Lt Charles Albert Varnum


Charles Albert Varnum was born June 21, 1849 in Troy, New York. Charles Varnum was the son of US Army Major John Varnum, who moved to Pensacola, Florida in 1866 to become a political and civic figure. His mother was Nancy Elizabeth Green Varnum. While residing in Florida, Charles was appointed as a cadet to the United States Military Academy at West Point and graduated June 14, 1872 ranking 17th in a class of 57.

After graduating West Point, Charles was sent to the Dakota Territory to serve in Company A of the 7th US Cavalry Regiment stationed at Fort Abraham Lincoln. Charles Varnum served in the 1873 Yellowstone Expedition and the 1874 Black Hills Expedition. When the 1876 US Army campaign against the Plains Indians began Lt. Varnum was place in charge of the 7th US Cavalry’s Scouts. The US Army Scouts included civilians, US Army personnel, Crow, and Arikaree Indians. A large portion of his duties were to assign scouting missions and coordinate the resulting reports.

Prior to the Indian victory at the Battle of The Little Big Horn, Lt. Varnum’s US Army Indian Scouts discovered the large Indian camp. General George Armstrong Custer was taken by Lt. Varnum and his Indian Scouts to a prominent high point, known as the Crow's Nest, to see how large the camp was. General Custer, like most of the whites, could not see as well as the Indian Scouts and did not truly see how large the enemy Indian camp was. A battle plan was devised to attack the village and several of the US Army Indian scouts left, others began chanting their death songs and changing out of their US Army Indian Scout uniforms. The Indian Scouts wished to enter the next world as Indians, not as the White Man’s soldiers.


The Crow's Nest, circled in red, as it appears from Reno Hill.


During the Battle of The Little Big Horn Lt. Varnum fought on Reno Hill with Major Marcus Reno and Captain Frederick Benteen. During the fighting Lt. Varnum was wounded three times, in both legs and the right ear. On the first day of the battle Charles Varnum was promoted to First Lieutenant and appointed Regimental Quartermaster.

After the stunning defeat at the Little Big Horn, Lt. Varnum served as the 7th Cavalry Regimental Quartermaster from November 1876 through October 1879. Lt. Varnum also served during the Nez Perce War, fighting in the Battle of Canyon Creek and the Battle of Bear Paw. During his service in the west, Lt. Varnum married Mary Alice Moore (1865–1935) who bore him three children, one of whom died two weeks after being born in 1889.

Charles Albert Varnum was appointed Captain on July 22, 1890 was present at the Battle of Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890. Captain Varnum headed Company B US 7th Cavalry at Wounded Knee. On the following day, while fighting against the Sioux near White Clay Creek, South Dakota, Captain Varnum’s actions earned him the Medal of Honor.

Captain Varnum had been ordered to retreat from his position. Captain Varnum realized this action would cause the remaining Troopers to be left in a very perilous situation and disobeyed the order. Captain Varnum feared the remaining Troopers would be cut off and surrounded. Varnum and his Troopers descended the ridge under heavy gunfire. Captain Varnum then assembled the Troopers of both detachments and led them out of the ravine, leading a charge on the advancing Indian Warriors. These actions insured a safe withdrawal of both detachments without any further losses. Captain Varnum was awarded his Medal of Honor on September 22, 1897.

Captain Varnum was promoted to Major on February 2, 1901 and to Lieutenant Colonel on April 10, 1905. Captain Varnum secured the horses for the Rough Riders prior to reporting for duty in the Spanish-American War. Varnum served in Cuba during the war before being sent stateside with typhoid fever. In September 1905 Colonel Varnum shipped out again, serving as post commander at Camp Malabang during the Philippine American War. Colonel Varnum retired from the Regular Army on October 31, 1907 and remained in the Philippine Islands as a Colonel in the US Army Reserve until July 1918. After returning to the United States, Colonel Varnum retired for good on April 8, 1919.

On February 26, 1936 Colonel Varnum died at Letterman Hospital in the Presidio of San Francisco at the age of 86. He was the last surviving US Army Officer of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Colonel Varnum is buried in the San Francisco National Cemetery at the Presidio.


Lt Charles A Varnum

Lt Varnum's 1881 dress uniform

Lt Varnum's gravestone





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