Note: Robert Luppi is president of the Friends of Bear Paw, Big Hole & Canyon Creek Battlefields as well as a direct descendent of John McLennon.
John McLennon earned the Medal of Honor for “gallantry in action” while serving with Company A of the 7th U.S. Infantry at the Battle of the Big Hole in Montana Territory on August 9-10 1877.
McLennon was born in 1855 at Fort Belknap, Texas, to Irish (County Kilkenny) immigrant parents, Michael and Mary (Ryan) McLennon. The couple had five children and John was a twin to his sister, Annie.
John McLennon was a member of an extended family deeply steeped in the tradition of the 7th Infantry, a family service encompassing almost fifty years and spanning three generations. Michael McLennon, John’s father, joined Company A of the 7th in 1852 and served throughout the Civil War. He was wounded at Gettysburg in 1863. After the war, during the period of Reconstruction, the older McLennon was assigned to military duty in Tallahassee, Florida as part of the Army of occupation and while engaged in that service in 1867, he died of what was described as “inflammation of the brain”, thought to have been caused by malaria. At his death, at age 37, McLennon’s rank was Sergeant and he was characterized by his Company Commander at the time as a “good, attentive and temperate soldier.” His remains were interred in the Union soldier section at the Old City Cemetery in Tallahassee.
Michael McLennon's Gravesite - photo courtesy of Cynthia Causseaux and Wayne Britt
John McLennon’s brother-in-law was Irish immigrant (County Leitrim) Company A’s First Sergeant Patrick Rogan, another Medal of Honor recipient at the Big Hole, the latter having married the former’s sister, Margaret, in 1869. Rogan, as a volunteer, entered military service with the Union Army in February 1865 and served almost exclusively with Company A of the 7th Infantry thereafter until his retirement in 1895, at age 48. Rogan earned his Medal of Honor at the Big Hole for verifying and reporting his Company while subjected to galling fire from the Nez Perce who were situated on the bluffs above the soldiers. During the same battle, Rogan carried Company A’s Lieutenant Charles A. Coolidge, a cousin of future President, Calvin Coolidge, to a place of safety after the young officer was shot through the thighs. Coolidge, a career soldier, later achieved the rank of General and retired from the Army in 1903.
John McLennon’s family is also apparently connected by marriage with Sergeant Mildon H. Wilson of the 7th Infantry, another Medal of Honor recipient at the Big Hole. Rogan family archives show that one of McLennon’s sisters had married Wilson on a date unknown and this union was possibly Wilson’s second marriage, as his first marriage to a Sarah E. Carr had failed. Wilson received his Medal of Honor for “gallantry in forming the Company (Company “I”) from the line of skirmishers and deploying again under a galling fire, and in carrying dispatches at the imminent risk of life.” Wilson was a Civil War veteran and also a member of the Montana Column in the Sioux War of 1876. The Column, under the command of Colonel John Gibbon, the former Union Army leader of the legendary Iron Brigade during the Civil War, arrived at the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn in June 1876, the day after the battle ended. They relieved the survivors of the fight and buried the dead. Wilson retired from military service in 1897 after serving with the Army, predominately with the 7th Infantry, for thirty years.
In later years, McLennon’s niece, Margaret Rogan, married Company A’s and Company I’s enlisted man, John L. Reynolds, who served with the 7th Infantry beginning in 1875 until his retirement from the unit in 1890, achieving the rank of Sergeant. Reynolds was also part of Colonel Gibbon’s Montana Column, but he did not later fight at the Big Hole, as he had been assigned at the time to duty at Fort Missoula. Reynolds later gained prominence as an early member of the Wyoming National Guard where he rose to the rank of Captain.
The McLennon family association with the 7th Infantry continued through the Spanish American War, as two of John McLennon’s nephews, Frank P. Rogan, and William J. Rogan, fought with the 7th in Cuba during that conflict, with the latter suffering wounds in the battle of El Caney, Cuba on July 1, 1998.
John McLennon’s military history shows him to have enlisted as a musician with Company A of the 7th Infantry at age 16 in 1871 at Fort Ellis, Montana Territory. His occupation at the time was listed as “boy”. Because of his age, his mother was required to provide her written consent to his enlistment. McLennon entered the Army as a drummer and was 4 feet 11 inches in height. His military records show that he never grew any taller than 5 feet. He was further described as having dark hair, dark eyes and a dark complexion. McLennon would remain with Company A of the 7th Infantry for the remainder of his military career, which ended upon his death in 1888.
Before his involvement at Big Hole, McLennon served in the Sioux War of 1876 and was a member of Colonel John Gibbon’s Montana Column. During the following summer, the young serviceman engaged in the Nez Perce Campaign while under the command of Colonel Gibbon, and it was during that time, at Big Hole, Montana on August 9-10, 1877, he earned his Medal of Honor. In recommending McLennon for the award, Lieutenant Francis Woodbridge, a participant in the battle, commended the soldier for his bravery in the attack on the Indian village, and, while volunteering for the duty, his bravery as an advance skirmisher in the later escort of the military’s wagon train for several miles to its camp while subjected to the constant threat of Nez Perce attacks. Lieutenant Woodbridge added that McLennon, after the withdrawal of the force to the cover of the timber after the earlier attack, was the last man to leave the Indian village and then only did so upon his order. The officer also praised the attitude of the diminutive soldier during the expedition mentioning that “this boy won the esteem and respect of his officers (while) cheerfully undergoing hardships which tired strong men.”
McLennon almost did not participate in the campaign, however, as his company commander, Captain William Logan, had initially felt that he was too young to engage in the expedition and expected battle and was a musician at that. Yet upon the latter’s own urging to “carry the rifle,” he was allowed to join the Company when it left Missoula on its journey in search of the Nez Perce. Ironically, Captain Logan died early in the battle and thus never became aware of McLennon’s gallantry.
After Big Hole, McLennon participated in the Bannock Campaign of 1878 and the Ute War of 1879-80. His military duty stations included Ft. Ellis, and Ft. Shaw, Montana Territory; Ft. Buford, Dakota Territory; Ft. Laramie, Wyoming Territory; Ft. Snelling, Minnesota; and Fort Omaha, Nebraska. Military records show that the highest rank he attained in the Army was that of Sergeant. The records also show that he was a superior marksman, having participated in rifle range competition in 1886 at the Bellevue Rifle Range in Nebraska
McLennon’s final duty station was at Camp Pilot Butte in Rock Springs, Wyoming Territory. In May 1888, while on active duty, he died of what was described as “acute nephritis” in his quarters at the Camp. The cause of death was also described as “inflammation of the kidneys”. He was 33 years old and was single at the time, having never married. Upon his death, McLennon’s personal effects were inventoried by his company Commander, the previously mentioned Charles A. Coolidge, whereupon they were delivered to McLennon’s mother, Mary, in Rock Springs.
McLennon is buried immediately next to the gravesite of his brother-in law, First Sergeant Patrick Rogan, at the Rock Springs City Cemetery. As part of a Memorial Day ceremony, Medal of Honor tombstones were emplaced at both of their gravesites in 1995, and taps were played while the flag of the 7th Infantry brought from the regimental headquarters at Fort Stewart, Georgia, for the occasion, was lowered in their honor.
Author's Note: Much of the information incorporated into this biography was obtained from Mr. Mark Nelson, Curator of the Sweetwater County Museum, Green River, Wyoming, who researched and compiled the Rogan-McLennon family military history. The author extends a special thanks to Mr. Nelson.
2004 Copyright Robert Luppi