Biography of General Edward McConville

General Edward McConville
General Edward McConville

In the recent trial of arms in which America won recognition and admiration never before accorded her by the older “powers” of Europe, there was no more distinguished or valiant soldier than General McConville, of Idaho, who went forth as one of the commanders of the Idaho troops and laid down his life on the altar of his country. His was a noble life and a glorious death, and his name is enduringly inscribed on the roll of America’s heroes. Though his loss is deeply mourned by his many friends, his memory will ever be cherished by all who knew him, and the cause of liberty will acknowledge its advancement to him and his compatriots who have fallen in defense of the honor of the flag and the noble principles of republicanism and justice which it represents.

General McConville was a native of New York, his birth having occurred at Cape Vincent, Jefferson County, June 25, 1846. The history of the family furnishes many examples of valor, for since the days when William the Conqueror fought the battle of Hastings its representatives have won honor and fame in the military and naval service of France, England, Ireland and America. The family had its origin in France, it’s branches being found in Brittany, Gascony and Normandy. Two representatives of the name fought with William, the Norman prince, at the battle of Hastings, and their descendants went to Ireland with Sir John de Coursey’s forces in 1166 A. D., and were of the Normans of whom it was afterward said by the English that “they became more Irish than the Irish themselves.” The original name was Conville, but after taking up their residence on the Emerald Isle the Celtic “Mc,” signifying “the son of,” was prefixed to the original name of the Norman settlers in Ireland. The family resided in the northern section of that country and a number of its members served in the army of King James II. After the defeat of that monarch several of them’ accompanied him to France and entered the service of Louis IV, both in the army and navy of France. The greater number of the McConvilles resided near Carlingford Lough, in County Down, Ire-land, not far from the city of Newry. A number of the name came to the United States, but the family has not been very numerous here, and there are also comparatively few of the name in France, England and Ireland. For centuries, however, the McConvilles have sent forth their sons to the army and navy service and from the time of the battle of Hastings down to the present, deeds of valor have illuminated the pages of the family history in connection with the wars of France, England, Ireland and this great republic. Several representatives of the name were killed in our great civil war, while fighting for the perpetuation of the Union. The General’s brother, Hugh McConville, gave his life for his country at the battle of Malvern Hill, and his cousin, John McConville, was killed at Santiago, July 3, 1898, in the glorious assault on San Juan hill

General McConville was reared on his father’s farm, and received an academic education in the University of Syracuse. He was but a youth of fifteen years when the war of the Rebellion was inaugurated, but the spirit of patriotism, so dominant an element in his family, soon manifested itself, and he offered his services to the government, enlisting as a private of Company I, Twelfth New York Volunteer Infantry. He was enrolled April 30, 1861, at Syracuse, New York, and was mustered into service on the 13th of May, for two years. He was appointed corporal of his company, October 27, 1862, and continued at the front until honorably discharged, May 17, 1863. Just eight days later, on the 25th of May, he re-enlisted, at New York City, and was mustered in July 18, 1863, as a private of Company C, Thirteenth New York Cavalry, to serve three years. He was appointed corporal September 11, 1863, and sergeant February 4. 1864, and on the 7th of October of the latter year he was assigned to duty with the pioneer corps. On August 17, 1864, upon the consolidation of his regiment, he was transferred to Company H, Third New York Provisional Cavalry, with which command he remained until honorably discharged, September 21, 1865. He participated in a number of hard-fought battles, including the engagements at Blackburn Ford, Virginia, July 18, 1861: Bull Run, July 21, 1861: Yorktown, April 5 to May 4, 1862; Gaines’ Mills, June 27, 1862; Malvern Hill, July 1, 1862; Bull Run, August 30, 1862, and Antietam, September 17, 1862. During his four-years service he was never on the sick list a single day. He was twice slightly wounded, but stopped only long enough to have the bullet extracted and the wound dressed and then continued on the march.

In 1866 General McConville enlisted again in Company G, Twenty-first United States Infantry, and served seven years in the regular army. In the year 1870 he was sent with an expedition against the Apache Indians in Arizona, and in the battle of Chifeto he was distinguished for his gallant conduct. He served in New Mexico, Arizona and on the coast until he was mustered out and honorably discharged, at Fort Lapwai, in 1873.

In June, 1877, when Joseph’s band of Nez Percé Indians began their cruel depredations and massacres of the unprotected settlers on Salmon River and Camas prairie, General McConville was the first to respond to the call to arms, and raised Company A, of the First Regiment of Idaho Volunteers, at Lewiston. His zeal, activity and bravery in protecting the defenceless and scattered population won for him the gratitude of the state and resulted in his election to the office of colonel of the regiment. In the war he was ever found in the front of the battle, and proved a very valuable ally to General O. O. Howard. On July 10, 1877, the Indians made a night attack on Fort Misery, in which General McConville again won distinction by his valor. The volunteers, eighty-five strong, were en-camped on the brow of the hill and General Howard was on the opposite side of Clearwater River, when General McConville suddenly discovered the hostile Indians. He sent Lieutenant Lou Wilmot to General Howard with the information and a request to send the cavalry to his assistance, and at the same time was asked to attack the Indians on the side next to the River. General McConville ordered his entire force to begin throwing up rifle pits, their knives and their tin cups being their only implements with which to accomplish this work, but a circle of pits was dug on the brow of the hill and soon after dark the war whoop of the savages was heard all around, together with the rapid firing of guns, the neighing of horses and the snapping of picket ropes. The Indians fought desperately and succeeded in capturing forty-five of the horses belonging to the volunteers, and when dawn broke hundreds of cartridge shells were found within fifteen feet of the rifle pits, but only one man was wounded, he having received a slight scratch from a bullet which struck his gun, glanced and made a slight wound in his arm. When the bullets were flying thickest it seemed as though General McConville was almost omni-present, his form outlined against the sky offering a prominent mark for the Indian rifles, but he passed through the deadly fire without injury. During the progress of the battle it became neeessary to transfer two men from one side of the hill to the rifle pit on the opposite side, in order to strengthen the fire on that side. The General gave the command for the men to go but although one of the men receiving the order had fought for four years in the civil war, they all hesitated for a moment before entering into what seemed to promise certain death. The General saw their hesitancy, and instantly jumped into the opening and commanded the men to follow. This display of valor at Once inspired them to go where he led, and the brave leader walked across the hill in the face of that leaden hail as unconcernedly as though he were treading the streets of Lewiston. Some fifteen or twenty horses had been saved from the Indians, and the next morning when the volunteers started for Mount Idaho the saddles were put on these horses and General McConville was offered one to ride, but he declined, saying, “Let some of the older men ride,” and he took his place at the head of the column and marched to the town. This sharing with the men in all the hardships of war, and taking his place at points of greatest danger, won their unbounded admiration and love, and probably no soldier has ever had the respect of his men to a greater degree than General McConville.

When it was necessary to use force of arms to bring the savages to a state of subordination, so that they would not abuse the white settlers, he was always ready to engage in warfare, but when arms could be laid aside, no man was more willing or active in laboring for the best interests of the red men than the General. When the Indian school was removed from Forest Grove, Oregon, to Salem, that state, he was sent there in charge of sixty boys and forty girls to perfect arrangements to accommodate the entire school of over three hundred pupils. The land was heavily timbered and General McConville, with the aid of the Indian boys, felled the trees, cleared the land and erected rough houses, to be utilized until the government buildings could be erected. They carried on the work unremittingly’ and since his death the family have received many letters from his Indian pupils, expressing their profound grief over the loss of their kind benefactor. After completing his labors in connection with the school, he was appointed superintendent of the Lapwai school, a position which he very ably filled through several administrations of the government, and that school, with its magnificent buildings, stand as a monument to the greatness of the man. He endeavored not only to train the children along intellectual and industrial lines, but also to develop character and instill into their minds high and lofty principles. Soon after taking charge of the school he pro-cured an American flag, and called out the entire school, pupils, teachers and employees to the number of two hundred. Then, with the Indian band at their head, they formed a hollow square, and a large flag-pole, which had been brought from Craig’s mountain, was planted in the center and a young Indian boy and girl, selected from their number, raised the starry banner for the first time over the industrial school at Lapwai. With uncovered heads the entire school, to the accompaniment of the band, sang our national anthem, “America,” and as the music was borne aloft Old Glory floated out upon the breezes. Another instance of General McConville’s intense loyalty was his inauguration of a service consisting in saluting the flag each morning in the chapel. The pupils were permitted to vote on the adoption or rejection of the custom, and every vote was cast in its favor. The salute consists of touching the head with the right hand, then placing it on the heart, then pointing to the flag as they repeat the words, “We give our heads, our hearts to our country, one country, one language, one flag.”

Many other incidents might be mentioned showing General McConville’s intensely patriotic spirit and his great love for his country. He taught the children of the forest to observe every national holiday, all religious services and organized a number of Christian Endeavor, temperance and literary societies, and also societies simply for social intercourse. He came in close touch with his pupils in their moral, intellectual and social life, and left the impress of his individuality upon all.

The home life of General McConville was most happy and interesting. On the 1st of October, 1878, in Lewiston, he had married Miss Viola C. Arant, a native of Kansas, and a daughter of Samuel W. Arant, a representative of an old American family. They had four children, Harry, Alta, Ermeth and Hugh. The family have a nice home in Lewiston and are held in the highest regard throughout the community. Mrs. McConville is a lady of culture and refinement, and is meeting her great loss with the courage and resignation befitting the wife of such a brave patriot. She is a member of the Eastern Star, the Order of Rebekah and the Rathbone Sisters, and is busily engaged with other Lewiston ladies in providing for the wants of the Idaho volunteers at the front. The General’s name was enrolled among the valued members of the Grand Army of the Republic, and he had taken the degrees of the York and Scottish rites in Masonry. He was also a prominent member of the Knights of Pythias fraternity, a charter member of the Uniformed Rank of that order and its first captain. Later he was elected major of the Lewiston regiment, subsequently was chosen its colonel, and at the time of his death was aid de camp on the staff of Major General James R. Cranahan, with the rank of colonel. Thus in the successful conduct of his school, and in the enjoyment of home, family and friends. General McConville spent the last years of his life, having the warm regard and sincere respect of all who knew him.

On the 22d of August 1898, President McKinley, by proclamation, called for one hundred and twenty-five thousand volunteers, and the governor of Idaho also issued a similar proclamation. Every company of the Idaho National Guard responded to the call, and from May 7 to May 14, 1898, the companies were mustered into the service of the United States as Companies A, B, C, D, E, F, G and H, First Idaho Volunteers. General McConville was appointed by the governor to the rank of major of the second battalion, and the troops left Boise May 18th, sailing from San Francisco for the Philippine islands, June 27, 1898. He was accompanied by his son Harry, a youth of seventeen years, who enlisted in Company B, and with his father went to Manila as color-bearer of the regiment. The deeds of valor and heroism of the Idaho volunteers from that July day in 1898, when the Morgan City reached Manila bay, is a matter of history. In every case they have covered themselves with glory and have reflected credit upon the state and country which they represent.

It was on the 5th of February 1899, that General McConville fell, while leading his battalion in a charge. No braver man ever lived. When he was shot he was standing on a little knoll in front of his battalion and had just fired a rifle that had dropped from the hands of a fatally wounded soldier. At the same time a Mauser bullet entered his body under his right arm, passed entirely through his body and came out under the left arm, while another ball struck his shoulder. He fell, and Adjutant Roos and Lieutenant Martinson, commanding Lewiston’s company, ran to him and carried him off the field.

As he was being borne along he said with a smile: “It was glorious! the Idaho boys are covering themselves with glory!” He was taken to the field hospital, where his son Harry was by his side and closed the eyes of the noble father. He was brevetted brigadier general be-fore he died, in recognition of his great bravery and gallant service. His last words were ad-dressed to his son: “Go home and take care of your mother. Tell my wife and the children I died for my country.” His remains were brought home, attended by the son, who was discharged in order that he might return to his mother with the father’s body, and such a burial was given him as had never before been accorded any citizen of Idaho. Every possible tribute of respect and love was paid him, and with military honors he was laid to rest. The governor of Idaho in acknowledgment of Harry McConville’s fidelity to his father and to his country, commissioned him a colonel of the National Guard of the state, an honor never before conferred upon one so young. It was a token of Idaho’s high appreciation of the noble father and of the son’s devotion to the father and the starry flag. Hon. James W. Reid, of Lewiston, presented the commission at the funeral of the General, and pronounced the eulogy upon the dead hero who four times entered his country’s service and valiantly battled for its interests. “His life was noble, and the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, ‘This was a man.”


Illustrated History of the State of Idaho. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company. 1899.

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