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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 young adult children who I love very much. I currently volunteer at Antietam 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. Since 2013 I have been conducting in depth research on the regular artillery companies of the Union Army and their leaders. I hope to turn this into a book on this subject in the future. 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. 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.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

George G. Meade and the West Point Class of 1835

George G. Meade Class of 1835
As we observe the ascension of George G. Meade to command of the Army of the Potomac, 150 years ago, I wonder if he even had a moment to reflect on his colleagues of the West Point Class of 1835 who he had graduated with him on July 1, 1835 exactly twenty-seven years earlier on July 1, 1835.

With 56 graduates, it was a large class by the standards of the time.  Meade ranked in the top half graduating number 19.  George Morell, a fellow division commander at Antietam ranked first.  The goat was Hugh McLeod.  He spent less than a year in the Third Infantry after graduating before he resigned.  McLeod reappeared on the military stage 25 years later as Colonel of the 1st Texas after the elevation of the regiment’s first colonel Louis Wigfall to brigadier general. McLeod however died of pneumonia on January 2, 1862. 

In between Morell and McLeod were 54 other men.  George Meade reached the highest level of military command achieving the rank of Major General in the Regular Army.  Ranking right above Meade at number 18 was Montgomery Blair. Blair was a scion of the powerful Blair family.  Electing not to pursue a military career, Blair achieved cabinet level rank in the Lincoln administration as Postmaster General.  Most of the others members of the class are not as well known.

An interesting fact is the large number of the 1835 graduates who resigned from the Army soon after graduation.  In those days, the Army was a tough place to earn a living.  Lucrative civilian positions could be had all around the country as engineers, surveyors, college professors and in other profitable fields. Almost half of Meade’s class (a total of 27) resigned within four years of graduating. In 1835 alone, five left the Army. Meade himself resigned on October 26, 1836 to take a job as a civilian engineer for the U.S. government. He returned to the army in May of 1842 with a second lieutenant’s commission in the topographical engineers.  

As Colonel William A. Ganoe,  in his excellent work History of the United States Army says:

“Promotion was so slow that a lieutenant had little hope of ever becoming a captain.  For sixty-nine graduates of the Military Academy there were no actual vacancies so that they had to be attached as brevet second lieutenants to their companies.  These young men with exceptional education under the regime of Colonel Thayer, seeing futures less lucrative and hopeful than those of uneducated mill hands of their own town, resigned in shoals.  One hundred and seventeen officers went out in 1836.[1]

Only six months after graduation, the Class of 1835 lost its first two men in combat. On December 28, 1835, brevet second lieutenants Richard Henderson and John L. Keais were killed in Florida. Sent with their artillery regiments to fight as infantry, the young officers aged 21 and 24 respectively, and all but three members of their party, were ambushed and killed by the Seminole Indians in what became known as the Dade Massacre. This battle triggered a massive response.   For nearly seven years the Army fought the elusive Seminoles. Virtually every regiment in the Army served at some time in Florida.[2]  Meade and 25 classmates at some point in their careers were sent there to fight a bloody, exhausting, frustrating war with the natives.  Devoid of any real results for many years and largely forgotten today, a series of general officers including Winfield Scott himself tasted defeat in the swamps of Florida.  The cost in men, horses, equipment and treasure was enormous.

In 1846, the United States declared war on Mexico. Meade and 22 of his colleagues saw action there. As the Army concentrated, this was the first time that many officers had seen each other since their graduation ten years earlier.  Fifteen received brevets promotions for gallantry.  Four received two brevets.  Captain Horace Brooks, Second Artillery and Captain Isaac Reeve, Eighth Infantry both received their brevets at Contreras and Molino del Rey. Captain Joseph Eaton, Third Infantry earned his with Zachary Taylor at Monterey and Buena Vista.  Captain Benjamin Roberts of the Mounted Rifles won his laurels at Chapultepec and Matamoros.  Meade received one for action at Monterrey Mexico no doubt not far from Captain Eaton.  One classmate paid the ultimate sacrifice.  On December 6. 1846, Captain Abraham R. Johnston of the First Dragoons, an aide to General Stephen Kearney was killed leading a charge against Mexican lancers at San Pasqual California. 

By the beginning of the Civil War, Meade and his surviving classmates were in their mid-forties.  However, twenty-three of Meade’s comrades did not live to witness the Civil War. Captain Joseph Whipple, Fifth Infantry also died in Mexico but apparently of natural causes.  Former Captain Philip Thompson, First Dragoons brevetted for gallantry in Mexico was cashiered on September 4, 1855, “for disrespect to a Court Martial, before which he appeared as a Witness in a state of intoxication.” After his dismissal Thompson became Adjutant-General, with the rank of captain, of a filibustering expedition to Nicaragua and died on June 24 1857 in the Gulf of Mexico.[3] Most others died of natural causes.

As civil war threatened, twelve officers of the Class of 1835 still served in the regular army. Captain Charles Roberts, 4th Artillery was at Fort Monroe Virginia.  Captain Brooks was at Fort McHenry Maryland. Major Henry Prince of the Paymaster Department served in Minnesota.  Prince’s career path was similar to fellow paymaster James Longstreet who left the line to accept a staff commission as a major in paymaster department.  Captain William Grier, First Dragoons was stationed in far off Fort Walla Walla Washington.  Captain Robert Wainwright was Chief of Ordnance in the Department of New Mexico and served there with fellow classmate Captain Roberts, Mounted Rifles who commanded Fort Stanton New Mexico. Henry L. Kendrick a Professor of Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Geology, at the U. S. Military Academy, since 1857 served at the Academy as a full professor until 1880 declining a brigadier general’s commission in the Volunteers.

As the war began, three classmates were stationed in Texas. Captain Charles Whiting of the Second Cavalry served under Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee.  With the Eighth Infantry were Captains Isaac Reeves and Larkin Smith.  Reeves was captured by Texas forces when General Twiggs surrendered the Department to the Confederates.  Smith, a Virginian stationed at Camp Hudson resigned his commission on May 13, 1861 and eventually accepted a position with the Confederate Quartermaster Department in Richmond.

Another Virginian was Captain George Waggaman with a commission as a Commisary of Subsistence.  Stationed at St. Louis at war’s outbreak, he resigned his commission on May 10, 1861 and sat out the war in St. Louis as a wholesale grocer.

Those officers who remained benefited immediately from the expansion of the Regular Army at the beginning of the Civil War.  All were promoted to the rank of major in the spring and summer of 1861.  Meade, who was stationed in Detroit in charge of the Northern Lake Surveys accepted a commission as a brigadier general, U.S. Volunteers on August 31, 1861.

George Morell
Nine members of the Class of 1835 who left the Army offered their services in this moment of national crisis.  George Morell, Marsena Patrick, Henry Naglee and John Martindale became brigadier generals .  They served in the Army of the Potomac alongside Meade for varying lengths of time. Herman Haupt returned to the Army as the legendary Chief of Military Railroads.   Others were back in lesser capacities.  John Eaton returned as a paymaster.  William De Forest briefly accepted a commission in the 13th U.S. Infantry, one of the new regular army infantry regiments but resigned in January 1862, possibly due to poor health.  He died on November 10, 1864. 

James Stokes obtained a commission commanding the “Chicago Board of Trade” Artillery Battery and fought at Perryville, Stones River, Chickamauga and Chattanooga eventually commanding an artillery division.  Thomas Arden secured a commission as a colonel in the New York Militia and was the military aide to Governor Edwin Morgan until the latter was elected to the United States Senate in 1863. 

Jones M. Withers became the highest-ranking Confederate officer from the class of 1835.  Beginning the war as colonel of the 3rd Alabama, Withers was almost immediately promoted to brigadier general on July 10, 1861.  He led a division at Shiloh on April 6, 1862, and was promoted to Major General effective that date.  He also fought credibly with his division at Stone’s River where his classmate James Stoke commanded Union artillery.  Withers ended the war commanding Confederate forces in Alabama.

Charles Whiting (center)
Four other classmates served the Confederate cause as regimental commanders.  The class goat Hugh McLeod commanded the 1st Texas briefly before dying of pneumonia in January of 1862.  Peter Galliard commanded the 27th South Carolina in that state and later joined the Army of Northern Virginia during the Petersburg campaign.  William Griffin with the 21st Texas served in the Trans-Mississippi and James Wells of the 23rd Mississippi also served in the west. 

Six members of the class did not serve in the Civil War.  They were Charles Bigelow, Albert Herbert, Arnoldus Brumby, Robert Renick, Archibald Campbell, and Alexander S. Macomb.

During the Maryland Campaign, Meade served with three classmates.  They included George Morell who the First Division, Fifth Corps, Marsena Patrick, a brigade commander in Abner Doubleday’s division of the First Corps, and Charles Whiting who commanded the Fifth U.S. Cavalry.

Marsena Patrick (center) Meade's Provost Marshal
Nine months later at Gettysburg, only one classmate remained.  He was hard-bitten Marsena Patrick, now Meade’s Provost Marshall General.  Twenty-seven years had elapsed since these men graduated from West Point.  Now Meade was about to face Lee’s surging legions in the biggest battle of the Civil War, 150 years ago.

[1] Ganoe, William A. The History of the United States Army. New York: D. Appleton-Century Company, Inc. 1942, page 179.
[2] Exceptions were most of the First Dragoons and the Fifth Infantry.
[3] Cullum, George W. Biographical Register of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. From Its Establishment in 1802 to 1890 with the Early History of the United States Military Academy Volume 1. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin and Company Third Edition. page 616.

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