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A Biographical Sketch of Gen. David L. Brainard, US Army

David Legg Brainard (1856-1946) was the last survivor of the United States’ Lady Franklin Bay Expedition, 1881-84. 

Early Years
David Legg Brainard, the fifth son of Alanson and Maria Brainard, was born on his parents’ farm in Norway, New York, on Dec. 21, 1856. When David was ten years old, the family moved to Freetown, New York.

On Sept. 13, 1876, 19-year-old David Brainard left home to travel to Philadelphia and view America’s first successful world’s fair, the Centennial Exposition. After taking in many marvels of the Machine Age, Brainard boarded a train for home. At New York City, he changed trains and reached into his pocket for money to buy a ticket, but there was none. Too proud to write his family for funds, Brainard took the free ferry to the US Army Post at Governor’s Island and joined the Regular Army. He didn’t know it, but David Brainard was on his wasy to becoming one of those rare individuals in military history who rose from Private to General by pulling himself up by his bootstraps.


Indian Wars
When Brainard joined the Army, it had been only three months since Custer’s command was mauled at the Little Big Horn, and in no time, Brainard was sent to Montana Territory, to serve with the Second Cavalry against the Northern Cheyenne and Sioux Indians. The square-jawed Brainard was a keen soldier, who firmly believed orders clearly issued should be obeyed.

On May 7, 1877, Brainard participated in the Battle of Little Muddy Creek against the Sioux under Chief Lame Deer, and suffered wounds to his right hand and a gunshot wound to his right cheek, affecting his eye. Over half a century later, in 1933, he received the Purple Heart for his injuries.

The Army next fought several battles and skirmishes with the Nez Perce Indians, and the Second Cavalry had a full share in the campaign. Afterward, Brainard served in one further Indian campaign, this time against the Bannock tribe from southeastern Idaho. By 1878, Brainard’s soldierly conduct resulted in his promotion to Corporal, and then Sergeant.

Lady Franklin Bay Expedition to the Arctic
As part of the first International Polar Year 1882-83, the US government established a scientific station at Lady Franklin Bay in 1881, representing America’s first participation in an international scientific effort. The 25-man Army party was commanded by First Lieut. Adolphus W. Greely. For Brainard, the lure of the Arctic was strong and after volunteering, he was chosen First Sergeant (Chief of Enlisted Men) and Commissary Sergeant.

The expedition left St. John’s, Newfoundland, on July 7, 1881, and Brainard began his daily journal, which he maintained continuously for nearly three years. After arriving at Lady Franklin Bay, Fort Conger was built and the expedition members settled in. By the time the first winter began, there were reasons for satisfaction: four depots had been established northward along the coast of Grinnell Land, in preparation for spring sledge journeys.

“Farthest North”
On April 4, 1882, the North Greenland Sledge Party departed with Lieut. Lockwood, Sgt. Brainard and Greenland dog sledge driver and hunter Frederick Christiansen. The sun was with them constantly, day and night, and there was much suffering from snow blindness. Temperatures sometimes dropped below -40 degrees, and the men were exposed to chilling blasts that swept down from the north as they hugged the Greenland coastline.

On May 13, a new “farthest north” record was set at latitude 83

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