Brigadier General Charles Coolidge was a native of Boston, Massachusetts and a descendent of Revolutionary War patriots. He attended Norwich University from 1859 to 1861 before enlisting in the 16th U.S. Infantry as a humble private. This would be the first of five major conflicts in which Coolidge would serve his country: the Civil War, the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, and the Boxer Rebellion.
Though he chose to enlist rather than complete his studies, Coolidge was later awarded an honorary degree naming him as a member of the Class of 1863. After the Civil War, now a first lieutenant, he received a medical degree from the University of Wooster Medical College (a now-defunct branch of Ohio’s College of Wooster).
The 1870s and 1880s saw Coolidge serving out west in a number of different postings, including several key confrontations of the Indian Wars. In 1873, he participated in the Army’s Yellowstone Expedition, an ostensible effort to survey a route for the Northern Pacific Railroad that resulted in multiple clashes with Sioux warriors. One such clash, the Battle of Pease Bottom, saw Sioux leader Sitting Bull facing then-Lieutenant Colonel George Custer for the first, though certainly not the last time.
From 1883-1884, Coolidge served on the staff of General Oliver Otis Howard, who would later serve on the Norwich University Board of Trustees.
Then, in the span of three years, Coolidge’s service took him around the globe as the U.S. engaged in the Spanish-American War in Cuba 1898, the Philippine-American War in the Philippines in 1899, and the Boxer Rebellion in China 1900. In the latter two conflicts, Coolidge commanded a regiment, and he returned to the United States as a colonel in 1901.
After serving in command posts at Vancouver, Washington and the Presidio in San Francisco, California, he was promoted to brigadier general and retired in 1903 after approximately 40 years of service. During those 40 years, Coolidge’s experience truly spanned the breadth of American history.
Having finished his career at San Francisco’s Presidio fortification, Coolidge settled in that city after his retirement, only to be displaced by the devastating earthquake of 1906. He made his final home in Detroit, Michigan, where he was actively involved in civic affairs and passed away in 1926 at the age of 82.
You can read historical newspaper articles about Charles Coolidge by exploring the online Index to Norwich University Newspapers provided by the Norwich University Archives.