David Legge Brainard

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David Legge Brainard
David L. Brainard (US Army Brigadier General).jpg
From 1902's A Military Album, Containing Over One Thousand Portraits of Commissioned Officers Who Served in the Spanish–American War.
BornDecember 21, 1856
Norway, New York
DiedMarch 22, 1946 (aged 89)
Washington, D.C.
BuriedArlington National Cemetery
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service1876–1919
RankUS-O7 insignia.svg Brigadier General
Unit2nd Cavalry Regiment
Signal Corps
Battles/warsAmerican Indian Wars

Spanish–American War

World War I
AwardsKnight of the Order of Aviz (1918)
Charles P. Daly Medal (1925)
The Explorers Club Medal (1929)
Purple Heart (1933)

Brigadier-General David Legge Brainard, CavA (December 21, 1856 − March 22, 1946) was an American arctic explorer and soldier.

Early life[edit]

Brainard was born on December 21, 1856 in Norway, New York,[1] the fifth son of Alanson Brainard and Maria C. Legge. He attended the State Normal School in Cortland, New York, and then decided upon a military career.

Military career[edit]

Brainard enlisted in the US Army in September, 1876, serving at Fort Keogh, Montana Territory during the Great Sioux War of 1876. On May 7, 1877, Brainard fought in the Battle of Little Muddy Creek, Montana, where he was Wounded in action in the face and right hand. He also served during the Nez Perce War and Bannock War of 1877 and 1878 under Colonel Nelson Appleton Miles, in Montana.[2][3]

Arctic exploration[edit]

Labeled photo of the six survivors of the lady Franklin Bay Expedition with their rescuers. Brainard is number 24, sitting second from the left on the front row.

In 1880, he volunteered and was selected for the Howgate Expedition, which was canceled. However, the next year he was detailed as first sergeant for the ill-fated Lady Franklin Bay Expedition under Adolphus Greely. Over the three years of this expedition he continuously kept a journal. Among the men to die on this expedition was James Booth Lockwood, second-in-command of the expedition and Brainard's companion on many excursions, including their record breaking push north to 83°23'30". Brainard wrote of his passing on April 9, 1884:

Lieut. Lockwood became unconscious early this morning and at 4:30 p.m. breathed his last. This will be a sad blow to his family who evidently idolized him. To me it is also a sorrowful event. He had been my companion during long and eventful excursions, and my feeling toward him was akin to that of a brother. Biederbick and myself straightened his limps and prepared his remains for burial. This was the saddest duty I have ever yet been called upon to perform.[3]

Shortly before rescue, in the spring of 1884, freezing, starving and suffering from scurvy, he wrote:

Our own condition is so wretched, so palpably miserable, that death would be welcomed rather than feared...[4]

Brainard was one of only six survivors rescued by Rear Admiral Winfield Scott Schley on June 22, 1884. On that day, he was reportedly too weak to hold his pencil to make a note in his log.[3] He was awarded the Back Grant by the Royal Geographical Society in 1885.

Later military career[edit]

Brainard was commissioned second lieutenant in the 2nd Cavalry in 1886 "as recognition of the gallant and meritorious services rendered by him in the Arctic expedition of 1881–1884." He then had the distinction of being the only living (active or retired) officer in the U.S. Army commissioned for specific services.[4] He served as Chief Commissary of the Military Forces in the Philippines during the Spanish–American War in 1898.[2]

He was actively involved in The Explorers Club serving as the 4th president from 1912 to 1913.

After receiving a World War I promotion to brigadier general in 1917,[5] he served as Military Attaché of the US Embassy in Portugal from 1918 until his retirement in 1919. As Military Attaché in Portugal he was made Knight of the Order of Aviz[6] on the 30th of March, 1918.


Brainard was awarded the Charles P. Daly Medal by the American Geographical Society for his arctic exploration in 1926, and in 1929 was awarded The Explorers Club Medal. On January 27, 1933, Brainard was awarded the Purple Heart for his wounding in the Battle of Little Muddy Creek on May 7, 1877. Only two medals would be awarded for the American Indian Wars. He was elected an honorary member of the American Polar Society in 1936, on his 80th birthday.[3][7]

Brainard married twice, first to Anna Chase in 1888, then to Sara Hall Guthrie (1880–1953) in 1917, leaving no children and one stepdaughter, Elinor, from his second marriage.[2] Brainard died, aged 89, on March 22, 1946, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, joined by his second wife in 1953.[8] He was the last survivor of the Greely Arctic Expedition.[5][9]


  • The Outpost of the Lost (1929) OCLC 2027965
  • Six Came Back (1940) OCLC 2168015


  1. ^ Davis, Jr., Henry Blaine (1998). Generals in Khaki. Pentland Press, Inc. p. 48. ISBN 1571970886. OCLC 40298151.
  2. ^ a b c Dartmouth College Library collection of papers and chronology.
  3. ^ a b c d The Arctic Saga of David Legg Brainard Archived 2008-11-19 at the Wayback Machine.. Accessed 18 March 2010.
  4. ^ a b A Biographical Sketch of Gen. David L. Brainard, US Army, Glenn M. Stein, FRGS, 5 August 2007, Accessed 18 March 2010
  5. ^ a b Ancestry.com: BRAINARD, David Legge. Accessed 18 March 2010.
  6. ^ [1]. Accessed 29 January 2017.
  7. ^ "Gen. Brainard Honored. Last Survivor of Greely Expedition Enrolled in Polar Society at 80". The New York Times. December 22, 1936. Retrieved 2011-11-02. Brig. Gen. David L. Brainard, retired, last survivor of General Greely's Arctic Expedition of 1881–84, celebrated his eightieth birthday here today and became the first honorary member of the American Polar Society.
  8. ^ Arlington National Cemetery record for Brainard. Accessed 18 March 2010.
  9. ^ Davis, Jr., Henry Blaine (1998). Generals in Khaki. Pentland Press, Inc. p. 49. ISBN 1571970886. OCLC 40298151.

External links[edit]