Fallen Heroes: Private Frederick Gibson

I never tire of learning about people in history who were able to see more of the world than one might expect for someone of their era. Oftentimes the mechanism for that travel was through service in the military. Frederick Gibson (1877-1900), who grew up in Mill Township, Tuscarawas County, was one of those soldiers whose service would take him to a far corner of the world.


Frederick’s teenage father, William Gibson (1830-1884), arrived with the rest of his family in August 1849 as passengers on the Canadian-flagged Delta bound from Londonderry, Ireland to Philadelphia. William was accompanied by his mother and five siblings, but no record of his father traveling with the family exists. The family was living in Philadelphia in 1850 and William was employed as a carpet weaver in one of the city’s many factories.

William married Frederick’s mother, Margaret (1837-1898), in 1853 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania before moving his family of six to Tuscarawas County in 1856. The family was living in the Stillwater area just south of Newport, in Mill Township, Tuscarawas County around the time of Frederick’s birth in 1877.

William Gibson homestead south of Newport, Tuscarawas County, 1875. (U.S., Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.)

Frederick likely spent his youth doing what most young men in rural Tuscarawas County did; working on his family farm and helping out with other local farms as well. That Frederick could read and write is known, but whether he received formal schooling or not is unclear. When Frederick was just five years old his father was killed when, the exact details are unknown, a tree fell on him.

Frederick and his elder siblings worked to help support the family after their father Walter died. By the time that war with Spain was imminent in the spring of 1898, only a few of the children remained on the family farm, Frederick being one of them. Perhaps with the need to support his mother in mind, Frederick volunteered for service in the 7th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment in June 1898.

Headline in Cambridge’s The Jeffersonian newspaper, April 1898.

The 7th Ohio Volunteer Infantry never left the states, being stationed in Virginia and Pennsylvania for the duration of the short war. The regiment was sent back to Ohio following the end of hostilities in the fall of 1898, and around the time of Frederick’s mother’s death. No longer needed to care for his mother, Frederick was not done soldiering. While the 7th Ohio never left the United States, somehow Frederick Gibson found himself in the Philippine Islands in the spring of 1899, enlisted as a private in Troop G, 11th United States Volunteer Cavalry Regiment raised to serve in the ongoing Philippine–American War.

The Philippine-American War is a historically complicated conflict. While it was a continuation of the Philippine Independence movement that pre-dated America’s involvement, it collided with an era of American imperialism and expansionism. Additionally, atrocities were committed on both sides during the over 3 year conflict that further color the perception of the antagonists’ activities. Nonetheless, that should not disparage Frederick Gibson’s willingness to volunteer, and potentially sacrifice his life, for his country.

Soldiers recovering at the United States Army 1st Reserve Hospital, Manilla, Philippines, 1900. (Source: Library of Congress)

The 11th United States Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, raised in the spring of 1899, was composed mostly of American volunteers already serving in the Philippines as well as a squadron of Filipinos troopers. The 11th Cavalry saw considerable action in a number of battles throughout 1899 and 1900, suffering numerous casualties in battle and to disease. Frederick Gibson managed to remain unwounded throughout this period, only to fall ill in the late summer of 1900.

Sometime in late August or early September 1900 Frederick Gibson was stricken with appendicitis and hospitalized in Manilla. The hospital was filled with soldiers recovering from a variety of tropical diseases and from wounds suffered in battle. Frederick would die from his illness on 8 September 1900. The local newspaper reported his death in early October 1900. His body returned home in early November and he was buried next to his parents in the Lima Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Stillwater, Tuscarawas County.

Military marker on Frederick Gibson’s grave, Tuscarawas County. (Source: http://www.findagrave.com)

© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.

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