John Lapham Bullis was born in Macedon, New York to Abram R. and Lydia P. Lapham Bullis on April 17, 1841. His historical family faith was Quaker (now known as the Religious Society of Friends or simply just the Friends Church), historically known for their objection to war, their refusal to swear oaths, their teetotalism, their objection to slavery, their plain dress, pious living and more recently, their support of prison reform and social justice.
Despite this upbringing, Bullis was drawn to military life and volunteered for a New York infantry regiment at the outset of the Civl War. He served with this outfit, with the rank of corporal until he was wounded and captured at the battle of Harper’s Ferry in the fall of 1862. He was released in a prisoner exchange and returned to his regiment after a short time. He again served with his unit until the Battle of Gettysburg in early July of 1863 until he was captured and sent to Libby Prison in Virginia. He was again returned in another prison exchange after ten months of incarceration in the spring of 1864.
After returning to the Union Army, he was assigned to the 118th United States Infantry, Colored, and outfit of all Black volunteers commanded by White officers. They generally served in the Richmond, Virginia area until the end of the war. The 118th was organized at Baltimore, Maryland in the late fall of 1864. Organizationally, they were first attached to the Provisional Brigade, Third Division, 18th Corps for a few months before being assigned to the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 25th Corps, Department of Texas until early 1866. In Virginia, they participated in the sieges of Petersburg and Richmond from November 1864 to April 1865 when the Confederate Army surrendered. They remained in Virginia for about two more months before being transferred to far south Texas where they served until being mustered out in the post war reduction in force.
Bullis ran a Mississippi wood supply business for about the next year, supplying wood fuel to steamboats. The United States Army began to increase its numbers, after receiving congressional funding. Accordingly, four new cavalry units were formed, bringing the total number of regiments from six to ten. Sixteen new infantry units were formed bringing their number from nineteen to forty-five. The 9th and 10th Cavalry were made up of all black troops as were four of the infantry regiments. Bullis was offered a commission and reinlisted as a lieutenant in the 41st Infantry. It has been noted that some Army officers coming out of the military academy were not as inclined to accept these postings, viewing them as somewhat of a career dead end. However, this beneficially made such officer positions available to enlistees. Bullis had already successfully commanded such an outfit during the Civil War. His experience with the 118th placed him in a favorable position to serve with the 41st.
Then in 1869, there was another reorganization and the four all Black regiments were combined to two, more familiar to Texans, the 24th and 25th Infantry regiments. A goodly number of officers, sometimes highly qualified, were removed thoughout the United States for various reasons including their ages. Bullis avoided this reduction and was assigned to the 24th Cavalry, and more specifically, he was put in charge of a group of Black Seminole scouts, serving under Col. Ranald Mackenzie in the latter’s pursuit of raiding tribes into Mexico and later in the Red River War in the Texas Panhandle. In the 1870s, Bullis’s scouts were effective in tracking the various tribes and helping to keep both the marauding tribes and the Mexican Army from raiding north across the Mexican border.
Bullis commanded the Black Seminole scouts until the early 1880s. After this posting ended, he served in Arizona, the Indian Territory and then transferred back to Texas at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. He served in the Philippines and the Spanish-American War and was promoted to Brig. General by President Theodore Roosevelt. Bullis died at about age 70 in San Antonio in May of 1911 and is interred in the National Cemetery in central San Antonio.
In 1882, Bullis was honored by a resolution of the Texas legislature which thanked him “for the gallant and efficient services in repelling the depredations of Indians and other enemies of the frontier of Texas.”
In December of 1917, Brig. General Joseph A. Gaston named the San Antonio encampment now known as Camp Bullis in honor of Brig. General Bullis. It is combined with Camp Stanley to form the Leon Springs Military Reservation. The area is primarily used for U. S. Army, Air Force and Marine Corps maneuvering training. It is also the location for medical field training out of the Brooke Army Medical Center located in Fort Sam Houston. The camp began with the government’s purchase of over 17,000 acres of land in 1906. Since then, it has had a history of being used for training troops for now well over one hundred years.
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