Lt. General Adna Chaffee, Sr.

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About Lt. General Adna Chaffee, Sr.

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Adna Romanza Chaffee (1842-1914), American officer in the United States Army, who distinguished himself in the Cuban campaign of the Spanish-American War (1898). Born in Orwell, Ohio, Chaffee enlisted in the 6th United States Cavalry at the age of 19. Receiving his first commission in 1863, he was made a first lieutenant by the close of the American Civil War (1861-1865), and two years later he became a captain. Chaffee was promoted to major in 1888 and was assigned to the 9th Cavalry. In 1897 he became lieutenant colonel of the 3rd Cavalry.

In 1898, at the beginning of the Spanish-American War, Chaffee was made a brigadier general of volunteers. In a major encounter prior to the Battle of Santiago, Chaffee’s brigade captured the village of El Caney. At the close of hostilities, he became chief of staff of the military government in Cuba. At the time of the Boxer Uprising (1900) in China, Chaffee headed a relief expedition to the war-torn country, where Chinese nationalists were attempting to have all foreigners expelled. Chaffee became a major general in the army on February 4, 1901. After serving in the Philippines, Chaffee headed the Department of the East from 1902 to 1903, and he was assistant chief of staff for the department from 1903 to 1904. Also in 1904, he became lieutenant general and chief of staff of the United States Army. Chaffee retired in 1906.


Adna Romanza Chaffee (April 14, 1842 – November 1, 1914) was a General in the United States Army. Chaffee took part in the American Civil War and Indian Wars, played a key role in the Spanish-American War, and was instrumental in crushing the Boxer Rebellion in China. He was the Army Chief of Staff from 1904 to 1906, overseeing far-reaching transformation of organization and doctrine in the Army.

Civil War

Chaffee was born in Orwell, Ohio. When the American Civil War broke out in July 1861, Chaffee enlisted in the Union Army as a Private in the U.S. 6th Cavalry Regiment. In 1862, Chaffee was promoted to sergeant and took part in the Peninsular Campaign and the Battle of Antietam. In September of that year he was made the First Sergeant of Company K. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in May 1863. His 6th Cavalry on detached service from General John Buford's 1st Union Cavalry Division, though outnumbered attacked a Confederate Cavalry regiment at Fairfield, Maryland, just outside of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. (source, Wittenberg, Eric: Gettysburg: Forgotten Cavalry Actions)In the ensuing action he was wounded and briefly held a prisoner of the Condederates. He served with the 6th Cavalry for the remainder of the war, being twice wounded. In February 1865, he was promoted to First Lieutenant. For his "gallant and meritorious" actions in the Battle of Dinwiddie Court House he was brevetted Captain.

Indian Wars

Chaffee decided to remain with the Army after the war. He was posted to the western frontier, and was promoted to Captain of Regulars in October 1867. For the next thirty years he served in the Indian Wars, fighting the Central Plains and Southwestern tribes. In 1868, he was brevetted major for his actions at Paint Creek, Texas. In the following years he engaged the Indians many times, most notably at Red River, Texas in 1874, and Big Dry Wash, Arizona in 1882, for which he was brevetted Lieutenant Colonel. In July 1888 he was promoted to Major and transferred to the 9th Cavalry. From 1894 to 1896, he was an instructor of tactics at the Army’s Infantry and Cavalry School at Fort Leavenworth. In June 1897 he was promoted to Colonel and transferred to the 3rd Cavalry, where he served as commandant of the Cavalry School at Fort Riley until 1898.

Spanish-American War

With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, he was assigned a brigade and was promoted to Brigadier General of volunteers in May of that year, and in July after the victory at El Caney, to Major General of volunteers. From late 1898 to May 1900, he served as the chief of staff to the military governor of Cuba, General Leonard Wood, being promoted to Colonel of regulars in May 1899.

Boxer Rebellion

In June 1900, the Boxer Rebellion broke out in China. Chaffee was sent to China in July as the commander of the U.S. Army’s China Relief Expedition. The Expedition was a part of the international force sent to rescue Western citizens and put down the rebellion. Chaffee played a key role in the rapid advance to the imperial capital of Beijing and its subsequent capture on August 14, 1900, which relieved the beleaguered embassy staffs and other Western nationals.

Later Military Service

In February 1901, he became a Major General in the regular army. From July of that year until October 1902, he served as the military governor of the Philippines. This included the beginning of the second phase of the Philippine Insurrection. In October 1902, he became commander of the Department of the East, a position he held until October 1903.

In January 1904, he was promoted to Lieutenant General and, from January 9, 1904 until January 14, 1906, served as the Chief of Staff of the United States Army. At his own request, he was retired on February 1, 1906.

In his retirement, he moved to Los Angeles, where he was appointed President of the Board of Public Works for the city of Los Angeles.


Chaffee was married twice: in 1868, he married Kate Haynie Reynolds, who died the following year; in 1875, he married his second wife, Annie Frances Rockwell. His son Adna Chaffee, Jr. also became a general and was one of the fathers of U.S. Army’s armored forces.

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Lt. General Adna Chaffee, Sr.'s Timeline

Orwell, Ohio, United States
Age 26
United States
Age 27
United States
February 4, 1876
Age 34
Calhoun County, Michigan, United States
March 4, 1877
Age 35
New York City, New York
September 23, 1884
Age 42
Junction City, Kansas
February 14, 1888
Age 46
Manchester, Iowa, United States
Age 72