Meet the Legends: Ranald Mackenzie

"I regarded Mackenzie as the most promising young officer in the Army."- Ulysses S. Grant 

Ranald Slidell Mackenzie was born on July 27, 1840, in New York City toa prominent military/political family. He graduated from West Point on June 17, 1862, top of his class, during the Civil War and was commissioned into the Union Army as 2nd Lieutenant and assigned to the Army of the Potomac. At the siege of Petersburg a shell fragment tore off two fingers on his right hand. He would eventually become labeled by Indians as “Bad Hand” due to that injury. 

Within his three years in the Civil War had fought in 12 key battles and was wounded 6 times. He was eventually elevated to the rank of Brevet Major General and commanded forces as part of the national campaign against Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, on April 9, 1865. Ulysses S. Grant wrote in his memoir, “I regarded Mackenzie as the most promising young officer in the army. Graduating at West Point, as he did, during the second year of the war, he had won his way up to the command of a corps before its close. This he did upon his own merit and without influence.” After the war ended his rank was reduced, as was customary, to Captain in the Army Corps of Engineers. In 1867 Mackenzie was appointed Colonel of the 41st Infantry, a newly formed black “Buffalo Soldier” regiment, reorganized two years later as part of the 24th United States Infantry. Under his command, this regiment was awarded the status of a “superior unit.” Mackenzie held commands at Fort Brown (now Brownsville), Fort Clark (near present-day Del Rio), and Fort McKavett (near present-day Menard). On February 25, 1871, he assumed command of the 4th Cavalry at Fort Concho (San Angelo) then transferred to Fort Richardson (near present-day Jacksboro), traveling through Fort Phantom Hill. 

In his official military report on moving the 4th Cavalry to Fort Richardson Mackenzie stated, “We camped at old Fort Chadbourne and again at the ruins of old Fort Phantom Hill where the only thing that remained were the chimneys, standing alone in silent desolation, commemorative of time’s decay.” 

In the fall of 1871 with his forces now stationed near the Red River skirmishes with the Comanche increased. One of his few military defeats was an expedition into the panhandle in September-November, where in a battle at Blanco Canyon he was wounded for the seventh time. His troops eventually retreated back to Fort Griffin. 

In spring 1873 he was assigned back down to Fort Clark to stop Indian raids from Mexico where he led an unauthorized raid that burned three Indian villages near Remolino, Mexico. That raid and effective border patrols stopped the raiding into Texas. He was sent back to the panhandle region where in September 1874 his troops destroyed five Indian villages in Palo Duro Canyon and on November 5th near Tahoka Lake won a minor engagement, his last against the Comanche. Mackenzie ordered the slaughter of 1,400 Indians horses after the battle and destroyed the Indians’ resistance. 

In March 1875 Mackenzie assumed command at Fort Sill and control over the Comanche-Kiowa and Cheyenne-Arapaho reservations. On June 2nd Quanah Parker arrived at Fort Sill to surrender with 407 followers and 1,500 horses. The Red River War was over. 

After Lt. Col. George A. Custer’s annihilation at Little Bighorn (Montana territory) in June 1876, Mackenzie was placed in command Camp Robinson, Nebraska. In October he forced Sioux Chief Red Cloud to return his band to their reservation. In November 1876 Mackenzie and his 4th Cavalry decisively defeated the Northern Cheyenne in The Battle of Red Fork. 

March 1878 Mackenzie was again at Fort Clark to stop Mexican raids into Texas. Diplomatic attempts to get the government of Mexico to assist in stopping the raid had failed so Mackenzie began patrols into Mexico prompting the Mexican government to act, and by October the raiding had ceased. In October 1879 he was sent to Colorado to prevent an uprising of the Utes where the chiefs refused to leave until Mackenzie informed them that the only alternative was war. Two days later, the Utes started for Utah. In 1881 he was sent to Arizona and New Mexico to subdue the Apaches and Navajos. Within a year the army was in control. 

Mackenzie was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, but was seriously ill. On October 27, 1883, he was reassigned to command the Department of Texas. He planned to marry and retire soon on land that he had bought near Boerne, but by December he was suffering “paralysis of the insane.” A few days later he was escorted to New York City and placed in the Bloomingdale Asylum. On March 24, 1884, he was retired from the Army due to his mental illness. In June he was taken to his boyhood home in Morristown, NY to live with his sister. In 1886 he was moved to New Brighton, Staten Island, where he died on January 19, 1889. He was buried in the military cemetery at West Point.