Nelson Appleton Miles was working as a crockery store clerk in the fall of 1861 when he organized a company of volunteers for the Union cause. He was elected its captain and rose rapidly through the ranks, serving with distinction at the Battles of Fair Oaks, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Petersburg. He was wounded several times during these engagements and finally promoted to major general of volunteers in October 1865.
Immediately following the war, he was appointed commander of the District of Fort Monroe where he oversaw the incarceration of Jefferson Davis. He then departed for the West where, as a Colonel and later General in the Regular Army, he was involved in numerous campaigns against Native American bands resisting their confinement on government reservations. In 1890, Miles was promoted to Major General and two years later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Chancellorsville in 1863.
In 1895 Miles was promoted to Commanding General of the U.S. Army in recognition of his actions directing a 12,000-man Federal force that successfully suppressed a nationwide railroad worker strike. During the Spanish-American War, Miles led an invasion of Puerto Rico and became its military and civilian administrator after the island was subdued. In 1900, in recognition for his services in Puerto Rico, Miles was promoted to Lieutenant General of the Army. Miles retired in 1903 and lived a further 22 years. His offer to return to active service at the beginning of America's entry into World War I was politely declined by President Wilson.