George L Gillespie was born in Kingston, Tennessee October 7th 1841. He received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point and graduated second in his class of 1862. Gillespie received a commission in the Corps of Engineers.
Even though Gillespie was a southerner, he remained loyal to the Union and joined the Army of the Potomac in 1862. He commanded companies of engineers, building pontoon bridges, and fortifications. At the Battle of Cold Harbor on May 31st 1864 Gillespie carried military dispatches under fire through enemy lines to Union Major General Philip H Sheridan. For this action he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Gillespie would serve as Sheridan’s Chief Engineer through out the rest of the war.
After the Civil War Gillespie supervised work on the harbors at Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, and New York City. He constructed the canals on the Columbia River and the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. Gillespie commanded the United State Army’s Department of the East in 1898, and was the acting Secretary of War in 1901. He was in charge of ceremonies at President William McKinley’s funeral. He retired with the rank of Major General on June 15th 1905. He died in Saratoga Springs, New York September 27th 1913. He is buried at West Point.
Gillespie’s Medal of Honor Citation reads; "Exposed himself to great danger by voluntarily making his way through the enemy's lines to communicate with Gen. Sheridan. While rendering this service he was captured, but escaped; again came in contact with the enemy, was again ordered to surrender, but escaped by dashing away under fire".