"William Henry Greenwood" by General David S. Stanley

William Henry Greenwood, the youngest son of Asa and Lucy Greenwood, was born in Dublin, N. H. March 27th, 1832 and removed to Marlboro, N. H. in 1834, where he spent his early years, for the most part in the public schools. Reverend S. H. M. Collister, his kinsman, playmate, and school-mate writes, " He was more than an ordinary boy,” quiet in his manners and kind in disposition, he yet possessed a strong will. He early showed a fondness for machinery and an aptness for tools, and in his boyhood he constructed many pieces of curious handicraft. He inherited from his father a genius in this direction, the later being remarkable for his inventive faculties. The Greenwood family ranked high in mental and moral strength, his three brothers and one sister being likewise gifted. In temperament he was cheerful and hopeful, a favorite and a leader, without ever assuming the right to it. Mathematics were his favorite studies and came easily to him. After entering the University, he found very little difficulty in mastering the higher mathematics. “The professor in this department, a gifted mathematician himself, was led to wonder at the original solutions and developments which Greenwood would bring before the class;” this from a friend of his youth. In his early life he had an object, to which he held steadfastly—that was to become a thorough and accomplished Engineer. (As we follow him later in life, we will see how thoroughly that object was fulfilled.) Young Greenwood remained at Marlboro, assisting his father in the various public works upon which the latter was engaged until 1850 when he entered the Norwich University, graduating in 1852. That same year he went to Illinois and engaged in the Central Military Tract R.R., now the Burlington and Quincy. Upon the completion of that road, he engaged on what was then known as the American Central R.R. and was with that interest when the War of the Rebellion broke out.

He enlisted in the 51st regiment Illinois volunteers the 17th day of January 1862 and was commissioned afterward a 1st Lieutenant, Company H of that regiment to date with his enlistment. His commission as Captain of the same company and regiment is dated May 9th, 1863, but it was not as a line officer that Greenwood made his mark. Soon after the Battle of Stone River, General Rosecrans made inquiry for competent engineer officers to organize a topographical service, and Greenwood was selected for this duty and for better facilities for seeing the country, he was directed to report to General Stanley at that time Chief of Cavalry for the Army of the Cumberland. The relation thus established continued to the end of the war, Colonel Greenwood remaining a part of this commander’s military family until the muster-out of the 4th Corps of the Army of the Cumberland in the fall of 1865. To recount Colonel Greenwood’s services would necessitate a recital of the experiences of the Army of the Cumberland itself. Comparisons are sometimes in bad taste, but, knowing of what he speaks, the writer can truly say that no officer serviced in the Army of the Cumberland who was present at and participated in more battles, actions, affairs, skirmishes than Colonel Greenwood. Always strong and well, though of slender form, he was always for duty, day and night. The great battles in which he was a most active part embraced such names as “Perryville”(*), “Stone River”, “Hoover’s Gap”, “Chickamauga”, “Missionary Ridge”—three months of the Atlanta Campaign are almost continuous fight, including Peach Tree Creek, the assault on Kenesaw, finally in the last great service of the 4th Corps, the action at Spring Hill, next day the Battle of Franklin, and very soon the Battle of Nashville, which ended the mission of the “Army of the Cumberland” in the destruction of Hood’s army.

It would be difficult to describe Colonel Greenwood’s services in these great battles. Any one who has commanded bodies of troops so large that their field of operations extended miles beyond the vision of the commander knows how important it is to have a staff officer who can not only carry out the orders of his commander but, if circumstances take place not foreseen by the commander, can originate and execute upon the spot. Such an officer was Colonel Greenwood; his educational experience made him a master of topography; his coolness and daring fitted him to carry out orders in the face of danger, and it was only necessary to say to Greenwood, Place such a division in line at such a point, and the division or the corps would be put on the best ground and most skillfully disposed in the shortest possible space of time. The amount of field fortification, done upon the Atlanta Campaign could hardly be appreciated by any others than those who helped to build them. Greenwood was a master of the subject of Field Fortifications, and many times, when the work of entrenching had to go on all night, his commander has retired safely to rest, because he knew Greenwood had charge of the work.

In July 1864, when General Stanley was appointed to the command of the 4th Corps, Greenwood was commissioned by the President Lieutenant Colonel and Inspector to date July 28th, 1864, but his duties, though important as inspector, took a wide range. In the way of reconnoissance he continually rendered most important services—to find out the movements of the enemy, the disposition of his lines, the positions of his batteries; these were the constant employment of Colonel Greenwood; and his active enterprising nature thrived in hard work and detested ease and idleness. His faults, for all have faults—his happily were few and were those of a man who, never thinking of fear, was habitually careless of his own person. Many is the time he has ridden miles through woods and thickets to communicate between detached portions of our troops, sometimes alone, at other times with only an orderly. His friends had expostulated with him, but care of himself was one of the last things he thought about. This fatal habit, one common to brave and generous men, cost Greenwood his life, as we shall see in the end.

In July 1865, the 4th Corps landed in Texas taking post at Victoria and San Antonio. Colonel Greenwood was put in charge of the Gulf and San Antonio Railroad, which had been completely destroyed by the Rebel General John Magruder. With the burned and bent railroad iron and such timber as could be gathered out of the Guadalupe bottoms, Greenwood soon had the cars running to Victoria saving immense expense and labor, necessary before this, to haul supplies over the hog wallow prairies of Indianola.

Having finished this work in Texas, Greenwood returned to the home of his boyhood in Vermont. He remained only one month when he went west where he was employed upon the Kansas Pacific R.R. He was appointed Chief Engineer of this road, and whilst holding this position he made surveys on the 32d and 35th parallels through to San Francisco. During his service for the company he constructed one hundred and fifty miles of railroad in one hundred working days and the last day laid ten and one quarter miles in ten hours, a feat perhaps never equaled in railroad construction. In 1870, Colonel Greenwood made the first general report in favor of narrow gauge, i.e., three-feet railroads and was appointed general manager of construction of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, upon completion of the first division of this railroad he was appointed general superintendent and remained until the road was finished to Canon City [Colorado]. He next went to Mexico in company with General W. P. Rosecrans [after the war, United States minister to Mexico] and General W. J. Palmer** with a view of constructing a national railroad in that country. Whilst engaged in this service, he visited England and the continent in the interest of his road, but, failing to get concessions asked for from the Mexican government, Colonel Greenwood returned to New York and established himself as a civil engineer in May 1878. He took charge of the construction of the Pueblo and Arkansas Valley Railroad for the Atcheson, Topeka and Santa Fe company and in March 1879 took charge of the Marion & McPherson Railroad. This is the last public work we learn of his being engaged upon, until he went to Mexico upon his last and fatal engagement.

During his numerous surveys, he had several encounters with the Indians, in which his war experience came well to hand. The hardships from cold, from hunger and exposure during this pioneer service in the railways of the Great Plains were such as few men have experienced. As an engineer Colonel Greenwood had few peers in the profession. No obstacle that nature had interposed, as it were in frolicsome mood in the canyons and mountains of the West deterred this engineer of science, of skill, and daring, and railroad trains now run securely where before the while mountain sheep feared to climb. The skillful capitalists who built these wonderful railroads of Colorado well appreciated the worth of Greenwood, and, when the Sullivan and Palmer Company undertook the international and inter-oceanic railroad from the City of Mexico to the Pacific coast, Colonel Greenwood was called as he had been before, as the most reliable man to locate the great work. Whilst so employed he was murdered, being in the discharge of his duty, near Rio Hondo, eighteen miles from the City of Mexico on the 29th of August 1880. The following notice of his death is taken from the “Two Republics”, a newspaper published in the City of Mexico. “It is our melancholy duty to announce the death of one of our most worthy and useful American citizens Colonel William H. Greenwood, chief engineer of high repute and employed in the Sullivan and Palmer Company. He was murdered last Sunday on the public highway near Rio Hondo, between Tlaenepautla and the city. Colonel Greenwood was accompanied by an assistant engineer and a servant. Upon arriving at a ravine about a mile from Rio Hondo, he separated from his companions and proceeded ahead of them at an increased pace with the object of examining that locality. His companions saw him as he came from the ravine (baranca) and descended upon the opposite side of the hill. They hastened in a gallop to join him when in a short time they came upon his dead body lying in the road and perforated by two bullets, one through the breast and left hand and another through the right hand. His horse and arms were missing but his watch, papers and money were untouched. His remains were brought to the City of Mexico and interred in the American Cemetery. His funeral was attended by 150 people, Americans, English, French and Germans, and by a large body of distinguished Mexicans. The Mexican government took active measures to arrest the assassins, and three persons were soon arrested under suspicion.” Another Mexican paper, speaking of this sad occurrence, says, “The motives for this horrible murder are mysterious but we trust the secret will be revealed. The loss of Colonel Greenwood was deeply felt by Mr. Sullivan and General Palmer, not only as a friend but a valuable co-laborer. The loss is immeasurable for Mexico, and the Mexicans from the president of the republic to the humblest members of society reprobate the crime that has taken him away from us with the utmost indignation. His mortal remains rest in the American Cemetery, a monument of the dedication of a man of science to the progress of Mexico; a monument to a man who died in the discharge of his duty.”

Mrs. Greenwood will at a suitable time have the remains of her husband conveyed to their beautiful home in Vermont.

Mr. Greenwood was a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and had surveyed and superintended the construction of three thousand miles of railroad. This is a great work for one man, only 47 years of age at the time of his death. This quiet man, almost bashful in his modesty, had realized the object of his youthful ambition and had made himself a great engineer. His works are a monument of his great worth. As a solder and a man of practical science, he was alike excellent. This sketch would be incomplete without mention of his wife, his accomplished and faithful companion. He was married May 19, 1857 to Evaline Knight of Dummerston, Vermont. Their wedlock on earth has been sweet indeed. Himself a loving and devoted husband, he has been rewarded by an equally devoted wife. In war and in peace, wherever it was possible for her to reach him by sea or by land she has always been his helping companion and devoted helpmeet. They have had no children but adopted a little girl, remarkably beautiful, who was taken from them by death a few years ago. The death of this little one was a great grief, as they loved her dearly. Mrs. Greenwood is left to mourn, but as her husband’s life was noble, so may she live in the Christian hope that in that future life Christ has opened for us the way, her tears may be turned to joy. As a member of our society Greenwood was one of the most zealous and punctual. Although his duties called him to the most distant west, he was almost sure to turn up at our annual meeting. His attachments were very strong and he loved the friends he had formed in four years of standing up, shoulder to shoulder, in our weary war. In our society he was quiet, always practical and sensible.

He began his military service with the Army of the Cumberland. He remained with that army until it dissolved. He became one of the first members of this society. He remained until God called him home. We will cherish his memory as one of our purest, truest, bravest and best.

Knight Family Papers, University of Akron Archives, Akron, Ohio

*The Fifty-First Illinois was not at Perryville, and it's very unlikely that Greenwood's engineering duties took him there. Stanley's memory abandoned him on this point.

**General William Jackson Palmer (born in 1836 in Delaware) was colonel of the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry, brigadier-general by brevet. He was awarded the Medal of Honor.