Descended on the maternal side from a Norman chieftain, whose name is recorded in English history as having fought under the banners of William the Conqueror at the battle of Hastings in 1066 and which, from various original spellings, became Ballou in America, William Henry Bisbee may be said to have maintained the military traditions of that remote ancestor, since his entire mature life was spent in the United States Army, where he attained the rank of brigadier-general.
He was born in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, January 28, 1840, a son of William Orson and Harriet Miriam (Ballou) Bisbee, the first-named having been born in Plainfield, Massachusetts, August 28, 1805, and who died in Waterford, New Jersey, at the age of ninety-two years. He was a descendant of a pioneer family of Maine and lived in that State for a period during his early life, later removing to Cattaraugus County, New York. In about 1830 he settled in Woonsocket and on September 22, 1831, married Harriet Miriam Ballou, daughter of Levi Ballou, of Cumberland, Rhode Island. He became associated in business with his brother-in-law, Latimer W. Ballou, and in later years became an accountant and rose to be manager of the Harrison Cotton Mills, owned and operated by Dexter and Orrin A. Ballou in Woonsocket. Subsequently, from about 1870 until the closing years of his life, he was a commercial reporter for the house of R. G. Dun and Company of Philadelphia, but maintaining his home at Waterford, New Jersey.
Harriet Miriam (Ballou) Bisbee was a direct lineal descendant of Maturin Ballou, who came to America from England in 1646 and who was a co-proprietor with Roger Williams of the Providence Plantations, the lineal descent being: Maturin, James, Obediah, Ezekiel, Levi, Esquire, and Levi Ballou. She was born at the ancestral home in Cumberland, Rhode Island, August 27, 1807, and died in Woonsocket, February 24, 1853.
The son of this union acquired his early education in the public schools of Woonsocket, leaving his books at the age of fifteen years to enter the employ of the merchandising firm of Seavey and Wales, in Woonsocket, later being sent to their branch store in Pawtucket. Following this preliminary experience in business, he became engaged by the wholesale merchandising house of Smith, Murphy and Company in Philadelphia, where his father had taken up his residence in 1857, and still later going to Delaware, Ohio, where he entered the service of Welch and Mendenhall, operating in similar lines. It was at this time that he temporarily abandoned his work in merchandising and made a trip with an itinerant photographer across the plains to the Rocky Mountains, reaching Denver at a period when it was a cluster of shacks. The venture was unsuccessful financially and he returned to Ohio and resumed his occupation, making his home in Delaware until the outbreak of the Civil War.
He entered the United States Army September 2, 1861, and was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to the 18th United States Infantry June 9, 1862. He participated in the Mill Spring, Kentucky, campaign under General George H. Thomas, in the winter of 1861 and 1862; General Buell’s Army of the Ohio campaign from Mill Spring, Kentucky, to Shiloh, Tennessee, March and April, 1862; General H. W. Halleck’s siege of Corinth, Mississippi, May, 1862; General Buell’s campaign from Corinth, Mississippi, to Louisville, Kentucky in pursuit of the Confederate Army under General Bragg, from June 22 to September 26, 1862; General Buell’s campaign against Bragg, from Louisville to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, from October 1, 1862, to January 4, 1863; engaged in the battle of Perryville, October 8, 1862; battle of Stone River, Tennessee, December 31, 1862, to January 4, 1863. He was appointed adjutant of the 2d Battalion, 18th Infantry, April 27, 1863, and served in that capacity until December 1, 1863. He was brevetted first lieutenant for gallant and meritorious services in the battle of Stone River, December 31, 1862, and promoted first lieutenant on the same date. He was engaged in the Tullahoma campaign under General Rosecrans, from May, 1863, to July 23, 1863. At the battle of Hoover’s Gap, Tennessee, June 26, 1863, he was wounded. He was engaged in the Atlanta campaign under General William Tecumseh Sherman from Resaca, Georgia, May 16, 1864, until its close, September 1, 1864, and was appointed adjutant of the 2d Battalion, 18th Infantry in August, 1864, and served until September 21, 1866. He participated in the following engagements of the Atlanta campaign: Pumpkin Vine Creek, Georgia, May 29, 1864; New Hope Church, May 31, 1864; Kenesaw Mountain, June 19 to July 3; Neal Dow Station, July 4, 1864; Peachtree Creek, July 22; Utoy Creek, August 7; siege of Atlanta, August, 1864, wounded; Jonesboro, September 1, 1864. He was brevetted captain, September 1, 1864, for gallant and meritorious services at the battle of Jonesboro. He served on Lookout Mountain and vicinity with General Thomas’ army, operating against General Hood, from October, 1864, to September, 1865. He then served at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and Fort Kearney, Nebraska, and in May, 1866, was en route with his regiment to open a wagon road and protect emigration through the Powder River country, from Fort Laramie, Dakota, to Gallatin Valley, Montana. He assisted in building Fort Phil Kearny, Dakota, until December 10, 1866 participating in frequent engagements with the Sioux Indians from July to December, 1866, during which time the total battalion and civilian loss was about two hundred killed. He was regimental adjutant, 18th Infantry, November 14 to December 8, 1866, and adjutant-general, Mountain District, Department of the Platte, and was promoted captain, December 21, 1866, vice Fetterman, killed by Indians. Aide-de-camp December 28, 1866, to September 1, 1868; judge advocate, Department of the Platte, January, 1867, to September, 1868. At Fort Sedgwick, Colorado, 1869; assigned to 4th Infantry in 1870. Served at Fort Fetterman, Wyoming; Louisville, Kentucky; Omaha Barracks, Nebraska, and Fort Douglas, Utah, until 1874, when he participated in an expedition against the Arapahoe Indians into the Big Horn Mountains. He served at Fort Bridger, Wyoming, Fort Sanders, North Platte, and other stations in the Department of the Platte and in 1877 was adjutant-general of the troops at the Chicago riots. He was stationed at various posts in the Missouri River sector and at Fort Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in 1892, engaged in suppressing the miners’ outbreak. He was promoted major of the 17th Infantry, May 1893. He commanded the troops at Ogden, Utah, and Pocatello, Idaho, in the Debs riots and Commonwealers’ outbreaks in 1893-94. In 1895 he commanded a battalion of the 8th Infantry at Jackson’s Hole, in the Bannock Indian disturbances. Promoted to lieutenant-colonel of the 1st Infantry, May 4, 1897, he commanded the regiment throughout the Santiago, Cuba, campaign, from April 21, 1898, to June 16, 1899. He protected Capron’s battery at the battles of El Caney and San Juan on June 30 and July 1, 1898, and was an active participant in the operations of the army in front of Santiago to July 26, 1898. He was in charge of three thousand Spanish prisoners in Cuba in August, 1898, and returned to the United States with the 5th Army Corps. Reorganized the regiment at Montauk Point, New York, and was then stationed at Huntsville and Anniston, Alabama, until the close of the year, returning to Cuba and making regimental headquarters at Pinar del Rio, January 2, 1899. He commanded Camp Egbert, at Pinar del Rio, consisting of the 1st Infantry, a squadron of the 7th Cavalry and a Battalion of Engineers, from January to June, 1899. In charge of a payment of $3,000,000 appropriated to pay the Cuban soldiers. Promoted colonel of the 13th Infantry, June 16, 1899, ar >d relinquished four months leave to join the regiment, then on the firing line in front of Manila, Philippine Islands. Commanded 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 8th Army Corps, until October 15, 1899. Commanded his regiment as part of the brigade under General Schwan and participated in many engagements in Luzon. Returning to Manila, he was stationed with his regiment on the north line of the Manila defense during October, 1899. Was with General Wheaton’s expedition to Lingayen Gulf and participated in the landing of troops and the engagement at San Fabian, November 7. Many other engagements followed in that sector and from January, 1900, to December 31, he was in command of a district embracing nineteen native towns in the provinces of Pangasinan and Nueva Ecijo, Luzon, under most trying conditions of guerilla warfare, during which about one hundred murderers were convicted, forty of them executed and others sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. He was promoted to brigadier-general, United States Army, October 2, 1901, by President Theodore Roosevelt.
President McKinley was on the eve of promoting Colonel Bisbee to the rank of brigadier-general when the Chief Executive was shot by an assassin at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo and it devolved upon his successor to perform the duty. Recommendations of most eulogistic character were at that time sent to Washington, among the officers of high rank contributing having been Major-General Lloyd Wheaton, Major-General William R. Shafter, Major-General John R. Brooke, Major-General Arthur MacArthur, Brigadier-General J. F. Bell, Brigadier-General Theodore Schwan, and Brigadier-General John C. Bates.
Major-General Wheaton wrote:
The record of Colonel William H. Bisbee, 13th U. S. Infantry, for long, arduous and gallant service can be surpassed by few living soldiers. His gallant conduct in campaigns and on many battlefields of the Civil War, his services in Indian wars and in military operations in Cuba and the Philippines, and his able administration of civil affairs whenever devolving upon him, demonstrate his ability, capacity and worthiness. I recommend Colonel Bisbee to the consideration of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, knowing him to be one of the ablest and most deserving officers on the active list of the Army.
General MacArthur wrote:
My own personal knowledge of Colonel Bisbee is extended over many years, during which time his uniform efficiency has been a matter of public knowledge. He is thoroughly informed in all branches of the profession, practical and theoretical, and has great aptitude for command and administration. His many acts of good soldiership and intrepidity are of record in the archives of the War Department.
General Brooke said:
Colonel Bisbee has always borne the reputation of being one of the best officers of our Army. While serving under my command in Cuba I considered him one of the most able and efficient commanders of a difficult situation in that island. His record from the beginning is one of which any officer might be proud.
General Shafter, commanding the American forces in Cuba, wrote to President McKinley, in part, as follows:
Colonel Bisbee, 13th U. S. Infantry, served under me in command of the 1st Infantry in the campaign in Cuba and distinguished himself by great efficiency. His subsequent record in the Philippines indicates that the same qualities have been exhibited by him. He is an officer of unblemished character, exemplary habits and of more than ordinary ability. I recommend him to the favorable consideration of the Honorable Secretary of War and yourself as being one of the most efficient and active colonels of whom I have any knowledge in the Army and I regard him in every respect well qualified for promotion.
General Bisbee is a member of the Sons of the American Revolution; Military Order of the Loyal
Legion of the United States, of which he has served twice as commander of the Massachusetts Commandery and once as junior vice-commander of the national organization; Army of the Cumberland; 14th Corps, Army of the Cumberland; Regular Brigade, Army of the Cumberland; Society of Santiago de Cuba; Order of Indian Wars of the United States; Military Order of the Carabao; Military Historical Society of Massachusetts; Industrial Defense Society of Massachusetts; National Security League of New York; National Geographic Society, and others. He was awarded medals by Congress for his activities in the Civil War, Indian wars, Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection. His residence since his retirement from active service is in Beacon Street, Brookline, Massachusetts.
William Henry Bisbee married, in Columbus, Ohio, September 3, 1863, Lucy Katherine Shade, daughter of Jacob Miller and Elizabeth Cooper (Lewis) Shade, both of pioneer American ancestry. General Bisbee’s wife died in her seventy-fifth year. Their children were:
- Eugene Shade, born in Columbus, Ohio, August 18, 1864.
- Katherine Ballou, born in Columbus, Ohio, November 10, 1868.
- Haymond Bird, born in Louisville, Kentucky, August 14, 1871.
- Louise Lucille, born at Fort Bridger, Wyoming, January 8, 1875, deceased.
Source: Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, vol 3 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.