People of this Place: Major General Fred W. Sladen
Although it’s well known that many military leaders such as Generals Howard, Marshall, Bonneville, and Grant called Vancouver Barracks home, the Barracks were also home to thousands of U.S. Army officers, soldiers, and families. Fred Winchester Sladen was one of the many children who grew up at Vancouver Barracks. The Sladen family moved to the Barracks sometime around 1874, when Fred’s father, then-Captain Joseph Sladen, was employed as General Oliver Otis Howard’s aide-de-camp.
General C. P. Summerall and General Fred W. Sladen (right), Circa 1918. Source: Pritzker Military Museum & Library
Vancouver Barracks was an ideal place for a boy to grow up. Although the children attended school and Sunday school at the post, playtime was always more interesting. The kids on the base enjoyed horseback riding, camping, shooting rifles, playing baseball and even staging plays. Thirteen-year-old Fred described one production, in which he played a French dance master, as “all about love” and “just suited the girls.”
Fred and his friends were better known, though, for their budding combat skills than their acting. In 1880, he and other sons of officers and soldiers formed their own company which they called “The First Vancouver Rifles or Garrison Cadets.” The young cadets learned how to fire carbines under the supervision of Major Kress. They practiced drilling and even had blue uniforms decorated in gold trim. Following in military practice, the cadets swore an oath to “serve honestly and faithfully…during the time of my enlistment, which was one month. “ In June of 1880, The Vancouver Independent reported that the cadets, dressed in their uniforms and carrying carbines, joined the 21st Infantry for a parade that was reviewed by General Henry Morrow and General Howard.
Playing soldier helped prepare Fred and other boys for responsibilities shouldered by many military children. With Captain Sladen often away from home on Army business, Fred took it upon himself to fill in at home. In an 1880 letter, 13-year-old Fred assured his father that, “I am the man of the house now. I carve the meat. I carve the beefsteak, roast veal and yesterday we had roast ducks and I carved them too.” Acting as man of the house was a serious responsibility. In April of 1880, while Captain Sladen was away, a robber broke into the neighbor’s home, frightening Mrs. Sladen. In a letter describing the day’s events, Fred reassured his father that he would protect his family. Since Fred kept his shotgun beside his bed, he knew that he could “make a neat little hole through the first robber that enters this house at night.”
Maj. Fred W. Sladen (left) & Lt. H. D. Higley, circa 1910. Source: Library of Congress
The Sladen family remained in Vancouver for many years. In April 1885, The Vancouver Independent reported that Fred had received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. The paper noted “The choice is a good one, as Fred is a bright, earnest, manly young fellow, ambitious and intelligent to a marked degree.” Early in his Army career, Fred was stationed at Vancouver Barracks, where his son, Fred Jr., was born in 1906. During a 35-year career in the Army, Fred reached the rank of Major General and earned the Distinguished Service Cross for his service in World War I.