President Chester A. Arthur Appoints an Officer Who Would Be Seriously Wounded at the Head of His Colored Regiment Taking San Juan Hill in Cuba

The appointee led a regiment of Buffalo soldiers who were instrumental in taking that hill, even as Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders were taking nearby Kettle Hill

After graduating from West Point in 1877, John J. Brereton was posted to Ft. Supply in the Oklahoma territory, and put in command of one of several companies of Indian Scouts. In 1882 he was promoted to First Lieutenant and stationed at Fort Elliott in Texas. Between 1881 and 1884 that fort’s...

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President Chester A. Arthur Appoints an Officer Who Would Be Seriously Wounded at the Head of His Colored Regiment Taking San Juan Hill in Cuba

The appointee led a regiment of Buffalo soldiers who were instrumental in taking that hill, even as Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders were taking nearby Kettle Hill

After graduating from West Point in 1877, John J. Brereton was posted to Ft. Supply in the Oklahoma territory, and put in command of one of several companies of Indian Scouts. In 1882 he was promoted to First Lieutenant and stationed at Fort Elliott in Texas. Between 1881 and 1884 that fort’s troops were all black and the officers all white with the exception of Lt. Henry Flipper, the first black graduate of West Point. The main function of Fort Elliott was to stop hunting parties of Indians from entering the Panhandle, and prevent those trying escape the reservation. By the mid-1880s the garrison was also policing the cattle industry, keeping Panhandle stock off the reservation, and supervising southern Texas herds being driven north through Indian land.

In the Spanish-American War Brereton was in the field as a captain in the 24th Infantry, composed of black soldiers – known as Buffalo soldiers – with white officers. The regiment was in the campaign against Santiago de Cuba and made a famous charge up San Juan Hill on July 1, 1898. The Americans drove up the hill amidst furious fire but finally reached the top of the heights and scattered the Spanish defenders, capturing the Spanish defensive blockhouse. Brereton was seriously wounded in the battle and was highly commended for his coolness and bravery. Perhaps the most iconic and famous charge in the Spanish-American War (if not all of American history) followed at nearby Kettle Hill. It was at Kettle Hill that the famous charge of the Rough Riders, lead by Theodore Roosevelt, occurred. Brereton was then promoted to major and named Chief Quartermaster of U.S. troops in Cuba. He ended his career as a lieutenant-colonel.

Document signed as President, on vellum, complete with large engraving of an eagle holding arrows in one hand and an olive branch in another, Washington, July 3, 1882, appointing Brereton “First Lieutenant in the Twenty Fourth Regiment of Infantry”, and “to rank as such from the twentieth day of May 1882.” It is countersigned by Secretary of War Robert Lincoln, the eldest child of President Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln.

Arthur’s is one of the least common of presidential autographs, and this is only the second military appointment signed by him as President that we have ever carried in all these decades.

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