Soldier and businessman John W. M. Appleton (April 1, 1832-October 23, 1913) was born in Boston and was educated in Boston public schools and at Harvard. In the Civil War, Appleton, who was white, sought and received a commission as 2nd lieutenant in the famous 54th Massachusetts Infantry, a black regiment formed in Boston and led by Col. Robert G. Shaw. Promoted to captain and then major, Appleton led Company A into intense combat on the sea islands of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, where the 54th was assigned to capture Confederate coastal positions. He was twice wounded before being sent home to Boston, where, at the end of the war, he served as warden of the prison holding Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens.
In 1865, Appleton moved to Kanawha County where he managed the Mill Creek Cannel Coal Company. During the next 50 years, he had a variety of business interests in West Virginia, including operating the Salt Sulphur Springs resort in Monroe County. He served in the West Virginia National Guard, rising to the rank of adjutant general. As adjutant general, Appleton’s major contributions included compiling records of West Virginia’s Civil War Union veterans and units and organizing the National Guard for service in the Spanish-American War. He died on his Monroe County farm after being injured by a runaway bull.
This Article was written by Kenneth R. Bailey
Last Revised on September 24, 2012
Bailey, Kenneth R. One of the Famous 54th Massachusetts: A Short Biography of General John W. M. Appleton. West Virginia History, (Apr. 1970).