Phillip Tutor: At McClellan, meet Col. Egbert
To find Harry Clay Egbert at McClellan, drive over to the three-story building that sits across the road from Silver Chapel. Find the main door, the one that faces Buckner Center. Look up, through the limbs of pine trees and climbing vines.
There you’ll find H.C.
This Memorial Day weekend, H.C. Egbert lives on at Anniston’s former Army post.
The brass plaque affixed to his building — Building No. 144, it’s called — dubbed it Egbert Barrack when soldiers still lived on post. After nearly 15 years of base closure and McClellan redevelopment, Egbert’s plaque reminds us that these acres of Alabama land wield a history that is as vast as it is varied.
Fitting, it is, that Egbert’s plaque sits hidden, almost out of view. He isn’t buried in McClellan’s military cemetery. He never visited Fort McClellan. He had nothing to do with the post’s creation. He was neither a Southerner nor an Alabamian. But his plaque, which, I am thankful, hasn’t been vandalized or innocently lost, is worth a lesson on this man who was a quintessential American soldier of his time.
Born in Philadelphia, H.C. joined the 12th U.S. Infantry in 1861. His list of battles reads like a John Keegan textbook: Gaines Mills, Malvern Hill, Cedar Mountain, Gettysburg. Confederates wounded him once and twice took him prisoner. After the war, he remained in uniform, serving at several outposts in the American West, from Arizona to Alaska. He commanded units that fought against the Sioux.
Discharged as a brigadier general of the U.S. Volunteers in 1898, H.C. became a lieutenant colonel in time to command the 6th U.S. Infantry during the Spanish-American War in Cuba. There, on a July day on San Juan Hill, he took a bullet “through his body,” records show. He survived.
The next spring, and now a colonel, H.C. sailed to the Philippines, where America’s turn-of-the-century venture in colonialism rolled on. He landed in Manila on March 4, 1899. Twenty-two days later, he died during a battle with Filipino insurgents.
The Army returned his body to the United States.
He’s buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
It’s no surprise, really, that memorials to his legacy dot the American map.
In San Francisco, Egbert Avenue runs for three blocks just northwest of Candlestick Park.
In Eagle, Alaska, near the Canadian border, sit the remnants of Fort Egbert, which President William McKinley established the same year H.C. died.
In northern Kentucky in Fort Thomas, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, a 102-foot stone water tower reaches to the sky. Affixed to the tower is a bronze plaque that memorializes H.C.
In the early 1900s in Newport, Ky., the Lansdale Cigar Co. produced “Colonel Egbert Cigars” and packaged them in a box adorned with his photograph and paintings of him leading troops in Cuba.
Fort McClellan’s Egbert plaque isn’t as large or ornate as the stone tower plaque in Kentucky, it’s not part of the National Park Service like the Fort Egbert remants in Alaska, and it’s not as secure as the avenue in San Francisco.
But it is McClellan’s, which makes it ours.
It says, “EGBERT BARRACK, Named in Honor of COLONEL H.C. EGBERT, Brigadier General, U.S.V., who commanded the 22nd Infantry from July 1, 1898, to March 26, 1899, when he was killed leading his regiment in the attack on Malinta during the Malolos Expedition of the Philippine Insurrection.”
As Fort McClellan methodically transforms from a deserted Army post into a 21st-century economic engine, H.C. Egbert and those like him deserve protection. I can’t help but wonder how many other McClellan namesakes have been lost over time. There is no official McClellan museum, a secure place open to public view. It’s a shame.
Yet, Harry Clay Egbert, bronze, weathered, partially obscured, is as much a part of McClellan’s past as the soldiers who served there. This is his weekend. Monday is his day, again.
Phillip Tutor — email@example.com — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star