the Philippines under Major General Wesley Merritt.

Shafter retired in 1901 and returned to farming. He died in 1906 and is buried at San Francisco National Cemetery.

Medal of Honor citation[]

Rank and Organization:

First Lieutenant, Company I, 7th Michigan Infantry. Place and Date: At Fair Oaks, Va., May 31, 1862. Entered Service At: Galesburg, Mich. Birth: Kalamazoo, Mich. Date Of Issue: June 12, 1895.


Lt. Shafter was engaged in bridge construction and not being needed there returned with his men to engage the enemy participating in a charge across an open field that resulted in casualties to 18 of the 22 men. At the close of the battle his horse was shot from under him and he was severely flesh wounded. He remained on the field that day and stayed to fight the next day only by concealing his wounds. In order not to be sent home with the wounded he kept his wounds concealed for another 3 days until other wounded had left the area.[2][3]

See also[]

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32x28px United States Army portal
32x28px American Civil War portal



External links[]

  • Template:Cite video view of Major General Shafter (needs Flash)