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David Dunnels White (April 14, 1844 – February 9, 1924) was an American farmer who served as a Union soldier during the American Civil War. His "single-handed capture of Confederate Major General George Washington Custis Lee" in 1865 became widely publicized in 2011 as an act that possibly ended the war early, saving many lives. As of 2015, his nomination for a Medal of Honor was being reviewed by the United States Army.

David Dunnels White
David d white photo.jpg
White, circa 1885
Birth nameDavid Dunnels White
Born(1844-04-14)April 14, 1844
Cheshire, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedSeptember 9, 1924(1924-09-09) (aged 80)
Hawley, Massachusetts , U.S.
Bozrah Cemetery, Hawley, Massachusetts, U.S.
Allegiance United States
Service/branchSeal of the United States Board of War and Ordnance.svg United States Army
Years of service1862–1865
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War
Tombstone of David Dunnels White, located in the Bozrah Cemetery, East Hawley, Massachusetts



David Dunnels White was born in Cheshire, Massachusetts, the son of Stewart and Elizabeth White née Ames. A farmer, White enlisted in the Union Army on August 21, 1862, as a private soldier within the 37th Massachusetts Infantry Volunteers of the VI Corps.[1]

On April 6, 1865, Private White spotted a Confederate general officer during hand-to-hand combat in the Battle of Sailor's Creek, Virginia. Private White broke through the Union/Confederate battle line and confronted the officer, halted him at gunpoint, and demanded his surrender. The Confederate officer was Major General G. W. Custis Lee, a major general within the Army of Northern Virginia.[2] Initially, Lee refused to surrender to an enlisted man, but he did surrender when White took him to his commanding officer, Lieutenant William Morrill.[3] In White's own words, he was "thunderstruck" to learn that he had just captured the eldest son of General Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.[4] Harris S. Hawthorne of the 121st New York Infantry also laid claim to Lee's capture and was awarded a Medal of Honor for it in 1894.[5][6] Three years later, a protest was lodged on behalf of White, but was rejected, as was an appeal of the rejection.[7] In an appeal for the Army to reconsider its denial, Civil War historian Sharon MacDonald argues that Hawthorne lied; White's account was Lee was recaptured after he escaped, having already been disarmed, and in the 2011 Medal of Honor request for White, the United States Army Center of Military History supports White's claim.[5][7]

White was discharged in Virginia on July 3, 1865, with the rank of corporal, returned to farming in Massachusetts. He married Maria Hannah McVee on July 21, 1866 in Adams, Massachusetts. She died on October 25, 1869 and was buried in Maple Street Cemetery in Adams. On November 28, 1872, he married Belle L. Gillett in Cheshire, Massachusetts. He died on February 9, 1924 in Hawley, Massachusetts, and is buried in Bozrah Cemetery there. He was survived by his wife, who died on October 9, 1928 in Hawley, Massachusetts, and is also buried in Bozrah Cemetery.

Medal of Honor nominationEdit

White was nominated to receive a posthumous award of the Medal of Honor by former Massachusetts Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown, current Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, Massachusetts Representatives Richard Neal and Niki Tsongas, New Jersey Representative Leonard Lance and Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe.[5][6] This Medal of Honor case is still under review by the United States Army. The Army Decorations Board in Fort Knox, Kentucky, however, recommended on July 11, 2011 that David D. White receive a Medal of Honor for the capture of Confederate Major General Custis Lee at the Battle of Sailor's Creek, Virginia.[8] His official citation is: "...for the single-handed capture of Confederate Major General George Washington Custis Lee during the 'hand to hand' Battle of Sailor's Creek, Virginia, on April 6, 1865". White's capture of Confederate Major General Custis Lee, a Confederate Division commander at the Battle of Sailor's Creek, brought an early end to the fighting, saving many lives on both sides.[6]

David Dunnels White's nomination was under consideration for the capture of Confederate Major General G. W. Custis Lee, eldest son of General Robert E. Lee, at the Battle of Sailor's Creek, Virginia, on April 6, 1865. The nomination was not recommended for further consideration by the Army's Senior Decorations Board that considers the Medal of Honor, and was disapproved by the Secretary of the Army on March 8, 2016.[9]


  1. ^ Military Service and Pension [ # 210739) records of David Dunnels White, National Archives, Washington DC
  2. ^ War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Official Records), Volume 46, Series 1: “The Appomattox Campaign,” Folio No. 115, pages 945 – 948], as noted below: HDQRS. THIRTY-SEVENTH MASSACHUSETTS VOLUNTEERS April 7, 1865 SIR: I have the honor to state that there were 3 officers and 28 men wounded and 8 men killed in the engagement of yesterday. The officers were Capt. Walter B. Smith, First. Lieut, and Adjt. John S. Bradley, and Second Lieut. Harrie A. Cushman. There were 360 officers and men, and General C. Lee, captured by my command. General Lee was captured by Private D. D. White, Company E, of this regiment, and he formally surrendered his sword to Lieut. W. C. Morrill, of this regiment, who now wears it. At least one battle flag was captured by the Thirty-seventh Regiment, and one other is claimed, although the capture of it is claimed by another command. Very respectfully, A. HOPKINS, Captain, Commanding Regiment. No. 115 Report of Capt. Archibald Hopkins, Thirty-seventh Massachusetts Infantry HDQRS. THIRTY-SEVENTH MASSACHUSETTS VOLUNTEERS In the Field, April 15, 1865 SIR: In compliance with circular from headquarters Third Brigade, of April 14, 1865, I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by my command in the operations of the late campaign:…At the Battle of Sailor’s Creek, we immediately opened again with redoubled energy, and in a few moments they surrendered in earnest. More than 390 were taken and sent to the rear. General Custis Lee, who commanded their line, surrendered and gave up his sword to Private David D. White, of Company E; and Private Charles A. Taggart, of Company B, captured their battle-flag. Corpl. Richard Welch, of Company E, was overpowered by numbers and taken prisoner in a desperate attempt to capture a battle-flag in advance of our line. He was afterward retaken.
  3. ^ Emery, Theo (27 July 2011). "Mass. ancestor deserves Medal of Honor, man says". Boston Globe. Retrieved 26 August 2016.
  4. ^ Greenfield (Massachusetts) Gazette and Courier June 24, 1905 page 2, “Captured a General”
  5. ^ a b c Salant, Jonathan D. (July 4, 2016). "Who really captured Robert E. Lee's son in the Civil War?". Retrieved 26 August 2016.
  6. ^ a b c Kemp, Adam (9 June 2015). "Inhofe joins family's quest to have great, great grandfather awarded Medal of Honor". The Oklahoman. Retrieved 26 August 2016.
  7. ^ a b Wheeler, Linda (8 October 2011). "Descendant fights for Medal of Honor for Civil War Cpl. David D. White". The Washington Post. Retrieved 26 August 2016.
  8. ^ Adjutant General. "Memorandum 8/22/2015". United States Army.
  9. ^ Jahner, Kyle (May 31, 2016). "This Civil War soldier nabbed Robert E. Lee's son, but was robbed of the Medal of Honor". Army Times. Retrieved April 2, 2017.

Further readingEdit

  • White, Frank Everett, Jr. (2008). Sailor's Creek: Major General G. W. Custis Lee, Captured with Controversy. Lynchburg, Virginia: Schroeder Publications. ISBN 978-1-889246-40-6.