Biographical / Historical
General William Babcock Hazen was born September 27, 1830 in West Hartford, Vermont. Four years later, the family moved to a farm outside Hiram, Portage County, Ohio where he attended school with James A. Garfield. Hazen's goal was service in the Army, and he wrote his congressman for admission to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Hazen graduated in 1855, twenty-eighth out of a class of thirty-four.
After graduation, General Hazen was assigned as Brevet Second Lieutenant, Company D, Fourth Infantry, Redding, California. After arriving in California, he was ordered to Fort Lane in the Oregon Territory. Lieutenant Hazen was authorized to establish a command at Grand Ronde and build a blockhouse that became the post Fort Yamhill, located west of Portland, Oregon. On April 20, 1857, he was transferred to Fort Jones, California, and then ordered to join the Eighth Infantry, Fort Davis, Texas. Hazen was transferred to Fort Inge, Texas, to protect a road from San Antonio to Eagle Pass. During a chase, Hazen was wounded by a bullet that was not removed. The lingering effect of the bullet wound would cause him frequent pain.
During the period of service in Texas, Hazen reportedly gained leadership experience, practical military knowledge, and considerable confidence in his own abilities. Following twelve months of convalescence, Hazen was nominated assistant instructor of military tactics at West Point on January 28, 1861. He was promoted to First Lieutenant on April 1861 and captain on May 14, 1861. Colonel James A. Garfield influenced the appointment of Hazen as colonel in command of the newly organized forty-first Ohio Volunteer Regiment. Hazen quickly transformed the regiment's inexperienced personnel into a firmly disciplined body. The intensive training paid large dividends later in the war, and he always held the regiment in high regard.
As brigade and division commander, General Hazen led troops in many important battles and campaigns: Shiloh (Place of Peace), Stones River, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, Atlanta, Resaca, Picketts Mill, Jonesboro, Fort McAllister, and Bentonville. On December 13, 1864, Hazen was appointed a major general of volunteers in recognition of long and faithful service and the capture of Fort McAllister. It was after the performance of his troops at Fort McAllister that a friendly relationship developed with General William T. Sherman. With the capitulation of the Confederate armies in spring of 1865, Hazen's division and the Army of the Tennessee left North Carolina where they saw their last fighting. The destination was Washington, D.C., site of a two-day grand review of the victorious Union Armies. On May 19, 1865 Hazen was elevated to commander of the Fifteenth Corps. After a thirty day furlough, he held command of the District of Middle Tennessee until the following summer. In July 1866, Hazen returned west.
In August 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant granted Hazen indefinite leave to observe the Franco-Prussian War. He viewed several battles and personally interviewed Otto von Bismarck and General Helmut von Moltke. Observations and research convinced Hazen that the United States Army was mismanaged and lacked tactical and logistical organization.
Before returning to the Sixth Infantry command, Hazen married Mildred McLean, the twenty-one year-old daughter of prominent Cincinnati Enquirer owner Washington McLean. A son John was born in 1876, but died at the age of twenty-two in 1898.
In June 1877, Hazen was appointed military attaché to the United States Legation in Vienna, Austria, and assigned as military observer of the Russo-Turkish War that had started in April 1877.
In 1878 Colonel Stanley accused Colonel Hazen of perjury and cowardice in the Civil War and requested a court-martial. Colonel Hazen retaliated by formally requesting that Stanley be arraigned by a court-martial on charges of publishing and circulating libelous material against him. On March 19, 1879, General Sherman reluctantly recommended that both generals be arraigned by the same court-martial. The New York Tribune reported "inasmuch as by the decisions of the court-martial Hazen has secured a substantial vindication." Hazen returned to Fort Buford.
While on detached service in Washington, D.C., Hazen actively campaigned for James A. Garfield for president. On August 24, 1880, General Albert James Myer, Chief of the Army Signal Corps, died, opening up a staff position subject to presidential appointment. President Rutherford B. Hayes, after consulting with President-elect Garfield, announced the promotion of Hazen to the rank of brigadier general and appointment as chief signal officer. One of Hazen's lasting legacies in this new role was advancing the development of meteorological science in the Army Signal Corps.
In May 1880, Lady Franklin Bay in northern Canada was chosen as the site for a signal service polar station, one of several conducted by eleven nations for the first International Polar Year (1882-1883). The initial two-year expedition set out in 1881 under the command of Regular Army First Lieutenant Adolphus W. Greely, a Civil War veteran from Massachusetts. The twenty-five man party did not get relief from the long winter in 1882, and a second rescue attempt was disrupted by ice. In September 1883, Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln, decided it was too late to send another relief party and they were left to spend a third winter in the Arctic. The demoralized party was forced to march south in search of supplies and landed at Cape Sabine, spending the next eight months in desperate circumstances. In June 1884, rescuers finally reached them and found only Greely and seven others alive. The remaining expedition members froze or starved to death.
Hazen never forgave Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln for his inaction with the Greely Arctic Expedition, and in 1884 Lincoln censured Hazen for his criticism. Hazen replied to Lincoln by letter, which was returned with a warning to keep the matter private. Hazen went to the press and stated in a published account that he wrote such a letter. He immediately found himself ordered before another court-martial, resulting in a reprimand by President Chester A. Arthur for "unwarranted and captious criticism." Greely supported Hazen's position. In 1885, Hazen produced A Narrative of Military Service, a report devoted to the defense of his Civil War record and personal reputation.
Health problems-diabetes and recurring pain from his bullet wound-forced Hazen to obtain a 12-month leave of absence from his military service. On January 13, 1887, he attended a White House reception where he caught a cold. He died on January 16, 1887, at the age of fifty-six.