George Redfield Spalding, Following in His Father’s Footsteps

George Redfield Spalding

George Redfield Spalding was born on January 25, 1877 in Monroe, Michigan, a continent away from Blairgowrie, Scotland, where his father George W. Spalding began his life. In 1843, George Redfield’s grandparents, Andrew and Isabella immigrated to the United States and settled on a farm in Monroe, Michigan.

After serving with distinction in the Civil War and advancing from the rank of private to General, George W. Spalding returned to Monroe and married Augusta Lewis on December 6, 1871. They eventually had four children:  Emma Spalding Sterling, Elizabeth Spalding Orvis, George Redfield, and Isaac Lewis Spalding. George W. Spalding built a successful business career, including two terms as Monroe postmaster, Treasury Department special agent, Monroe mayor, lawyer, two terms as a Republican Congressman from Michigan, and Director of the First National Bank in Monroe.

A Complicated Career – A Family Tradition

Following the pattern and dedication of his ambitious father, George Redfield forged his own ambitious career which branched out in as many directions as that of his father. After graduating from West Point in 1901, the United States Army Corps of Engineers commissioned him second lieutenant and assigned him to the Philippines with the 1st and 2d Battalions of Engineers, with the mission of building roads and performing bridgework. After earning a promotion to First Lieutenant in April 1903, he returned to Washington D.C. to serve with the 2d Battalion of Engineers at Washington Barracks from December 1904 to June 1905. He also did surveying work in Manassas, Virginia from May 1904 to September 1904.

Alice Minnie Ruff Spalding

While he was on leave from September 11, to October 10, 1904, George Redfield Spalding married Alice Minnie Ruff on September 17, 1904 in Washington, D.C. She was born on April 11, 1880, in Washington D.C. to Albert and Alice Ruff and received her education and taught school before she married George. The Spaldings had three children:  George Redfield was born on July 5, 1905; Alice Margaret was born on May 28, 1907; and Albert Ruff was born on March 31, 1914, in Kansas.

In the time tested tradition of Army wives, Alice and their children followed  First Lieutenant George Spalding around the country while he fulfilled his assignments with the Army Corps of Engineers. The assignments continued to appear in rapid succession. First Lieutenant Spalding worked with the 2d Battalion of Engineers, Washington Barracks from October 1904 to June 1905 and then under the immediate orders of Major Sibert with the Pittsburg Corps of Engineers from June 1905 to November 1906. From November 1906 to June 1907, he was the Chief Engineer Office of the Southwest Division.

From July 1907 to January 1908, First Lieutenant Spalding was Engineer Officer, Department of the Colorado and from January to February 1908 he served under the immediate orders of Colonel C.E.L.B. Davis, Corps of Engineers in Detroit and took temporary charge of the Detroit District, river and harbor works from February 1908 to March 1908.  He served under the immediate orders of Lieutenant Colonel Townsend, Corps of Engineers in Detroit, Michigan from March to July 1908 and on June 2, 1908, First Lieutenant Spalding received a promotion to Captain, Corps of Engineers.  Beginning on August 1, 1908, he supervised various works of fortifications and rivers and harbors in Jacksonville, Florida and spent the next three years spearheading building a harbor in Tampa, building the St. Johns River jetties, and starting the inland waterways canal. He also received the Carnegie Medal for saving the lives of two drowning men. [1]

First Lieutenant Spalding spent the next three years of his career as an instructor in the Army Field Engineer School in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. After that he was promoted to Major and assigned to superintend the First River and Harbor District in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Louisville, Kentucky.

Major Spalding had writing as well as administrative and teaching talents which the Army utilized by asking .him to write training manuals. His manuals included Notes on Bridges and Bridging and Training Manual in Topography, Map Reading, and Reconnaissance. The Encyclopedia Britannica is one of publications that printed his article on “Light Rails, Military.”

Serving with General John J. Pershing

Major Spalding’s left the Harbor District in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Louisville, Kentucky, to go to Fort Myer, Virginia, as an instructor at the training camp there. In 1917, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, Divisional Engineer Officer, in charge of defense and offensive training on the staff of General Pershing. While serving on General Pershing’s staff in Europe during WW I, he organized Engineer Corps administration and he was promoted to Colonel. In France, he commanded the 305th Engineers, was Division Engineer of the 80th Division, and served as Chief Engineer with the 5th Corps, First Army, and Third Army. He then was Assistant to the Chief Engineer, American Expeditionary Force. At Trier, Germany, he was a member of the Dickman Board on Organization and Tactics.

He  received three medals during the war, the Distinguished Service Medal, the French Legion d’Honneur, and the Belgian Order of Leopold. After the Armistice he was a member of the Superior Board which was in charge of the occupation of Germany and the demobilization of U.S. Forces from Europe until July 1919.

More Assignments and Promotions

 After he returned to the United States, Colonel Spalding  took a position as an instructor at the General Staff College in Washington D.C., and returned to the grade of Major. In 1920, as a Lieutenant Colonel, he worked in Florence, Alabama, as District Engineer and completed the Muscle Shoals Dam. Returning to Louisville, Kentucky as District Engineer, he completed the Ohio River project that he had begun in 1916.

On July 1, 1931, Lieutenant Colonel Spalding was promoted to Colonel while a Division Engineer of the Upper Mississippi River Commission, a position he held until 1935. His next assignment took him to Washington, D.C. in the Office of the Chief of Staff and then to Fort Humphreys, Virginia, as Commander of the Post and Engineering School. In New York, he served as Engineer of the North Atlantic Division. In 1936, he was promoted to Brigadier General. In 1938, after suffering a heart attack, he and Mrs. Spalding retired to their home in Florida.

Serving in Another War and Another Retirement

Recalled to active duty in 1941, Brigadier General Spalding served from 1941-1945 as executive officer for the Division of Defense Shipping and Storage Section . His assignment involved coordinating requests for aid that foreign countries submitted. He resigned from his post at the end of World War II.

After his retirement, Brigadier General Spalding and his wife Alice moved to Bradenton, Florida. George Redfield Spalding died on June 28, 1962 in Bradenton, Florida and he and his wife Alice, who died on December 31, 1966 are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

A Daughter Remembers

Brigadier General George Redfield Spalding

Brigadier General George R. Spalding

Brig. Gen. George R. Spalding was born in Monroe, Michigan, 25 January 1877. His father, George Spalding, who was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, came to America at the age of twelve and settled with his parents in Monroe, Michigan. George Spalding, senior, was also a Brig. Gen. and served with distinction in the Union Army during the Civil War. He subsequently served his country as a congressman from Michigan and while in Washington, his son George R. Spalding acted as his assistant. Gen. Spalding’s mother, Augusta Lewis, was also from Scotland and was loved by all who knew her.

George R. Spalding graduated with the Class of 1901 from West Point. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. His first assignment was in the Philippines during the Spanish American War. The engineers were building roads through the interior during George’s service in the Philippines and he often said, “The most valuable service to the Engineers during that troubled time was performed by the mules. Mules could always detect a Moro ambush, and the Engineers were many times warned of danger by their so-called ‘stupid’ helpers.”

west point 1901

After two years in the Pacific, Lt. Spalding was stationed at Washington Barracks which was at that time the Engineer School. While in Washington, he was made an Aide to President Theodore Roosevelt. Also while in Washington, he met Alice M. Ruff whose family were long-time residents of Washington. Alice and George were married on 17 September 1904 and were never separated, when it could be prevented, until Gen. Spalding died.

Leaving Washington Barracks, George was ordered to Pittsburgh under the command of General Seibert where he helped to start the Ohio river series of dams which would eventually bring the river up to the “nine foot stage.” (Years later, in 1929, while serving as District Engineer in Louisville, Ky., he completed the Ohio river project. This accomplishment was marked by a ceremony attended by, the then President of the United States, Herbert Hoover.)

Following service in the Pittsburgh District, George had a series of duties which in the space of two years sent him to St. Louis, Denver and Detroit. In 1908, Captain Spalding was ordered to Jacksonville, Fla. as District Engineer. While there, he built the St. Johns river jetties and started the inland water-ways canal. It was George Spalding who recommended a harbor in Tampa which was at that time, a very small port. Also while in Jacksonville, he saved two men from drowning and received the Carnegie medal of which he was always proud.

From Jacksonville, George was ordered to Leavenworth, Kan. as instructor in the Department of Engineering in the Command and General Staff School. There he and his family had a taste for the first time of real post living. The “family” by this time consisted of George and Alice and two sons and a daughter.

After leaving Leavenworth, George served as District Engineer in Cincinnati from 1915 to 1916 and in Louisville from 1916 until 1917. While in Louisville, war was declared and George was asked to write manuals which would be of help to Engineers in the field. Some of those manuals were used in the Second World War.

As a major, in 1917, Spalding was sent to Fort Meyer Training Camp and there he served training troops until he was sent “overseas” with the 305th Engineers, of the 80th Division. The men who served with him in the 305th have always called him “The Colonel”, no matter what his rank became later. Also, those men kept in touch with George even though they became civilians at the end of the war. Most men who served with him in times of stress really loved and respected him.

In France, George Spalding was made Chief Engineer of the V Corps after leaving his regiment, serving under General Sommerall, and then later was made Chief Engineer of the Third Army under General Dickman. During the war, he received three medals: Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Honneur, (Officer), French, and Order of Leopold, (Officer), Belgian.

After the war, George Spalding was sent to the General Staff College at Washington Barracks, Washington D. C. as an instructor. This detail was almost a “coming home” as George and Alice had started their married life at Washington Barracks. Four years of the warmth of post life for the family seemed to dim the separation which the war had caused.

In 1923, Lt. Col. Spalding was assigned to the post of District Engineer at Florence, Ala. and given the important task of completing the Muscle Shoals Dam, now known as the Wilson Dam. This work and other engineering assignments, i. e. District Engineer at Louisville, Ky. and Divisional Engineer, Upper Mississippi Valley Division, St. Louis, Missouri related to the development of US rivers and harbors earned him the high regard of professional and military engineers. The following quote is from The Waterways Journal of 11 August 1962, published after General Spalding died.

“In the 1920’s, with the rank of colonel, George R. Spalding made his mark in river circles as District Engineer in Louisville while several lower Ohio river wicket dams, particularly No. 46 at Owensboro, Ky. were under construction. In the fall of 1929 the US Engineers abolished the Division Engineer offices at two or three cities on Western rivers and stationed Colonel Spalding in St. Louis as Division Engineer for all western rivers north of Cairo. His territory stretched from the Allegheny River in New York state to the Mississippi in Minnesota and the Yellowstone River into Yellowstone Park. Col. Spalding filled this vast responsibility with ease and efficiency. He also had great ability for getting along with anybody and everybody and especially for cutting through red tape.” After leaving the St. Louis Division in 1933, Col. Spalding was ordered to Fort Humphries, Va. as commander of the Post and the Engineering School. From there he was sent to the North Atlantic Division, New York as Divisional Engineer, and then to Washington, D. C. as Assistant Chief of Staff G-4.

On 31 July 1938, General Spalding was retired from active service due to a heart attack. He and Alice then made a home for themselves in Bradenton, Fla. where he regained his health. Subsequently, when he was recalled to duty on 15 Feb 1941, he was ready and willing to serve his country once again. He returned to Washington and was made the Liaison Officer between the Headquarters, Army Service Forces, and the Office of Lend Lease Administration during the period of 1942 until 1944. For this service, he was awarded the Citation for the Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster. The Citation quotes at the end, “As a result of his constant devotion to duty and the brilliant manner in which he accomplished his assignment, General Spalding has contributed markedly to the successful prosecution of the war.”

Once again retired, General Spalding returned to Bradenton where he lived quietly and in good health with Alice. On 28 June 1962, George died peacefully in his own home. As “old soldiers”, he died with his “boots on”.

General Spalding is survived by his wife Alice, who was with him until the end; two sons, George and Albert, and a daughter, Mrs. L. R. Wirak; eight grandchildren and six great grandchildren. Many things can be said of George, but none can say that he didn’t live a full life, with fun and work each getting its share.Alice S. Wirak, daughter[2]


[1] George Washington Cullum and Edward Singleton Holden.  Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.(Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1910) p. 651

[2]  George Redfield Spalding’s daughter Alice wrote a memorial article about him.



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