Biography of Lieut. Frederick P. McNair

D-Descriptive guide of the battlefield of Saratoga



The name McNair is one of the honorable ones which adorns the history of our country; and the subject of this sketch, although his life was short, did honor to that name; upholding all the patriotic and soldierly qualities of his race; finally losing his life for his country;

“The shortest life is longest, if ‘tis best;
‘Tis ours to work—to God belongs the rest.
Our lives are measured by the deeds we do,
The thoughts we think, the objects we pursue.
A fair young life poured out upon the sod
In the high cause of freedom and of God.
Though all too short his course and quickly run,
Is full and glorious as the orbed sun;
While he who lives to hoary-headed age
Oft dies an infant—dies and leaves no sign,
For he has writ no deed on history’s page,
And unfulfilled is being’s great design.”

Frederick P. McNair was born October 27, 1873, at Saratoga Springs, N. Y., and was educated at private schools and the Saratoga High School, from the academic department of which he was graduated in the class of 1892. His standing in the academy is well indicated by the fact that he was president of his class. Subsequently an opportunity offered to take a course at West Point, and he entered a competitive examination at Johnstown, Eulton county, N. Y., for the position. There were twenty-two candidates for the appointment, and as only one could receive it, General Curtis, the member of congress, decided upon this method (competitive examination) of selecting the fittest. Mr. McNair proved himself easily the best and received the appointment.

He thereupon entered West Point, class of 1898, and commenced his military studies, which he continued for two years, when he was attacked with tonsilitis, from which he had previously suffered, and on account of his sickness losing much time and advantageous study, he resigned. His record as a soldier at West Point was high and his deportment unimpeachable.

Returning to Saratoga Springs he took up the study of law, first in the office of Hon. J. W. Houghton, Saratoga County Judge, and afterward with A. W. Shepherd, esq. In the fall of 1897 he received the offer of a very lucrative position as secretary of a fruit company in the Ozark country, Missouri, and on February 14, 1898, he went west to enter upon the performance of his duties there.

This position he was filling with ability, and satisfaction to his employers, when the war with Spain broke out in the spring of 1898. He had been a member of the “Saratoga Citizens Corps” (officially known as the 22d Separate Company, N. G. N. Y.) for over six years and was a corporal in that body at the time he went west; and although his removal from the State severed his connection with this company, no sooner was war declared than he was filled with patriotic ardor and an irresistible desire to join his old comrades and accompany them to the front. He waited for one thing only—his father’s consent and approval—which was quickly obtained.

He came at once to Saratoga Springs and enlisted as a private, asking neither for rank or favor, although his long service with the corps and his military training at West Point, to say nothing of his splendid act of patriotism in abandoning a fine position for his country’s cause, warranted his asking a commission. He offered his services with a
patriotic heart, making no stipulation as to the capacity in which he went. He had charge of the recruits from Saratoga to Camp Black who were required to fill the places of those rejected by the examiners, and turning them over to the command, fell into his place in the ranks with his ever smiling face and readiness to perform every duty imposed upon him.

He was with Company L, Second Regiment, New York Volunteers, at Camp Black, N. Y., Chickamauga Park, Ga., Tampa, Fla., Fernandi, Fla., and Camp Hardin, N. Y. Throughout all the hardships, privations, disease and death of those camps, the horrors of which have stirred the country more even than the suffering and death of the battle field, he was ever the patient, willing, uncomplaining soldier; bright and cheery; strict in the performance of every duty. The ills of others touched him more than his own. His sympathy was constantly with the sick and ailing; he would give them his delicacies when he had any; he would lighten their work by assisting them. One of his characteristic acts, just before he was prostrated by what proved to be his last illness, was to wrap in his own coat and bear to a place of safety a comrade whom he found chilled and in a state of collapse from fever. The delicacies sent to him he distributed among the weak and sick,— saying when remonstrated with for being careless of his own health:

Oh, I’m strong, and can rough it.” Through all he manifested that spirit which made the name of Sir Philip Sidney sublime when he turned the cup of water from his own dying lips to those of a wounded soldier.

When made a corporal at Tampa he still shared the work of his squad and encouraged them by his example with axe, pick, shovel or rifle. His fidelity to duty and his burning patriotism were unconsciously expressed by himself when he was sick at Tampa, and his father wrote to him to come home, and recuperate. His reply was, “No one can tell how soon the thin blue fighting line in Cuba may need support, and it would have a bad effect if such as I—a trained soldier, should leave this Army of Reserve, when to-morrow the country may need me. No, please God, I will stay, for I am strong and accustomed to roughing it. If any go home let it be the young boys and feeble men; but as for me, my place is here, and here I must remain, so long as there is any possibility of my services being needed.”

Many will recall his tall soldierly figure that beautiful autumn afternoon when “Our Boys” came marching home from the war in the pride of their ‘young manhood, as they swept through the principal street of the village on the way from the train to their Armory. Many will miss his always genial greeting, sympathetic and kindly for each one, old or young, of high or of low estate; -

On September 29, 1898, he was commissioned second lieutenant in the 202d Regiment, N. Y. Infantry Vols., stationed at Camp Meade, Middletown, Pa. But the malarial poison under which for weeks he had stood up, reasserted’ itself in virulent form,. and after three weeks of sickness ‘this splendid soldier laid down his nobly acquired sword.

He died October 18; 1898, and was buried with military honors; besides which the citizens of Saratoga Springs came out in such numbers to pay their last tribute to his worth, that it is doubtful if’ a greater concourse, ever accompanied any member of the community to his last resting place.

In the last eight years of his short life Frederick P. McNair was connected with military organizations; in the cause of his country he gave up his life; so as a soldier he will live in history. In searching among his papers after his death, the following motto was found, many times repeated in: English. and Latin—” Not self, but country.” “Non sibi, sed Patriae." - He seems to have adopted this as his rule of action in life as in death. -

His epitaph is, “He did his duty.” No greater honor can be paid to any man than this.

Return to [Saratoga County Bio's ] [ Saratoga County History ] [ Online Biographies ]

.Blind Counter

All pages copyright 2009. All items on this site are copyrighted by their author(s). These pages may be linked to but not used on another web site. Anyone may copy and use the information provided here freely for personal use only. Privacy Policy