Samuel David Sturgis was born on June 11, 1822 in Shippensburg,Pennsylvania. Samuel Sturgis graduated 32ndof 59 from the United States Military Academy in 1842. His graduating class contained severalprominent officers for both the Confederate and Union forces.He served as a cavalry lieutenant and captain during theMexican-American War. Mexican forcescaptured and held him for eight days near Buena Vista, Mexico while performinga reconnaissance mission. He continuedservice in the American west serving in the Nez Perce War against multipleIndian tribes. Captain Sturgis commanded the 1st Cavalry at FortSmith, Arkansas when the Civil War began. Many of his troops defected to the Confederacy leaving him with scarcepersonnel and equipment.
Knowing hewould have to surrender if he remained at Fort Smith he ordered the movement toFort Leavenworth, Kansas. His promotionwas for the movement of the 1st Cavalry from Fort Smith, Arkansas toFort Leavenworth under threat of Confederate forces. Major Sturgis obtainedthe rank of brigadier general in March of 1862, for actions taken after thedeath of General Nathaniel Lyon during the Battle of Wilsons Creek. At this battle General Lyons died whilesecuring Bloody Hill. Major Sturgisassumed command and held the ground until depleting ammunition and lack ofreinforcements forced the Union to retire to Springfield. In his official report Major Sturgis saidthis of General Lyons “Thus gloriously fell as brave a soldier as ever drew asword, a man whose honesty of purpose was proverbial, a noble patriot, and onewho held his life as nothing when his country demanded it of him”.
(Iron Brigadier para. 15)General Sturgis went on to defend Washington DC with GeneralPope. General Sturgis was obtainingpriority for railroad movement of troops from General Haupt when he was told hewould have to wait for General Pope to finish his movement of supplies. It was at this time that General Sturgisbecame known for his statement “I don’t care for John Pope one pinch of owldung”. General Sturgis took command of IXCorps and fought battles throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, Mississippi, andTennessee.
General Forrest defeatedGeneral Sturgis at the battle of Brice’s Cross Roads, Mississippi. Brice’s Cross Roads was the last battle ofGeneral Sturgis’ Civil War command. General Sturgis reverted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonelto take command of 6th Cavalry. He achieved the rank of Colonel upon takingcommand of the 7th Cavalry. Hislieutenant colonel was George A. Custer who would go on in infamy for actionsat Little Bighorn. Colonel Sturgis ledmultiple campaigns against Nez Perce throughout 1877. He followed the Indians through what is nowYellowstone National Park, however failed to capture them as they progressednorth to Canada.
It was during his timeleading the 7th Cavalry that he arrived in South Dakota. General Sturgis established Camp J.C. Sturgisin honor of his son, killed in action at Little Bighorn. This site and Camp Ruhlen paved the way for what is todayknown as Fort Meade. Local business menand miners established a town outside the post that later became the town ofSturgis, South Dakota. The town constructed a sculpture of him, mounted onhorseback, at the intersection of Highways 34 and 79.
Sturgis, South Dakota is known today for theSturgis Motorcycle Rally held annually each summer. General Sturgis retired in 1886. He went on to recruiting for three yearsuntil his death on September 28, 1889. Hiswife Jershua Wilcox Sturgis survived him until her death in 1915. They had six children many of whom served inthe military. Previously mentioned hisson James Sturgis died at Little Bighorn. His son, Samuel D.
Sturgis, served as commander of AmericanExpeditionary Forces during World War One. His grandson, Samuel D. Sturgis Jr., served as a general in the Army andChief of Engineers for three years.
GeneralSturgis and his family are interred in Section 2 of Arlington NationalCemetery.