William Wallace Wotherspoon

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William Wallace Wotherspoon
William W. Wotherspoon.jpg
General William Wallace Wotherspoon, official portrait by Thomas W. Orlando.
Born(1850-11-16)November 16, 1850
Washington, D.C.
DiedOctober 21, 1921(1921-10-21) (aged 70)
Washington, D.C.
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchUnited States Navy
United States Army
Years of service1870–1914
RankMajor General
Commands heldChief of Staff of the United States Army (1914)
Department of the Gulf (1912)
U.S. Army War College (1907–09, 1910–12)
2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment (1901–02)
Battles/warsIndian Wars
Spanish–American War
Philippine–American War
Other workSuperintendent of Public Works, State of New York (1915–20)

William Wallace Wotherspoon (November 16, 1850 – October 21, 1921) was a United States Army general who served as Chief of Staff of the United States Army in 1914.

Early life[edit]

Wotherspoon was born in Washington, D.C., on November 16, 1850, the son of Army surgeon Alexander Summerville Wotherspoon (1817–1884) and Louisa Kuhn Wotherspoon.[1] Alexander Wotherspoon was a veteran of the Mexican War; in addition to serving on Winfield Scott's staff,[2] he was present when President Zachary Taylor became ill in 1850, and treated Taylor during his final illness.[3]

William Wotherspoon was educated in private schools and served aboard ship as a mate in the United States Navy from 1870 to 1873.[4]

Army career[edit]

Wotherspoon was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to the 12th Infantry in October 1873.[5] From 1874 to 1881, he served in the West during the Indian wars as a troop officer and quartermaster.

After a year of absence from the Army for being sick, he became the superintendent and did much needed work to expand the Soldiers' Home in Washington, D.C. He then served at Fort Sully and at Mount Vernon Barracks, where he trained a company of Apache prisoners from 1890 to 1894. In 1893 he became an hereditary member of the Aztec Club of 1847.

In 1894, he became aide to General Oliver O. Howard, commander of the Department of the East, and was the Rhode Island College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (today named the University of Rhode Island) first Professor Military Science and Tactics[6] from 1894 to 1898.[7]

Spanish–American War[edit]

In 1898, while on recruiting duty at Fort McPherson, he organized the 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry. He served in the Philippines against insurgents and as collector of customs at Iloilo from 1899 to 1901.

Senior command[edit]

In 1901, he was promoted to major and transferred to the 30th Infantry. He commanded the 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry at Fort Leavenworth and then taught at the Command and General Staff College from 1902 to 1904. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel and assigned to the 14th Infantry in 1904 and later was transferred to the 19th Infantry and became the director of the U.S. Army War College from 1904 to 1906. Wotherspooon was the chief of staff of the Army of Cuban Pacification from 1906 to 1907.

Wotherspoon served as the acting president of the Army War College and chief of the Third Division, General Staff in 1907.[5] He was promoted to brigadier general in October 1907, advanced over 140 officers with more seniority.[8] He was president of the Army War College, serving from 1907 to 1909 and again from 1910 to 1912.[5] Wotherspoon was largely instrumental in transforming the Army War College from an adjunct of the General Staff to an autonomous educational institution, he became assistant to the chief of staff from 1901 to 1910 and again in 1912 to 1914.[5] He was promoted to major general in May 1912 and served as the commander of the Department of the Gulf until that September.[5]

Army Chief of Staff[edit]

Wotherspoon became the Chief of Staff of the United States Army in 1914; he served from April 21 to November 15.[9][10] During his term, he highlighted the shortage of experienced officers and noncommissioned as the Army began to prepare for possible involvement in World War I.[11] He also emphasized the need to improve coastal defenses to match battleships that were increasing in size and armament,[12] oversaw establishment of the Army's first aviation section as a branch of the Signal Corps,[5] and completion of the Panama Canal and its opening to ship traffic.[5]


Wotherspoon retired upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 64 on November 16, 1914[13] After retiring, he was New York State Superintendent of Public Works from 1915 to 1920.[14]

Wotherspoon died in Washington, D.C. on October 21, 1921.[15] He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, Section 3, Site 1949.[16]


In 1887, while stationed in northern New York, he married Mary C. Adams (1865–1953) of Utica, New York.[17][18] They were the parents of a son, Alexander Somerville Wotherspoon (1892–1976).[19] Alexander Wotherspoon was a career officer in the United States Navy, and retired as a rear admiral.[20]

Dates of rank[edit]

Insignia Rank Date Component
Union army 2nd lt rank insignia.jpg Second Lieutenant 1 October 1873 Regular Army
Union army 1st lt rank insignia.jpg First Lieutenant 20 March 1879 Regular Army
Union army cpt rank insignia.jpg Captain 28 April 1893 Regular Army
Union army maj rank insignia.jpg Major 2 February 1901 Regular Army
Union Army LTC rank insignia.png Lieutenant Colonel 12 July 1904 Regular Army
Union Army brigadier general rank insignia.svg Brigadier General 3 October 1907 Regular Army
Union Army major general rank insignia.svg Major General 12 May 1912 Regular Army


  1. ^ The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. 19. New York, NY: James T. White. 1967. p. 446.
  2. ^ Stoddard, Charles C. (December 1, 1921). "Career of General Wotherspoon". The Caledonian. New York, NY: Caledonian Publishing Company. p. 426.
  3. ^ Bauer, K. Jack (1985). Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press. p. 315. ISBN 978-0-8071-1237-3.
  4. ^ Commanding Generals and Chiefs of Staff, 1775-2005.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Commanding Generals and Chiefs of Staff, 1775–2005.
  6. ^ "Eighth Annual Report of the President of the Rhode Island College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, made to the State Board of Education". 1895. Retrieved September 16, 2008.
  7. ^ "About the Institution: Lippett Hall (University of Rhode Island)". State Council on the Arts, State of Rhode Island. Retrieved September 16, 2008.
  8. ^ "Gen. Wotherspoon Dies in Washington" (PDF). New York Times. New York, NY. October 22, 1921. p. 13.
  9. ^ "Wotherspoon now is Chief of Staff". New York Tribune. New York, NY. April 23, 1914. p. 5.
  10. ^ "Gen'l Wotherspoon, U.S.A. Chief, Reaches 64, and is retired Today". Trenton Evening Times. Trenton, NJ. November 16, 1914. p. 3.
  11. ^ Maxim, Hudson (1915). Defenseless America. New York, NY: Hearst's International Library Co. pp. 125–126.
  12. ^ United States House Appropriations Committee (1914). General Deficiency Bill, 1915. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. pp. 5–6.
  13. ^ "Major-General William Wallace Wotherspoon, U.S.A." The Independent. December 14, 1914. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  14. ^ Malcolm, James (1917). New York Red Book. Albany, NY: J. B. Lyon Company. p. 78.
  15. ^ "Maj. Gen. Wotherspoon is Heart Attack Victim". Washington Post. Washington, DC. October 22, 1921. p. 12.
  16. ^ "Gen Wotherspoon to be Buried Here". Washington Herald. Washington, DC. October 23, 1921. p. 12.
  17. ^ "Obituary, William W. Wotherspoon". Army and Navy Register. Washington, DC. November 5, 1921. p. 453.
  18. ^ "Mrs. W. W. Wotherspoon, of Jamestown, 88, Dies". Newport Daily News. Newport, RI. December 17, 1953. p. 2.
  19. ^ "Rites for Army Officer: Maj. Gen. William W. Wotherspoon Buried at Arlington". Washington Post. Washington, DC. October 25, 1921. p. 10.
  20. ^ Enright, Rosemary; Maden, Sue (October 25, 2012). "JHS 100 years: The Retiring Navy". Jamestown Press. Jamestown, RI.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Leonard Wood
Chief of Staff of the United States Army
Succeeded by
Hugh L. Scott