At the age of 7, Heinrich Schwindler, a recent immigrant, ran away from home. With minimal command of the English language, he was having quite a hard time, but was taken under the wing of a ethnic German soldier in the US Army, serving in the 3rd US Infantry Regiment, and was soon integrated into the regiment as something of a mascot. He trained as a drummer boy, and that year headed to Mexico with the Regiment, where he earned a mention in dispatches for his nerves under even the heaviest fire. Army life suited him, and at the age of 16 he traded in his drum for a long arm, seeing some action against the Native American population in the west serving in New Mexico. (The Third American: The Life and Times of Heinrich Schwindler, by Albern Schwindler, 1972)
By the outbreak of the Civil War, he was a veteran sergeant, and the massive need for expansion of the Army meant that he was able to secure a commission as a Lt. in a unit of volunteers, serving with the 195th New York Volunteer Infantry. Composed of so many recent immigrants, his command of both English and German was seen as a major asset, and by the end of the war he was a brevet Colonel in command of the entire Regiment! Not bad for a young man still in his twenties! It of course didn’t hurt that he had an agile mind and was unflappable in battle. He always led from the front, and took any risk he expected of his men. He had the distinction of never seeing his men break in battle, and his greatest achievement was undoubtedly saving the entire Army of the Wabash when his Regiment - placed alone on the extreme right flank - repelled numerous attacks by superior Confederate forces. Had they broken, it is assured that the Union line would have been entirely rolled up, and the Battle of Mount Carmel would have been a crippling defeat to the American efforts in the theater (The Civil War: A Tale, Hands 1967).
With the end of the war, he lost his brevet, and but he had risen in Regular Army rank as well, and served as a Captain of Cavalry in the Plains Wars, fighting Sioux and Shawnee with the same pluck and panache he had shown against the Rebs (A. Schwindler) . His continued success meant that, at the age of 58, he was a Brigadier General by the time the Spanish-American War broke out, and while his rank and age precluded him from battle, his role in planning out the Battle of Frying Pan Hill simply can’t be overlooked, as it is a text book assault plan, and still taught at West Point as an example of small unit tactics successfully taking prepared positions despite being outnumbered (Atlas of American Military Tactics, Pasman de Croire, 1984).
Following the end of the fighting in Cuba, he was sent to the Philippines to help fight the continuing insurgency, but took temporary leave from there when he received orders to divert to China where he partook in the relief effort of the Peking Legation during the Boxer Rebellion. He returned to the Philippines, where he was stationed for two more years. and his work there really revolutionized American counter-insurgency doctrine. Finally in 1904, he retired at the age of 64. Settling in Columbus, New Mexico, as he had fallen in love with the state (then territory) while serving there as a young man in the 3rd US Regiment. As fate would have it, in 1916 he would be out hunting with his grandson in the wee hours of the morning when Pancho Villa and his men made a cross border raid on the town. He fired a warning shot, which alerted the town garrison who were able to rouse themselves and repel the attackers. It is thought that the raid would have been much more disastrous without Heinrich’s intervention. He and his grandson (Albern) of course had exposed themselves with the shot, but took up a strong position in a rocky outcropping, and fought of the band of Villistas who attempted to charge them. Heinrich, always humble, insisted it was a lone raider that they killed, but Albern always insisted it was at least a half dozen (A. Schwindler), and the Army’s after action report stated there were five bodies in the vicinity, and indication that 3 more were wounded and either escaped or were carried off by their comrades (The Columbus Report, Library of Congress collection F1234 .C33).
By the 1930s, Heinrich was starting to slow down in his old age, a man in his nineties after all! Albern, now an Army Captain himself, insisted that Heinrich move to be closer to him so that Albern’s wife could look after him, so Heinrich moved to Hawaii, where his grandson was stationed, and took up residence with his family there. Heinrich was there on Dec. 7th, 1941, and true to form, refused to cower in the basement, although he rushed - rather hobbled, he was, afterall, 101 - the rest of the family there. He grabbed his old .29-31 Winchester (The rifle was later donated to the National Firearms Museum, where it is now on display!), and stood in the middle of the street taking potshots at Japanese planes. I wish I could tell you he downed one, but odds are against it, and truth is, we simply can’t be sure (Answering the Call of Duty: Civilian Military Involvement in World War II, Ben Chichoski 2003). Nevertheless, he was certainly out there. He passed away peacefully in his sleep two years later, at the ripe old age of 103. One of the more decorated of Army officers ever, not to mention one with a span of combat experience from the 1850s to 1940s, he was buried with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery (Section 46 Lot 366-11 Grid O/P-22.5 if you ever care to pay your respects).