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Brigadier General Edward Godfrey


Yesterday was the birthday of Edward Settle Godfrey, who was born in Ohio in 1843. When he was just 18, he went against his parents’ wishes and joined the 21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry — to their great relief, he fought in the Civil War just four months. But, it was long enough to get soldiering in his blood. He secretly applied for West Point and didn’t tell them until after he received the appointment. When he graduated in 1867, he was commissioned 2nd Lt. and attached to the 7th Cavalry, which was then based in Kansas.

Godfrey was slender with intelligent eyes and boyish good looks. But his most notable feature was his mustache – it was so astoundingly long and heavy it’s a wonder he managed to eat.

Historians Jane and Edgar Stewart say Godfrey was “very human” and “fond of his family.” They write, “Godfrey loved luxury, had a keen appreciation of the finer things of life and was very conscious of the proprieties. In his dealings with the men under his command he seems to have been eminently fair and had an appreciation fo the hardships that were the lot of the common soldier of the day. While he would not tolerate shirking nor neglect of duty...he was very much concerned for the comfort and welfare of his men. He had no patience with either ‘glory-hunters’ or ‘coffee-coolers’, and he did his duty as he saw it without fanfare or apology, and he expected others to do the same.”

Godfrey participated in many Indian campaigns, and while stationed at Ft. Abraham Lincoln, led Co. K of the 7th Cavalry during the Battle of the Little Bighorn. For a long time, historians seemed unaware that Lt. Godfrey kept a personal diary during the campaign. When the diary later came to light, it offered some key observations on troop movements during the battle.

Godfrey’s company was attached to Captain Benteen’s battalion, and his observations of Major Reno during the battle weren’t unforgiving. “Colonel Reno carried no vigor nor decision,” he wrote, “and his personal behaviour (sic) gave no confidence in him.”

That winter, Godfrey was promoted to Captain and given command of Co. D. The following year, he participated in the Battle of Snake Creek, for which he was awarded a Medal of Honor.

Home of Heroes, a website dedicated to Medal of Honor winners, describes the circumstance:

During the summer and early fall of 1877 the U.S. Cavalry was in pursuit of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Indian tribe as they attempted to cross through Montana and reach Canada. After numerous battles, including the battle of the Little Big Horn in early August, the Cavalry found it difficult to follow and locate Chief Joseph and his traveling tribe. After a forced march of several days, the Indian camp was located near Bear Paw Mountain, where the final battle that lead to the surrender of the Nez Perce nation occurred on September 30. Captain Edward Godfrey was seriously wounded in the battle, but continued to lead his command throughout the engagement, earning the Medal of Honor...

Godfrey ended up a Brigadier General and is credited with originating the Cossack and Rough Riding maneuvers for Army Cavalrymen. He was also the first army commander to test emergency rations for men in the field. But, it appears his concern over food went farther than that, because he’s also credited with establishing the first Army Cooking and Baking School.

Thinking back to that giant mustache – one has to wonder how it affected his concerns about food...


Stewart, Edgar I. and Jane R. Stewart. “Introduction.” The Field Diary of Lt. Edward Settle Godfrey. Champoeg Press, 1957.

“Edward Settle Godfrey: Brigadier General, United States Army.” Arlington Cemetery Website.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm