George Willcox McIver Papers

1852-2004, undated
Manuscript Collection #251
McIver, George Willcox, 1858-1947
Physical description
2.5 Cubic Feet, 8 archival boxes
Preferred Citation
George Willcox McIver Papers (#251), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.
ECU Manuscript Collection
Access to audiovisual and digital media is restricted. Please contact Special Collections for more information.

553 pages original typescript of memoir, 147 written/printed letters, 588 pages edited typescript consisting of memoir and letters, a pamphlet, and five biographical books. Memoir relates to the life of Brigadier General George Willcox McIver (1857-1947)

Biographical/historical information

George Willcox McIver was born on December 22, 1858, at Carthage, N.C., and died in 1947 at the age of eighty-nine. He was the son of Alexander McIver, a noted North Carolina educator, and Mary Ann Willcox. McIver was appointed to West Point in 1877 and graduated with the class of 1882. Upon graduation, he began a military career of forty years of active service including duty in the United States, Alaska, Cuba, France, and the Philippine Islands.

McIver's military career began with service in the West (1883-1891) with the 7th U.S. Infantry. He was stationed at various forts, including Pembina, Fred Steele, Laramie, Logan, and Bridger. He was sent to Rock Springs, Wyoming (1885), along with other troops to put down civil unrest between Chinese and white miners. McIver's unit participated in the "Sioux Campaign" of 1890-1891 which culminated in the Massacre of Wounded Knee Massacre. He served as a tactical officer at West Point (1891-1893); duty officer to Camp Pilot Butte, Montana (1893); and Regular Army officer with the California National Guard (1894), where he observed the civil unrest of the California Railroad Strikes. In 1898, McIver was reunited with the 7th U.S. Infantry, which was mobilized at Chickamauga Park, Georgia, for service in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, where McIver's unit participated in the Battle of El Caney.

From 1898-1900, McIver was stationed at Ford Brady, Michigan, and at Leech Lake Indian Agency in Walker, Minnesota. From 1900 to 1903, he was stationed at Nome and Fort St. Michael, Alaska. He was assigned to the Philippine Islands from 1903 until July 1905, when he returned to California as the Commandant of the U.S. military prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. In 1907, he became the Commandant of the army's first musketry school at Monterey, California. In 1911, he began work on a revision of the Army Small Arms Firing Manual. McIver served a second tour of duty in the Philippines (1914) before becoming executive officer of the Militia Bureau of the War Department (1915).

Before U.S. intervention in World War I, McIver was promoted to Brigadier General and took command of the 161st Brigade of the 81st (Wild Cat) Division which trained at Camp Jackson and Camp Sevier, South Carolina. This unit became incorporated into the American Expeditionary Force and participated in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. From 1919 until his retirement in 1922, McIver was stationed at Fort Pike, Arkansas, and Fort Slocum, New York.

Scope and arrangement

The McIver Papers include a memoir, correspondence, genealogical materials, publications and artifacts. The papers include three versions of General McIver's memoir. These consist of an original handwritten manuscript by McIver, a typed transcription, and a version edited by Jonathan Dembo. The edited version also includes some transcripts of the correspondence also found in the papers. Dembo's version resulted from the book he edited entitled A Life of Duty: The Autobiography of George Willcox McIver. The book was published by History Press in 2005, and a copy can be found in the Special Collections Reference Collection.

The original memoir was produced between 1930 and 1940, and is divided into two volumes. It should be noted that some discrepancy exists in the numbering of pages in both volumes. The bulk of the material concerns military matters interspersed with genealogical information concerning the McIver, Smedberg, and Willcox families, as well as several pages concerning the Hart family of Virginia (verso of Chapter 22). The first volume concerns his early life and military career from 1883 to 1915. Of particular interest are comments concerning North Carolina at the end of the Civil War, and the college towns of Davidson, Chapel Hill, and Greensboro, North Carolina. The educational movement in North Carolina is briefly touched upon, particularly where his father was concerned. Impressions of the Bingham School in Mebane, North Carolina, are also noted.

Life at West Point from 1877 to 1882 is described, and comments of note include the rough treatment plebes received from upperclassmen, criticism of teaching methods, cadet reaction to integration, and the scandal which developed after dismissal of black cadet Johnson Whittaker. The commentary of McIver as a young infantry officer in the West is interesting, as he describes the various camps and the often dull social life. His criticism of the Army's handling of the Sioux Campaign (1890), which culminated in the Battle of Wounded Knee, the general treatment of Indians and their trading posts, and the difficulty of training by using Civil War tactics as opposed to modern tactics gives some insight into that era. McIver gives eyewitness accounts of the civil unrest resulting from the massacre of Chinese miners at Rock Springs, Wyoming (1885), and the California railroad strikes (1894). The latter elicited criticism of National Guard troops for failing to restore order.

McIver also offers many comments about the Spanish-American War, including poor health conditions, breakdowns in leadership and supply, distaste for the Army Inspector General, Medal of Honor recipients, disease, Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders and conditions at mobilization points at Chickamauga Park, Georgia, and Tampa, Florida. The battles of San Juan Hill and El Caney dominate his descriptions of the Spanish-American War.

At the end of that conflict, McIver was sent to Nome, Alaska (1900). The complete isolation of Nome during an Alaskan winter and the effects of the Gold Rush there are noted. He was sent to the Philippines (1903), and garrison life at Camps Jossman, Daragu, and Stotsenberg are commented upon as are the rapid promotions of officers John J. Pershing and Leonard Wood. Duties in the Philippines are recorded including court-martial duty at the trail of Private Grafton, a case which was finally decided in the U.S, Supreme Court. Duties as commandant at Alcatraz Prison (1905) are briefly described, and an eyewitness account of the San Francisco Earthquake, fire, and the Army's role in restoring order are discussed.

A turning point in McIver's career was his assignment as commandant of the Musketry School at Monterey, California (1906). The history, organization, and usefulness of the school are discussed. War maneuvers in the Philippines are mentioned as he returned for his second tour of duty (1911), especially those at Camp Stotsenburg involving machine gun maneuvers, testing of different machine guns under battle conditions, and the controversial usefulness of machine guns.

The second volume of McIver's memoir deals primarily with his military career from 1915 up to and including the years of his retirement until 1940. Of interest are his comments concerning his duties as executive officer of the Militia Bureau in Washington, D.C. (1915), descriptions of many officers in the War Department including generals Hugh Lenox Scott, Tasker Howard Bliss, and Enoch Herbert Crowder, as well as Captain Douglas MacArthur, criticism of the National Guard upon being mobilized for Mexican Border Duty (1916), and the resentment which followed an army efficiency report of their service. Of further note are descriptions of the War Department and attempts to prepare for World War I, training schemes such as the Plattsburg "Idea," and criticism of Theodore Roosevelt's attempts to organize a volunteer army.

The World War I period is represented by comments concerning 81st Division history such as camp life, training problems involving trench warfare, a Cherokee and Croatan Indian company from North Carolina, McIver's appeals to Governor Richard Irvine Manning of South Carolina to stop the Puerto Rican Plan, the effectiveness of the 371st Infantry composed of black troops commanded by white officers, criticism of the Inspector General's Department of the Army, a visit by ex-President William H. Taft to explain the U.S. war role (1918), and the YMCA's role in building troop morale. Upon completion of training, the 81st Division was sent to Europe as a part of the American Expeditionary Force (1918). Comments of interest during this period include descriptions of the voyage and reception, hand-to-hand combat, trench warfare, Meuse-Argonne offensive (November 1918), casualty statistics, and the numerous French and German towns and villages through which the American Expeditionary Force passed.

The final section of the memoir includes duties at Fort Slocum, New York until retirement, life after retirement, family information, and the mention of writings including an article entitled, "North Carolinians at West point Before the Civil War," which was published in the North Carolina Historical Review (January 1930).

Correspondence (1888-1919) includes handwritten letters from McIver to Alexander McIver (father) and Helen H. S. McIver (wife). The earliest correspondence (1888-1902) is letters from McIver while stationed at various military camps to his father in Pittsboro, North Carolina. The later correspondence (1918-1919) consists of letters from McIver to his wife. These letters were written by him while in England, France, Scotland and at sea. Topics include news from home and details of McIver's day-to-day life during this period. (Transcripts of some of the above correspondence are included in the memoir edited by Dembo.)

Genealogical Materials (ca. 1860s-2004) consist of both published and unpublished materials by Helen H. McIver and Anne F. Boyd. These materials document history of the McIver Family (including descendants of Kenneth McIver of Scotland) and the Smedberg Family. Also included is a copy of the McIver family scrapbook. The bulk of these images (ca.1860s-1940s) are scanned photographs of McIver family members and some taken by George Willcox McIver while on military duty. Some select images from the scrapbook are contained on compact discs, accompanied by print versions. A detailed descriptive list of these images is also present. This list offers reference numbers corresponding to the numbered printed images, as well as which page numbers these images can be found in the complete McIver scrapbook.

Published Materials include publications written by McIver and some from his personal library. McIver's works include "North Carolinians at West Point Before the Civil War" from North Carolina Historical Review, v. VII, n. 1-4 (1930), a short history entitled "The Musketry School at Monterey, California" (1930) and "Washington in the French and Indian War" from Proceedings of the Annual Meeting and Dinner of the Order of Indian Wars of the United States (1932).

Items from McIver's personal library include seven books. These are The Farm and the Fireside, or, The Romance of Agriculture, by John Lauris Blake (1852), The New York Reader No. 3, Being, Selections in Prose and Poetry from the Best Writers. Designed for the Use of Schools. (1847) and five biographies of military generals (Jackson, Scott, Greene, Thomas and Lee), all part of The Great Commanders Series, by various authors and edited by General James Grant Wilson (1893-1898).

Artifacts include a shoulder patch and pin of the 81st Division (Stonewall / Wildcat Division), ca. 1918-1945.

Administrative information
Custodial History

January 18, 1974, 553 pages typescript; Memoir of Brigadier General McIver (1857-1947), describing life in North Carolina, Indian wars in the West, Spanish-American War, Philippine Insurrection, duty in Alaska, World War I, and War Department duty. Also included is a pamphlet, The Musketry School at Monterey, California, and five biographies of great generals. Donor: Harold M. Leich

January 8, 2003, (addition 1) 147 items, 1.4 cubic feet; Papers (1888-1939) of George Wilcox McIver, including his memoirs, 1939, correspondence with his father and his wife, 1888-1918, and tracing his family and early life in North Carolina, 1858-1876; his education at the U. S. Military Academy, West Point, NY, 1877-1882; his career as a U. S. Army officer from a junior officer on western frontier posts to Brigadier General, 161st Infantry Brigade (81st Division) in France during World War I, 1882-1923; and his life in retirement, 1923-1939; also including Helen Smedberg McIver genealogical and historical research material; & published biographies of 5 American generals. Holograph Manuscript, Photocopy carbon typescript Printed materials. . Donor: Jeffrey R. Leich & Harold M. Leich

May 28, 2004, (addition 2) 81 items, 0.052 cubic feet; Scrapbook pages (5/15/2004) from the McIver family scrapbook and loose photographs belonging to the McIver family, ca. 1866-1961. Digital reproductions and Photocopies. 6 black & white copies. 8.5" x 11"; 75 color copies. 11" x 17". Donor: Jeffrey R. Leich & Harold M. Leich

August 23, 2004, (addition 3) 3 items, 0.02 cubic feet; Collection (1930-1994) including Genealogy of the Smedberg Family, compiled by Helen H. McIver (1952), revised by Anne F. Boyd (1993-1994), Unpublished mss. 4 p.; North Carolinians at West Point Before the Civil War, by George W. McIver, North Carolina Historical Review, v. VII, n. 1-4 (Jan. Oct. 1930), pp. 15-45 31 p.; and Washington in the French and Indian War, by Brig. Gen. George W. McIver, Proceedings of the Annual Meeting and Dinner of the Order of Indian Wars of the United States, Held Army and Navy Club, Washington, DC, February 20, 1932, pp. 24-49, 14 p. Donor: Harold M. Leich

September 7, 2004, (addition 4) 4 items, 0.25 cubic feet; Collection (1847-1852, 1952-1994, 2001) of manuscript and published materials relating to the McIver and Smedberg families, including Genealogy of the Smedberg Family, compiled by Helen H. McIver (1952), revised by Anne F. Boyd (1993-1994), Unpublished mss. Photocopy, 43 p.; Descendants of Kenneth McIver of Scotland (2001) Photocopy, 5 p.; and two books inscribed by John Willcox McIver, The Farm and the Fireside, or, The Romance of Agriculture, by John Lauris Blake (Auburn, NY: Alden, Beardsley, 1852), 480 p.; The New York Reader No. 3, Being, Selections in Prose and Poetry from the Best Writers. Designed for the Use of Schools. (New York: S.S. & W. Wood, 1847), 238 p. Donor: Harold M. Leich

September 30, 2004, (addition 5) 3 items, 0.04 cubic feet; McIver family scrapbook and loose photographs (9/1/2004) belonging to the McIver family, ca. 1860s-1940s. Digital reproductions (TIFF images) and printed copies. 2 CDs (83 TIFF images) & 83 printed copies. 85 p. Donor: Jeffrey R. Leich & Harold M. Leich

September 22, 2004, (addition 6) 1 item, 0.001 cubic feet; Shoulder patch insignia (ca. 1918-1945) of the 81st Division (Stonewall / Wildcat Division), American Expeditionary Forces. Olive green and black. Cloth. Circular (1" diameter). Donor: Jonathan Dembo

September 30, 2004, (addition 7) 1 item, 0.001 cubit feet; Pin (ca. 1918-1945) of the 81st Division (Stonewall / Wildcat Division), American Expeditionary Forces. Olive green and black. Paint on metal. Circular (0.75" diameter). Donor: Jonathan Dembo

Source of acquisition

Gift of Harold M. Leich

Gift of Jeffrey R. Leich

Gift of Jonathan Dembo

Processing information

Processed by J. Sarvey, February 1975

Edited by Krystin M. Erchenbrecher, May 4, 2004

Edited by Dale Sauter, July 2008

Encoded by Apex Data Services

Copyright notice

Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.

Related material

See also: George W. McIver Papers, WWI 98, World War I, 1918 - 1919, circa 1930, 1933, 1941, undated, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina. Raleigh, NC 27699-4614. 11 folders, 1 oversized folder

See also images from the George W. McIver Papers, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, NC:

Key terms
Personal Names
McIver, George Willcox, 1858-1947
Family Names
Hart family
McIver family
Smedberg family
Willcox family
Corporate Names
United States Military Academy
United States. Army--Military life
United States. Army. American Expeditionary Forces
United States. Militia Bureau
Argonne, Battle of the, France, 1918
Indians of North America--Wars--1866-1895
Soldiers--United States--Correspondence
Spanish-American War, 1898--Campaigns
World War, 1914-1918--Participation, Indian
World War, 1914-1918--Personal narratives
World War, 1914-1918--Trench warfare
North Carolina--Genealogy

Container list
Box 1 Folder a-o Original Manuscript, undated
Box 2 Folder a-i Original Manuscript, undated
Box 3 Folder a-x Typed Transcription, undated
Box 4 Folder a-bb Edited Transcription by Jonathon Dembo, 2004
Box 5 Folder a From McIver to Alexander McIver (father), 1888-1902, (Transcripts of some of the above correspondence are included in the memoir edited by Dembo.)
Box 5 Folder b-k From McIver to Helen H. S. McIver (wife), 1918-1919, (Transcripts of some of the above correspondence are included in the memoir edited by Dembo.)
Box 6 Folder a History of the McIver Family and the Smedberg Family, 1952-1994
Box 6 Folder b-d Genealogy and biography papers, undated
Box 6 Folder e Manuscripts and published materials, 1952-1994
Box 6 Folder f Compact discs of select scanned images from McIver Family scrapbook (with print versions and detailed description list), ca. 1860s-1940s, An Index to the images on the 2 compact discs
Box 6 Folder g Printed images from scans of McIver Family scrapbook, ca. 1860s-1940s
Box 7 Biographies of Military Generals, 1893-1898, (Andrew Jackson, Nathanael Greene, George Henry Thomas, Robert E. Lee, Winfield Scott)
Box 8 Folder a "The Musketry School at Monterey, California", 1930
Box 8 Folder b "North Carolinians at West Point Before the Civil War", 1930
Box 8 Folder c "Washington in the French and Indian War", 1932
Box 8 Folder d The Farm and the Fireside, or, The Romance of Agriculture, 1852
Box 8 Folder e The New York Reader No. 3, Being, Selections in Prose and Poetry from the Best Writers, 1847