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I am a lifelong student of military history with particular interest in the Battle of Antietam. I work for the federal government in Washington DC and have two teenagers who I love very much. I currently volunteer at the battlefield and devote much time to the study of this battle and the Maryland Campaign. I enjoy collecting notable contemporary quotations by and about the men of Antietam. These words often add a degree of color and character not found elsewhere in their stories. A feature of this blog is the presentation of some of these quotes. My perspective comes from a 28 year career in the U.S. Army. Travels took me to World War II battlefields in Europe and the Pacific where American valor ended the tyranny of Nazism and Empire. But our country faced its own greatest challenge 80 years earlier during the Civil War. And it was the critical late summer of 1862, when Robert E. Lee launched the Maryland Campaign that fortune could have gone either way. It is an incredible story of drama, carnage, bravery, and missed opportunities that culminated around the fields and woodlots of peaceful Sharpsburg MD. So join me as I make this journey South from the North Woods.

Friday, August 3, 2012

McClellan's West Point Classmates

Lieutenant McClellan in 1846 after graduation
It is not novel to say that the Civil War was almost unique in that so many of the senior leaders were classmates and frequently close friends with their opponents.  This was largely due to their West Point connections and prior service in the Regular Army.   Of the 197 officers that I am aware of that fought at the Battle of Antietam or otherwise supported the Maryland Campaign, 48 attended West Point when George B. McClellan was a cadet.  It is normal to see in an officer’s biographies that authors often state who they graduated with at West Point.  Take that a step or two further.  Who was also at West Point when they were students their entire time.  In a four year curriculum like that at the Academy in the 1840s, a man would be connected with a total of nine year groups of cadets.  He would certainly know the men in his class the best.  But for men who arrive in the year immediately before or afterward, he would be spending three years of his life with them as well.  Men in these classes would also often be best of friends.  Look at the table. 


1843 (5)
1844 (3)
1845 (6)
1846 (14)
1847 (9)
1848 (6)
1849 (5)
Upper Classman

Under Classman
William B. Franklin
Roswell Ripley
James A. Hardie
Henry F. Clarke
Rufus Ingalls
Alfred Pleasonton
Winfield Scott Hancock
William F. Smith
Fitz-John Porter
John P Hatch
Delos B. Sacket
William H. Wood
David A. Russell
George B. McClellan
Jesse L. Reno,
Darius N. Couch
Thomas J. Jackson
Albert L. Magilton
Truman Seymour
Richard H. Rush,
Samuel D. Sturgis
David R. Jones,
George H. Gordon
Frederic Myers
Delancey Floyd-Jones
John D. Wilkins
Nelson H. Davis
Orlando Willcox, Ambrose P. Hill
Horatio Gibson
Ambrose Burnside
John Gibbon
Clermont Best,
Romeyn B. Ayres
Charles Griffin
Thomas H. Neill
James C. Duane
Robert S. Williamson
Joseph C. Clark
John C. Tidball
John Buford
George N. Evans
John G. Parke
Edward R. Platt
Edward M. Hudson
Samuel B. Holabird
Alfred Cumming






Names highlighted in gray served in the Rebel Army

The Class of 1846 contains such well-known officers as McClellan, Reno, Couch, Jackson and Sturgis (if you only count division commanders or higher.)  McClellan also had very close friends in the classes that graduated before and after him.  Consider William Franklin (1843), Baldy Smith (1845), Fitz-John Porter (1845), and at one point his best friend Ambrose Burnside (1847).  Many of the less known officers will appear on McClellan’s staff.  Commanders had much leeway in who they selected for their official military family and would certainly have chosen men who they got along with or who they were associated with previously. 
From the class of 1843 came officers who were present at West Point when McClellan was a fourth year cadet.  They include his Chief of Commissariat Colonel Henry Clarke, Chief Quartermaster Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Ingalls, and Assistant Adjutant General James Hardie.  The Inspector General of the Army was Colonel Delos Sacket from the Class of 1845.  Also from that class was McClellan’s Assistant Provost Marshal, Major William Wood.  From his own graduating class came Major Nelson Davis, an assistant inspector general.  McClellan’s chief engineer Captain James Duane came from the Class of 1848 as did one of his many aide-de camps Lieutenant Colonel Edward M. Hudson.  These were third-year men when McClellan graduated.  Coincidence? 
There were only six officers in this range of years who would don the gray uniform.  Two of them Stonewall Jackson, and A.P. Hill undoubtedly were among the greatest commanders that served the rebels.  McClellan was very close to Hill and knew and respected Jackson’s work ethic and attention to his studies. Additionally, Confederate division commander David "Neighbor" Jones graduated with McClellan.  Ohio-born rebel Roswell Ripley graduated after McClellan's first year.  Brigade commander Nathan "Shanks" Evans and Albert Cummings (who commanded Cadmus Wilcox's brigade of Richard Anderson's division) were underclassmen during Little Mac's tenure.
When I array this kind of information in various ways, it is fascinating how the names line up and the relationships emerge.  I won’t offer any further analysis (for now), but take a look yourself and make your own conclusions.

3 comments:

  1. Jim--Thanks for bringing these relationship patterns to the fore. These social networks are important to our understanding of who these commanders were. Looking forward to more.

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  2. Robert E Lee did not go to West Point? For some reason, I thought he had.

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  3. Lyn,
    Thank you for your interest. Lee attended West Point but much earlier. He graduated in 1829 and would not have been one of McClellan's classmates who graduated in 1846.

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