William P. Burnham

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William P. Burnham
William Power Burnham.jpg
Burnham as a Major General and commander of the 82nd Division in 1918
Born(1860-01-10)January 10, 1860
Scranton, Pennsylvania
DiedSeptember 27, 1930(1930-09-27) (aged 70)
San Francisco, California
Place of burial
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service1880–1924
RankMajor General
Commands heldUnited States Army Command and General Staff College
Puerto Rican Regiment
56th Infantry Regiment
164th Infantry Brigade
82nd Division
Fort McDowell
Battles/warsSpanish–American War
Philippine–American War
World War I
AwardsCroix de Guerre (France)
Legion of Honor (Officer) (France)
Companion of the Order of the Bath (United Kingdom)
Medal of Military Merit (Greece) (First Class)

William P. Burnham (January 10, 1860 – September 27, 1930) was a United States Army major general who was prominent as the commander of the 82nd Division in World War I.

Early life[edit]

William Power Burnham was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on January 10, 1860,[1] his mother was Olive E. Burnham (1836–1921), and his father, David Roe Burnham (1835–1910), was a career army officer and American Civil War veteran who retired as a major. William P. Burnham attended the Kansas State Agricultural College (now Kansas State University) and then studied at the United States Military Academy (West Point) from 1877 to 1880.[2][3]

Start of career[edit]

Burnham left West Point before graduating and enlisted in the Army's 14th Infantry Regiment,[4] he attained the rank of Sergeant before obtaining a commission as a second lieutenant of infantry in 1883.[5]

Initially assigned to the 6th Infantry Regiment, he served at Fort Douglas and other posts in the western United States until 1889.[6]

In 1889 Burnham attended the School of Application for Infantry and Cavalry at Fort Leavenworth, he graduated near the top of his class and was commended for authoring one of three prizewinning class essays, Military Training of the Regular Army.[7]

Burnham later served with the 11th, 6th and 20th Infantry Regiments at posts including: Fort Porter, New York; St. John's Military Academy in Manlius, New York; and Fort Leavenworth. He was promoted to First Lieutenant in 1891 and Captain in 1898.[8]

Spanish–American War[edit]

During the Spanish–American War Burnham was promoted to temporary Lieutenant Colonel of Volunteers assigned to the 4th Missouri Volunteer Infantry Regiment, he served on the Second Corps staff as Inspector General.[9][10]

Post-Spanish–American War[edit]

During the Philippine–American War Burnham carried out staff assignments in the Philippines and at Fort Sheridan, Illinois. Later assignments included the Presidio, Jefferson Barracks, Fort Shafter, Fort Douglas, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. From February 1913 to August 1914 he was acting commandant of the United States Army Command and General Staff College. In early 1917 he commanded Camp Otis in the Panama Canal Zone.[11]

According to some sources, Burnham can be credited with firing America's first shot in World War I. In March 1915, while he commanded the Puerto Rican Regiment at El Morro, Puerto Rico, the German supply ship Odenwald was docked in San Juan and preparing to put to sea. Burnham warned the German Consul and the ship's captain that he would use force if the captain attempted to leave without proper authority; the captain ignored the warning, and when he headed for the ocean, Burnham ordered the firing of a cannon across the ship's bow, which had the effect of forcing it to return to port.[12]

World War I[edit]

In July 1917 Burnham was assigned to command the 56th Infantry Regiment at Camp Oglethorpe.[13][14] In August he was promoted to command of the 164th Infantry Brigade at Camp Gordon as a brigadier general.[15] Beginning in December, Burnham simultaneously commanded the 82nd Division during the period of its initial organization and activation,[16] he is credited with christening the organization as the "All-American Division," issuing an order saying that the nickname fit because the division of draftees, which included many recent immigrants, was composed of soldiers from all 48 states and so represented the best men from every state in the country.[17]

Burnham commanded the 82nd Division during combat in France, including the St. Mihiel Offensive and the start of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.[18] He was relieved by John J. Pershing in mid-October in order to create an opening for George B. Duncan, the former commander of the 77th Division, whom Pershing wanted to return to divisional command.[19][20]

After leaving the 82nd Division Burnham was assigned as the U.S. military attaché in Athens, Greece, where he served until July 1919.[21]

Post–World War I[edit]

After World War I, Burnham returned to his permanent rank of colonel, he commanded the discharge and replacement depot at Fort McDowell, from 1919 to 1922.[22] In 1922 he was assigned to command the Presidio, where he remained until retiring.[23]

Career as author[edit]

During his military service Burnham prepared several articles for professional journals, including: Military Training of the Regular Army (1889); Three Roads to a Commission (1893); Duties of Outposts, Advance and Rear Guards (1893); Regulations of St. John’s Military School (1894);[24] and Historical Sketch, Twentieth United States Infantry (1902).

Retirement, death and burial[edit]

Burnham reached the mandatory retirement age of 64 in 1924. In retirement he resided in San Francisco, where he died on September 27, 1930,[25] he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, section 3, site 1804.[26]


His awards included:[27]

United States[edit]

The Spanish Campaign, Army of Cuban Occupation, Philippine Campaign, and World War I Victory Medals.


His foreign decorations included the British Order of the Bath, the Greek Medal of Military Merit (First Class) and the French Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor (Officer).


Burnham was the son of Major David R. Burnham, a career Army officer who was a Union Army veteran of the American Civil War.[28]

In 1890 Burnham married Grace Francesca Meacham (1869–1942), the daughter of an Army surgeon,[29][30] they were the parents of one son and two daughters: Edward Meacham Burnham (1891–1976);[31][32] Frances Meacham Burnham (1897–1975), the wife of Stephen Horace Curtis a doctor from Troy, New York;[33] and Helen Meacham Burnham (born 1897), the twin sister of Frances and the first wife of Army officer Thomas F. Limbocker, who later lived near Frances Curtis in Albany and Brunswick.[34][35]


  1. ^ Herringshaw, Thomas William (1914). Herringshaw's American Blue-Book of Biography. American Publishers’ Association. p. 161. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  2. ^ Leonard, J. W., editor (1904). Who's Who in Pennsylvania: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporaries, Volume 1. L. R. Hamersly Company. p. 102. Retrieved September 9, 2014.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  3. ^ Nielsen, Dr. William A, Chairman, Editorial Advisory Board (1921). Collier's New Encyclopedia, Volume 2. P. F. Collier & Son Company. p. 250. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  4. ^ Davis, Henry Blaine (1998). Generals in Khaki. Pentland Press. p. 59. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  5. ^ Cooke, James J. (1999). The All-Americans at War: The 82nd Division in the Great War, 1917–1918 (reprint ed.). Praeger Publishers. p. 10. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  6. ^ "Assignments to Stations". Army and Navy Journal. W. C. and F. P. Church: 1118–1119. July 14, 1883. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  7. ^ Powell, William Henry (1890). Powell's Records of Living Officers of the United States Army. L. R. Hammersly & Co. p. 99. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  8. ^ Duncan, George B.; et al. (1919). Official History of the 82nd Division: American Expeditionary Forces, "All American Division" (1917–1919). Bobbs-Merrill Co. pp. 294–295. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  9. ^ Distinguished Successful Americans of Our Day. Successful Americans (Chicago). 1911. p. 471. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  10. ^ Graham, William Montrose (1898). Annual Report, Second Army Corps. United States War Department. p. 34. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  11. ^ Duncan, George B.; et al. (1919). Official History of the 82nd Division: American Expeditionary Forces, "All American Division" (1917–1919). Bobbs-Merrill Co. pp. 294–295. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  12. ^ Associated, Press (September 29, 1930). "Man Who Fired First U.S. Gun in World War Dies". Idaho Falls Post. p. 1. Archived from the original on 10 September 2014. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  13. ^ "37 New Major Generals and 141 Brigadier Generals are Appointed by Wilson". The Lima News (Lima, OH). August 15, 1917. p. 5. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  14. ^ Fell, Edgar T. (1927). History of the Seventh Division, United States Army, 1917–1919. Seventh Division Officers' Association. p. 12. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  15. ^ "Army Orders". Washington Post. September 1, 1917. p. 4. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  16. ^ Cooke, James J. (1999). The All-Americans at War: The 82nd Division in the Great War, 1917–1918 (reprint ed.). Praeger Publishers. p. 13. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  17. ^ LoFaro, Guy (2011). The Sword of St. Michael: The 82nd Airborne Division in World War II. De Capo Press. p. 28. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  18. ^ Farwell, Byron (1999). Over There: The United States in the Great War, 1917–1918. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 308. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  19. ^ LoFaro, Guy (2011). The Sword of St. Michael: The 82nd Airborne Division in World War II. De Capo Press. p. 17. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  20. ^ Cooke, James J. (1999). The All-Americans at War: The 82nd Division in the Great War, 1917–1918 (reprint ed.). Praeger Publishers. p. 87. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  21. ^ Davis, Henry Blaine (1998). Generals in Khaki. Pentland Press. p. 60. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  22. ^ "The Army: Infantry – Maj. Gen. C. S. Farnsworth, Chief of Infantry". Army and Navy Journal. Army and Navy Publishing Co.: 118 July 29, 1922. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  23. ^ "Promotion for Hero to Argonne Drive". Santa Ana Register. January 2, 1924. p. 1. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
  24. ^ Leonard, John W., editor (1908). Who's Who in Pennsylvania. L. R. Hamersly & Company. p. 121. Retrieved September 9, 2014.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  25. ^ "Gen. W. P. Burnham World War Veteran Dies in San Francisco". Corsicana Daily Sun. Associated Press. September 29, 1930. p. 7. Retrieved 10 September 2014.
  26. ^ William P. Burnham at Find a Grave
  27. ^ Gore, James Howard (1920). American Legionnaires of France. W. F. Roberts Co. p. 78. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  28. ^ "Late Major Burnham Remembered in Wayne and Elsewhere". The Citizen (Honesdale, PA). July 15, 1910. p. 8. Retrieved September 10, 2014.
  29. ^ Daughters of the American Revolution (1899). Lineage Book, Volume 9. Harrisburg Publishing Company. pp. 304–305. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  30. ^ Davis, Henry Blaine (1998). Generals in Khaki. Pentland Press. p. 59. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  31. ^ United States Federal Census, United States Census, 1910; Omaha Ward 8, Douglas, Nebraska; roll T624_844, page 4B,, enumeration district 0062, Family History film 1374857. Retrieved on September 9, 2014.
  32. ^ "Florida Death Index". Ancestry.com. 1976. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  33. ^ Sheridan, Eugene Vincent (1998). The Vincent Family: Descendants of Charles Vincent of Yonkers and Descendants of Adriaen Vincent of New Amsterdam. Vincent Family Record Publications. p. 239. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  34. ^ "Married: Limbocker-Burnham". Army and Navy Journal. Amy and Navy Publishing Co.: 202 August 21, 1920. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  35. ^ "Birchkill Arts and Crafts Guild has Tea". Troy Record. December 10, 1954. p. 21. Retrieved September 10, 2014.

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