Wray Wirt Davis

Wray Wirt Davis was born on May 28, 1839 in Richmond, Virginia, the son of John Fleming Davis and Delight Thomas. His father was a farmer who owned at least 16 slaves. The family moved to Chesterfield County, Virginia, in the late 1840s, and John employed local teacher Henry Hudnall to help educate his five children. Wirt Davis then returned to Richmond to attend private school, and in 1852 he enrolled at Hampden-Sydney College. After two years, he transferred to the University of Virginia, where he studied mathematics, French, and Italian. He withdrew from UVA on April 29, 1856, “on account of failing health.”

After several years as a teacher in Virginia, Davis moved to Arkansas, where he taught Greek and modern languages at Helena College. By 1860, he was working as a clerk in St. Louis, Missouri. He enlisted in the United States army on May 12, 1860, and was assigned to Company K of the 1st US Cavalry. He spent the next year fighting Native Americans in the country’s western territories, earning praise for his “gallantry.”  

When the Civil War erupted, at least three of Davis’s brothers enlisted in the Confederate army. Davis, however, remained loyal to the Union, a decision that severed his relationship with his family for the next forty years. In 1861, the army re-designated his regiment as the 4th US Cavalry and assigned it to the Western Theater. Davis was stationed in Kansas at the beginning of the war, and in the fall of 1861 he took part in General John C. Fremont’s campaign against Springfield, Missouri. Davis earned a steady series of promotions, and by 1862 he was a first sergeant. 

Davis participated in the Battle of Fort Donelson in February 1862 and the Battle of Shiloh that April. He was promoted to 2nd lieutenant in May 1863 and to brevet 1st lieutenant in September for his “gallant conduct” during the Battle of Chickamauga. On the first day of the battle, he led a cavalry charge to provide cover for the Union army’s retreat over Reed’s Bridge. He then pulled his men back over the bridge, stopping to dismantle it under heavy fire. He suffered a fractured thigh during the battle, however, after a Confederate soldier shot his horse out from under him. Davis had recovered by early 1864 and during General William T. Sherman’s Meridian Campaign earned promotion to brevet captain. In the war’s final months, his “gallant and meritorious” service earned him promotions to regimental adjutant, first lieutenant, and finally brevet major. 

He remained in the army after the war, serving primarily in the American Southwest. He officially became a captain on August 1, 1868. He performed “gallant service” in action against the Comanches in 1872, served in the Great Sioux War of 1876, and fought against the Apaches in the Battle of Horseshoe Canyon in 1882. 

While on a six-month leave of absence, Davis married Anna Berry Davis in St. Louis, Missouri, on January 2, 1884. In 1885, he pursued Apache leader Geronimo into Mexico, unsuccessfully chasing him across the Sierra Madres. He became a major in the 5th US Cavalry on April 16, 1890, and the following year he attended the funeral of General William T. Sherman.

During the Spanish-American War, Davis became a lieutenant colonel in the 8th US Cavalry and spent several months as the commander of a military district in Cuba. He was promoted to colonel of the 3rd US Cavalry on January 19, 1900, and spent the next eighteen months stationed in the Philippines. In July 1900, the army ordered him to China to help suppress the Boxer Rebellion.

Davis retired on April 29, 1901, due to poor health. He had suffered from a variety of ailments during his forty years of service, including rheumatism, malaria, depression, and Bright's disease. He spent his retirement with his wife in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and he received a promotion to brigadier general on April 23, 1904. He died of Bright’s disease on February 11, 1914 in Washington and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Following his death, his widow Anna lived at the Cairo hotel in Washington and received a pension of $12 per month. A special act of Congress increased the pension to $30 a month in 1917. Anna died on August 15, 1918, and was buried alongside her husband at Arlington.

Image: Wray Wirt Davis (courtesy arlingtoncemetery.net).


Medical Records for Wray Wirt Davis

Obituary of Wray Wirt Davis

Name:Davis, Wray Wirt
Alternative names:
  • Soldier
  • UVA (Union)
3rd Regiment U.S. Cavalry
4th Regiment U.S. CavalryL
4th Regiment U.S. CavalryK
Branch of service:Army
Muster Out1901-04-25Retired
Residence at UVA:Chesterfield County, VA
UVA Begin Year:1854
UVA End Year:1856
Residence at enlistment:
Rank In:Private
Rank Out:Colonel
Highest rank achieved:Brigadier General
Person 1Person 2NumberRelation Type
Davis, Wray Wirtnoneapplication-invalid
Davis, Wray Wirtnoneapplication-minor
Davis, Wray Wirtnoneapplication-parent
Davis, Wray Wirt1022765application-widow
Davis, Wray Wirt773550certificate-widow
Birth date:1839-05-28
Birth date certainty:Certain
Birth place:Richmond, VA
Death date:1914-02-11
Death place:Washington, DC
Causes of death:disease: Bright's Disease
Person 1Relation TypePerson 2
Davis, Anna B.wife ofDavis, Wray Wirt

Compiled Service Records for Wray W. Davis, RG 94, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C.; Pension Records for Wray W. Davis, RG 15, National Archives and Records Administration; United States Census, 1850, accessed through Ancestry.com; UVA Student Catalogue, Jefferson's University: Early Life; Letters to the Adjutant General's Office 1871-1880, accessed through Fold3.com; Letters to the Commission Branch 1874-1894, accessed through Fold3.com; St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 20, 1883, January 6, 1884; Thomas Clement Fletcher, Life and Reminiscences of General Wm. T. Sherman (1891); Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army: From Its Organization, September 29, 1789, to March 2, 1903, Vol. 1 (1903); Frederick A. Dyer, A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion (1908); Dan L. Thrapp, Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography (1988); David Dixon, Hero of Beecher Island: The Life and Career of George A. Forsyth (1994); Peter Cozzens, Eyewitness to the Indian Wars 1865-1890: The Struggle for Apacheria (2001); David A. Powell, "The Fight at Reed's Bridge," American Battlefield Trust, accessed from battlefields.org.