Frederick Funston

Frederick N. Funston

Major General Frederick Funston
Nickname(s) "Fearless Freddie"[1]
Born (1865-11-09)November 9, 1865
New Carlisle, Ohio
Died February 19, 1917(1917-02-19) (aged 51)
San Antonio, Texas
Place of burial San Francisco National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1898–1917
Rank Major General
Commands held Hawaiian Department
Battles/wars Spanish–American War
Philippine–American War
Bandit War
Awards Medal of Honor
Spouse(s) Eda Blankart Funston (m. 1898)

Frederick N. Funston (September 11, 1865 – February 19, 1917) also known as Fred Funston, was a General in the United States Army, best known for his role in the Spanish–American War and the Philippine–American War.[2] He received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Philippine–American War.

Early life and education

Funston was born in New Carlisle, Ohio to Edward H. Funston and Anne Eliza Mitchell Funston. In 1881 his family moved to Allen County, Kansas. His father, was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1884.

A slight individual who stood just 5 ft 5 in (1.65 m) tall and weighed only 120 pounds (54 kg), Funston failed an admissions test to the United States Military Academy in 1884, then attended the University of Kansas from 1885 to 1888, but did not graduate. While there, he joined the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and became friends with future Pulitzer Prize winner William Allen White. He worked as a trainman for the Santa Fe Railroad before becoming a reporter in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1890.


After one year as a journalist, Funston moved into more scientific exploration, focusing primarily on botany. First serving as part of an exploring and surveying expedition in Death Valley, California, in 1891, he then traveled to Alaska to spend the next two years in work for the United States Department of Agriculture.


Funston in Cuban uniform

He eventually joined the Cuban Revolutionary Army that was fighting for independence from Spain in 1896 after having been inspired to join following a rousing speech given by Gen. Daniel E. Sickles at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

After a bout of malaria, Funston's weight dropped to an alarming 95 pounds and he was given a leave of absence by the Cubans. When Funston returned to the United States, he was commissioned as a colonel of the 20th Kansas Infantry in the United States Army on May 13, 1898, in the early days of the Spanish–American War. In the fall, he met Eda Blankart at a patriotic gathering, after a brief courtship they married on October 25, 1898.[3] Within two weeks of the marriage, he landed in the Philippines as part of the U.S. forces that would become engaged in the Philippine–American War.


Funston was in command in various engagements with Filipino nationalists. In April 1899, he took a Filipino position at Calumpit by swimming the Bagbag River, then crossing the Pampanga River under heavy fire. For his bravery, Funston was soon promoted to the rank of Brigadier General of Volunteers and awarded the Medal of Honor on February 14, 1900.

Funston played a key role in planning and executing the capture of Filipino President Emilio Aguinaldo on March 23, 1901, at Palanan. The capture of Aguinaldo made Funston a national hero, although his reputation was somewhat tarnished when details of the capture became known. Funston's party, escorted by a company of Macabebe mercenaries, had gained access to Aguinaldo's camp by posing as prisoners of Macabebe scouts. In recognition of his capture of Aguinaldo, Funston was appointed a Brigadier General in the Regular Army at the age of 35. Funston's capture of Aguinaldo saved his military career as he had been previously denied a commission in the Regular Army, and was scheduled to be mustered out of the volunteer service.

In 1902, Funston toured the United States to increase public support of the Philippine–American War and became the focus of controversy by stating,

I personally strung up thirty-five Filipinos without trial, so what was all the fuss over Waller's 'dispatching' a few 'treacherous savages'? If there had been more Smiths and Wallers, the war would have been over long ago. Impromptu domestic hanging might also hasten the end of the war. For starters, all Americans who had recently petitioned Congress to sue for peace in the Philippines should be dragged out of their homes and lynched.[4][5][6]

Mark Twain, a strong opponent of U.S. imperialism, published a sarcasm-filled denunciation of Funston's mission and methods under the title "A Defence of General Funston" in the North American Review.[7] Poet Ernest Crosby also wrote a satirical, anti-imperialist novel, Captain Jinks, Hero, that parodied the career of Funston.[8]

Funston was considered a useful advocate for American expansionism, but when he publicly made insulting remarks about anti-imperialist Republican Senator George Frisbie Hoar of Massachusetts, mocking his "overheated conscience" in Denver, just before a planned trip to Boston, President Theodore Roosevelt denied his furlough request, and ordered him silenced and officially reprimanded.[9]

Sideco house (Emilio Aguinaldo's seat of First Philippine Republic)

The Crispulo Sideco (also known as "Kapitang Pulong") house San Isidro, Nueva Ecija[10]

The house had been the seat of General Emilio Aguinaldo's First Philippine Republic when he established it as his headquarters in San Isidro during the last part of his odyssey from the American forces.

Sideco house served as Major General Frederick Funston's headquarters, and then Emilio Aguinaldo's capitol from the fall of Malolos on March 31, 1899 until May 17, 1899, when San Isidro was taken by the Americans.

On March 29, 1899, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo arrived in San Isidro, Nueva Ecija, and proclaimed the town capital of the First Philippine Republic. He stayed in the house, using it as the de facto Philippine capitol. When the Americans occupied San Isidro, the Sideco house served as the headquarters of Gen. Frederick Funston, who would later capture General Aguinaldo in Palanan, Isabela. General Aguinaldo's capture is said to have been planned in this house.[11][12] It is now occupied by a Christian organization.[11]

United States and overseas again

San Francisco, 1906: Aftermath of the fire

In 1906, Funston was in command of the Presidio of San Francisco when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake hit. He declared martial law in response, although he did not have the authority to do so, and martial law was never officially declared.[13] Funston attempted to defend the city from the spread of fire, and directed the demolition of buildings using explosives, including black powder, artillery charges, and dynamite, to create firebreaks. However Funston's orders often resulted in more fires.[14] Funston gave orders to shoot all looters on sight; however, these orders resulted in numerous cases of innocent shootings.[14]

Col. Funston and Eda in their family living room in the Presidio of San Francisco
At the corner of Market and Third Streets on Wednesday I saw a man attempt to cut the fingers from the hand of a dead woman in order to secure the rings which adorned the stiffened fingers.

One man made the trooper believe that one of the dead bodies lying on a pile of rocks was his mother, and he was permitted to go up to the body. Apparently overcome by grief, he threw himself across the corpse. In another instant the soldiers discovered that he was chewing the diamond earrings from the ears of the dead woman ... The diamonds were found in the man's mouth afterward.

The soldiers do all they can, and while the unspeakable crime of robbing the dead is undoubtedly being practiced, it would be many times more prevalent were it not for the constant vigilance on all sides, as well as the summary justice.

– from survivors' accounts immediately following the 1906 Earthquake.[15]

Funston's actions were later assessed with a mixture of criticism and praise. Most of the criticism of his methods occurred after the fact; those who experienced and survived the tragedy first-hand were nearly universal in hailing him as a hero who did what was necessary in the face of utter chaos.

From December 1907 through March 1908, he was in charge of troops at the Goldfield mining center in Esmeralda County, Nevada, where the army put down a labor strike by the Industrial Workers of the World.

Then, after two years as Commandant of the Army Service School in Fort Leavenworth, he served three years as Commander of the Department of Luzon in the Philippines, then was briefly shifted to the same role in the Hawaiian Department (April 3, 1913 to January 22, 1914).

Funston was active in the conflict with Mexico in 1914 to 1916 as commanding general of the army's Southern Department, becoming a major general in November 1914. He occupied the city of Veracruz, and commanded all forces involved in the hunt for Pancho Villa and security of the United States border with Mexico during the "Bandit War".

World War I and death

Funston's body lying in state at San Francisco City Hall
Funston's headstone, front and back

Shortly before the U.S. entry into World War I, President Woodrow Wilson favored Funston to head any American Expeditionary Force (AEF). His intense focus on work would lead to health problems, first with a case of indigestion in January 1917, followed by a fatal heart attack at the age of 51 years in San Antonio, Texas.

In the moments leading up to his death, Funston was relaxing in the lobby of The St. Anthony Hotel[16] in San Antonio, listening to an orchestra play The Blue Danube waltz. After commenting, "How beautiful it all is," he collapsed from a massive painful heart attack (myocardial infarction) and died. He was holding six-year old Inez Harriett Silverberg in his arms.[17][18]

Douglas MacArthur, then a major, had the unpleasant duty of breaking the news to President Wilson and Secretary of War Newton D. Baker. As MacArthur explained in his memoirs, "had the voice of doom spoken, the result could not have been different. The silence seemed like that of death itself. You could hear your own breathing."

Funston lay in state at both the Alamo and the City Hall Rotunda in San Francisco. The latter honor gave him the distinction of being the first person to be recognized with this tribute, with his subsequent burial taking place in San Francisco National Cemetery. After his death, his position of AEF commander went to General John Pershing, who as commanding general of the Punitive Expedition in 1916 had been Funston's subordinate. The Lake Merced military reservation (part of San Francisco's coastal defenses) was renamed Fort Funston in his honor, while the training camp built in 1917 next to Fort Riley in Kansas (which became the second-largest World War I camp) was named Camp Funston. San Francisco's Funston Park and Funston Avenue are named for him, as is Funston Avenue in his hometown of New Carlisle, Ohio, and Funston Avenue near Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. In Hawaii, Funston Road at Schofield Barracks and Funston Road at Fort Shafter are named after him. Funston's daughter, and his son and grandson, both of whom served in the United States Air Force, were later interred with him.

Medal of Honor citation

Funston's Medal of Honor
Rank and organization
Colonel, 20th Kansas Volunteer Infantry.
Place and date
At Rio Grande de la Pampanga, Luzon, Philippine Islands, April 27, 1899.
Entered service at
Iola, Kansas.
New Carlisle, Ohio.
Date of issue
February 14, 1900.
Crossed the river on a raft and by his skill and daring enabled the general commanding to carry the enemy's entrenched position on the north bank of the river and to drive him with great loss from the important strategic position of Calumpit.[19]


There are streets named for Funston in both San Francisco and New Carlisle, Ohio . Part of Fort Riley, Kansas was also named for him, as is Funston Street on Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

See also


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.
  1. California Military Museum
  2. "FUNSTON, Frederick". The International Who's Who in the World. 1912. p. 483.
  3.| Eda Blankart Funston
  4. "Global policy". Retrieved October 5, 2010.
  5. New York Sun March 10, 1902; Stuart Creighton Miller (1982)
  6. Benevolent Assimilation: The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899–1903, Yale University Press, pp. 234–235.
  7. Twain, Mark (May 1, 1902). "A Defence of General Funston". North American Review. 174. pp. 613–624. Retrieved March 4, 2005.
  8. "Crosby on Kipling: A Parody of "The White Man's Burden". Retrieved January 3, 2010.
  9. Miller (1982), p. 235; New York Times, April 10, 1902. Front-page headlines: Boston Herald, April 24, 1902: "President Muzzles Funston" and San Francisco Call, April 25, 1902: "Funston Silenced. President Orders Him to Cease Talking."
  10. "Discover Nueva Ecija". Philippines Department of Tourism. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  11. 1 2 Dumindin, Arnaldo (2006). "Philippine-American War, 1899–1902". Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  12. "The Sideco House in San Isidro (Nueva Ecija)". Local Philippines. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  13. Gordon Thomas & Max Morgan Witts: The San Francisco Earthquake (Stein and Day, New York; Souvenir Press, London, 1971; reprinted Dell, 1972, SBN 440-07631, page 83)
  14. 1 2 Lafler, Henry Anderson. "How the Army Worked to Save San Francisco: An Attack on General Funston". Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco. (Originally, Calkins Newspaper Syndicate, 1906). Retrieved 7 February 2013.
  15. Charles Morris: The San Francisco Calamity By Earthquake And Fire, 1906, reprinted by Citadel Press, New Jersey; 1986, page 79-80
  16. The Virtual Museum of the city of San Francisco
  17. [Friday, March 2, 1917, Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina) Page: 7]
  18. [Tuesday, February 20, 1917 Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska) Page: 1]
  19. "Medal of Honor recipients". United States Army Center of Military History. August 3, 2009. Retrieved January 6, 2010.
  20. IMDB

Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Frederick Funston.
Wikisource has the text of a 1920 Encyclopedia Americana article about Frederick Funston.
Military offices
Preceded by
John Frank Morrison
Commandant of the Command and General Staff College
January 1911 – February 1913
Succeeded by
Ramsay D. Potts
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