As an officer in Lieutenant Colonel George Custer's 7th Cavalry, West Point graduate Charles Varnum (1849-1936) served in the most famous engagement of the Indian Wars, the Battle of Little Big Horn. Varnum survived the notorious U.S. defeat and, went on to be decorated in 1890 for actions he took in the aftermath of the Battle of Wounded Knee, a tragic engagement that marked the end of the Indian Wars. On December 30—the day following Wounded Knee—Varnum helped ensure a safe withdrawal for his troops while fighting the Sioux near White Clay Creek, South Dakota, where Varnum was ordered to retreat from his position. Seeing the perilous position this placed other troops in, he disobeyed orders and descended the ridge under a barrage of gunfire. Varnum then assembled the troops of both detachments and led them out of the ravine; for this feat he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Varnum later served as post commander at Camp Malabang during the Philippine American War that followed the Spanish American War. When he died at Letterman Hospital at the age of 86, Varnum was the last veteran officer of Little Big Horn. He is buried in the San Francisco National Cemetery at the Presidio.
Varnum is buried in the Officers’ Section, Section 3, Grave 3A.
Did You Know?
The National Cemeteries Act was based on the principles articulated by President Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address--"that these dead shall not have died in vain." Passed by Congress in 1863, the law established thirteen cemeteries to inter veterans of the Armed Forces and their families.