FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Sept. 14, 2018) -- Jan. 8, 2019, will mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of Fort Sill. As the sesquicentennial approaches, it's time to reflect on its long and storied history.
One of the first questions that comes to mind is, "Why is the post called Fort Sill?" Naturally, there's a reason for that, and it turns out this story comes with an ironic twist.
Gen. Philip Sheridan named Fort Sill in honor of his United States Military Academy classmate, Brig. Gen. Joshua Woodrow Sill, who fell at the Battle of Stones River, Tenn., Dec. 31, 1862.
Sill was born Dec. 6, 1831, at Chillicothe, Ohio. His early education was obtained largely from his father, who was a lawyer. Sill was appointed in 1849 to the U.S. Military Academy. He ranked third in his class of 52 at West Point and was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in Ordnance. His first assignment was at the Watervliet Arsenal at Troy, N.Y.
In 1855 he was assigned to West Point as an assistant professor of history. After two years there he was assigned to Pittsburgh Arsenal as an ordnance officer.
In May 1858, Sill was sent to Vancouver in Washington Territory to superintend the building of an arsenal. Difficulties with the British Government prevented the construction of this arsenal and he was reassigned to Watervliet Arsenal.
A few months later he was ordered to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., but resigned his commission on Jan. 28, 1861.
He next taught mathematics and civil engineering at the Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute.
When the Civil War broke out, he offered his service to the governor of Ohio and was appointed assistant adjutant general in May 1861. He served in this capacity from April until July 1861, helping to organize the Ohio forces.
In August he was promoted to colonel and became the commander of the 33rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
He accompanied Brig. Gen. William "Bull" Nelson in the Eastern Kentucky expedition.
He was then assigned as a brigade commander in Brig. Gen. Ormsby M. Mitchel's division of the Army of the Ohio.
On July 16, 1862, he was appointed a brigadier general and elevated to command of a division, though was soon reassigned to command a brigade in Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan's division of the now-named Army of the Cumberland.
The Battle of Stones River, Tenn., (also known as the Second Battle of Murfreesboro) was fought from Dec. 31, 1862, to Jan. 3, 1863.
On the first day of the battle, the Confederates advanced across an open cotton field towards Sill's position and as he rode among his troops, he was shot from his horse by Pvt. Clark Jenkins of Company D, First Arkansas Rifles. The bullet entered near Sill's left eye and killed him instantly.
On the eve of the battle, Sill had been in conference with his commander, Sheridan.
When the conference adjourned and the attendees began to disperse, Sill and Sheridan mistakenly put on each other's coats. Sill was thus wearing Sheridan's coat at the time he was killed, according to the book, "Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders" by Ezra Warner.
The position was overrun by the Confederate forces who recovered Sill's body and buried him at Murfreesboro, Tenn.
A short time later the body was exhumed and taken to his birthplace and reburied at Grandview Cemetery in Chillicothe. He was 31 years old and the youngest brigadier general in the Union Army at the time of his death.
An epitaph from one of Sill's officers stated that "No man in the entire Army, I believe, was so much admired, respected, and beloved by his inferiors as well as superiors in rank as was General Sill.