David Legge Brainard

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David Legge Brainard
Born December 21, 1856
Norway, New York
Died March 22, 1946 (aged 89)
Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1876–1919
Rank US-O7 insignia.svg Brigadier General
Unit 2nd Cavalry Regiment
Signal Corps
Battles/wars American Indian Wars Spanish–American War
Awards Charles P. Daly Medal (1925)
The Explorers Club Medal (1929)
Purple Heart (1933)

Brigadier-General David Legge Brainard (December 21, 1856 − March 22, 1946) was an American arctic explorer and soldier.

Early life

Brainard was born in Norway, New York, the fifth son to Alanson Brainard and Maria C. Legge.

Military career

Brainard enlisted in the US Army in September, 1876, serving at Fort Keogh, Montana Territory during the Great Sioux War of 1876. On May 7, 1877, Brainard fought in the Battle of Little Muddy Creek, Montana, where he was Wounded in action in the face and right hand. He also served during the Nez Perce War and Bannock War of 1877 and 1878 under Colonel Nelson Appleton Miles, in Montana.[1][2]

Arctic exploration

Labeled photo of the six survivors of the lady Franklin Bay Expedition with their rescuers. Brainard is number 24, sitting second from the left on the front row.

In 1880, he volunteered and was selected for the Howgate Expedition, which was canceled. However, the next year he was detailed as first sergeant for the ill-fated Lady Franklin Bay Expedition under Adolphus Greely. Over the three years of this expedition he continuously kept a journal. Among the men to die on this expedition was James Booth Lockwood, second-in-command of the expedition and Brainard's companion on many excursions, including their record breaking push north to 83°23'30". Brainard wrote of his passing on April 9, 1884:

Lieut. Lockwood became unconscious early this morning and at 4:30 p.m. breathed his last. This will be a sad blow to his family who evidently idolized him. To me it is also a sorrowful event. He had been my companion during long and eventful excursions, and my feeling toward him was akin to that of a brother. Biederbick and myself straightened his limps and prepared his remains for burial. This was the saddest duty I have ever yet been called upon to perform.[2]

Shortly before rescue, in the spring of 1884, freezing, starving and suffering from scurvy, he wrote:

Our own condition is so wretched, so palpably miserable, that death would be welcomed rather than feared...[3]

Brainard was one of only six survivors rescued by Rear Admiral Winfield Scott Schley on June 22, 1884. On that day, he was reportedly too weak to hold his pencil to make a note in his log.[2] He was awarded the Back Grant by the Royal Geographical Society in 1885.

Later military career

Brainard was commissioned second lieutenant in the 2nd Cavalry in 1886 "as recognition of the gallant and meritorious services rendered by him in the Arctic expedition of 1881–1884." He then had the distinction of being the only living (active or retired) officer in the U.S. Army commissioned for specific services.[3] He served as Chief Commissary of the Military Forces in the Philippines during the Spanish–American War in 1898.[1]

He was actively involved in The Explorers Club serving as the 4th president from 1912 to 1913.

After being promoted to brigadier general in 1917,[4] he served as Military Attaché of the US Embassy in Portugal from 1918 until his retirement from the Army in 1919.


Brainard was awarded the Charles P. Daly Medal by the American Geographical Society for his arctic exploration in 1926, and in 1929 was awarded The Explorers Club Medal. On January 27, 1933, Brainard was awarded the Purple Heart for his wounding in the Battle of Little Muddy Creek on May 7, 1877. Only two medals would be awarded for the American Indian Wars. He was elected an honorary member of the American Polar Society in 1936, on his 80th birthday.[2][5]

Brainard married twice, first to Anna Chase in 1888, then to Sara Hall Guthrie (1880–1953) in 1917, leaving no children and one stepdaughter, Elinor, from his second marriage.[1] Brainard died, aged 89, on March 22, 1946, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, joined by his second wife in 1953.[6] He was the last survivor of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition, the second-last member having died in 1935.[4]


  • The Outpost of the Lost (1929)
  • Six Came Back (1940)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Dartmouth College Library collection of papers and chronology.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 The Arctic Saga of David Legg Brainard. Accessed 18 March 2010.
  3. 3.0 3.1 A Biographical Sketch of Gen. David L. Brainard, US Army, Glenn M. Stein, FRGS, 5 August 2007, Accessed 18 March 2010
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ancestry.com: BRAINARD, David Legge. Accessed 18 March 2010.
  5. "Gen. Brainard Honored. Last Survivor of Greely Expedition Enrolled in Polar Society at 80". New York Times. December 22, 1936. Retrieved 2011-11-02. Brig. Gen. David L. Brainard, retired, last survivor of General Greely's Arctic Expedition of 1881–84, celebrated his eightieth birthday here today and became the first honorary member of the American Polar Society.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Arlington National Cemetery record for Brainard. Accessed 18 March 2010.

External links