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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.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Assistant Marshall Peter Cannon was responsible for enumerating the 1850 census in the village of Cornwall, Orange County New York.  On October 22, 1850, he arrived at a dwelling he listed as number 538 in his record.  Seven young army officers live there ranging in age from 23 to 29.  They were all junior members of the faculty of the United States Military at West Point. Cannon started a new page in his census book and added the following names:
1850 Census Record for Cornwall Village

Fitz-John Porter, age 26 was born in New Hampshire.  Porter is a first lieutenant in the 4th Artillery. He was twice brevetted for gallantry (to Major) in Mexico at Molino del Rey and Chapultepec. His assignment at the Military Academy is Assistant Instructor of Artillery. He graduated from West Point five years ago in 1845.

George B. McClellan, age 23 was born in Pennsylvania.  McClellan is a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers.  He was twice brevetted for gallantry (to Captain) in Mexico at Contreras and Chapultepec.  McClellan commands the company of engineer troops at West Point.  He graduated from the Academy four years ago in 1846. 

Francis Clarke, age 29 born was born in New York.  Clarke is a first lieutenant in the 4th Artillery.  The longest serving officer in this dwelling, Clarke graduated from the Academy in 1840. He has spent nine of the next ten years as an instructor there.  At the time of the 1850 census, Clarke has risen to be Principal Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Geology. 

James Duane, age 26 was also born in New York.  Duane is a brevet second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers.  Graduated just two years earlier in 1848, Duane never left the Academy and at the time of the census serves in the elite company of Sappers, Miners, and Pontoniers possibly under McClellan’s command.

Charles T. Baker, age 29 was born in Connecticut.  Baker is a first lieutenant in the 6th Infantry.  An 1842 graduate, Baker initially served in Florida and on the western frontier but has been stationed at the Military Academy since 1845. He did not see action in Mexico.  Baker’s assignment at the Military Academy is Assistant Instructor of Infantry Tactics. 

Truman Seymour, age 26 was born in Vermont.  Seymour is a first lieutenant in the 1st Artillery.  He was another Mexican War veteran twice brevetted (to Captain) for gallantry at Cerro Gordo and Contreras.  Seymour is a classmate of McClellan also graduating from West Point in 1846.  A talented artist, Seymour serves at West Point as the Assistant Professor of Drawing.

The last man enumerated and the only southerner in the house is Edmund K. Smith.  Smith was 26 years old and born in Florida.  Known as “Kirby,” he was a first lieutenant in the 7th Infantry.  Smith graduated from West Point in 1845 with Porter and was immediately dispatched to Zachary Taylor’s Army of Occupation.  He earned two brevets for gallantry (to Captain) under Winfield Scott at Cerro Gordo and Contreras. Smith is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at West Point.    

Also living at this dwelling is Joshua Holmes and his wife Jane.  The couple, both 39 years of age, were born in England.  They have two sons and two daughters Jane (age 14), James (age 11), Emma (age 8) and Alfred. (age 6).  The children were all born in New York.  (There is some evidence that one if not both of the boys enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War.)[1]  Mr. Holmes identifies himself as a laborer.  Perhaps he worked at the Academy while his wife rears four children and keeps house for seven young officers.

We don’t remember these men as young bachelors living together under one roof.  We don’t think of them indulging in all the things that young men in their 20s indulge in. We may not think to regard four of them as very young combat veterans of the Mexican War - exactly the same age as the young American soldiers whom today return from the wars of the 21st century.   We probably don’t envision them playing with the Holmes children after a day in the classroom or on the drill field.

Our view of them is based not on who they were in 1850 but on who they were in the next war some eleven years in the future. In 1850 they were all still relatively unknown.  Who of them could envision that in twelve years the youngest of their group would stand at the center stage of American military and political affairs commanding the nation's most important army, in the bloodiest conflict in our history?[2]  This would not be a foreign war like the one just completed in Mexico.  It would be a civil war that would tear north and south apart.  Another of the roommates would emerge as the trusted lieutenant of that future army commander. This man would ably lead a corps in the terrible battles of the summer and autumn of 1862.   From those heights of military accomplishment, he would descend just weeks later to become the defendant in a politically orchestrated court martial that would destroy his army career and set him on a lifelong path to seek redemption. [3]   

Who would know then that another roommate would be hailed as a hero of the first battle in that terrible future war at an unfinished fort in the harbor of Charleston South Carolina? This man would also fight with the first two as a brigade commander at a bloody battle in Maryland twelve years later.[4]

Two other roommates would be on that field as well.  One, an accomplished gunner would lead seven batteries of light artillery in some of the toughest and bloodiest fighting of the day.[5]  The other, one of the finest engineers in the army, would receive the key assignment to find a ford on a creek around the flank of formidable enemy defenses.  The ford he selected and his subsequent actions would significantly affect the outcome of the day’s fighting and remain controversial till the present day.[6] 

Surprisingly, one of the two officers with the longest length of service would play no role in the upcoming Civil War.  His resignation from the army a little over a year later would begin his a career as a farmer in Connecticut.[7] 

Maybe most unlikely was the idea at the time that one of these roommates would violate his sacred oath of appointment and take up arms against the United States.  This man twelve years later, would be one of the first two officers elevated to the rank of lieutenant general in the Confederate Army and the last to surrender a major command of that same army at Galveston Texas, six weeks after Lee surrendered at Appomattox.[8]  

That is in the future.  Those men just described are older, more serious versions of the seven men now living with the Holmes family in the village of Cornwall in Orange County New York.  For now, they are simply seven young army officer’s serving as junior faculty members or staff at the United States Military Academy.  All have promising futures.  None of them know what lies in store. It is October 22, 1850 and Assistant Marshal Peter Cannon is at the door.  

[1] According to the Civil War Database, there is only one Alfred Holmes from New York in the entire database.  His age is off by two years.  He enlisted in 1864 in Company G, 15th NY Heavy Artillery.  He shortly thereafter transferred into the Navy.  While there are 28 “James Holmes” entries from New York who served in New York outfits, there is one intriguing possibility.  James Holmes enlisted on May 9, 1861 in Company A, 15th Engineers.  This was a specialized unit specifically recruited and trained as engineers.  Given the Holme’s family proximity to West Point and its renown as an engineer school, is it possible that one of the engineer officers who lived with the Holmes family assisted young James in enlisting in this very elite engineer unit?  
[2] George B. McClellan (1826-1885) commanded the Army of the Potomac from July 1861 to November 1862. On November 1, 1861 he succeeded Winfield Scott as commander in chief of the United States Army. He held that post until relieved by President Lincoln on March 11, 1862.  He was the 1864 candidate of the Democratic party for President of the United States. 
[3] Fitz-John Porter (1822-1901) commanded the Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac at Antietam.  He was relieved of corps command and arrested on November 25, 1862.  Tried by general court martial for disobedience and misconduct at Second Bull Run, Porter was dismissed from the Army on January 21 1863.  He spent the next 14 years fighting to vindicate himself.  In 1878 the Schofield Commission exonerated Porter of the charges but it took an additional eight years for President Arthur to commute Porter’s sentence and restore him to the rank of Colonel in the United States Army.
[4] Truman Seymour (1824-1891) commanded Company H, 1st US Artillery during the battle at Fort Sumter in April 1861.  After the garrison surrendered, he returned to a hero’s welcome in New York.  At Antietam, Seymour commanded a brigade of the Pennsylvania Reserves that started the fighting in the East Woods on September 16.  Seymour retired from the Army in 1876 and eventually moved to Florence Italy where he took up painting.  He died and was buried there in 1891.
[5] Francis Clarke (1820-1866) was the Chief of Artillery of the Second Corps at Antietam.  He died shortly after the end of the war.
[6] James Duane (1824-1897) commanded the regular army engineer battalion at Antietam.  He was ordered to find a ford on the Antietam Creek along the Union Army’s left flank that the Ninth Corps could advance across to outflank the Confederate defenses. He ended his career in the United States Army as a brigadier general and Chief of Engineers. 
[7] Charles T. Baker (1822-1881) served an additional year at West Point only to resign from the Army on December 31 1851.  He returned to his hometown at Windham CT and took  up farming there. While I could not find a record of subsequent service in the Civil War, there is a GAR placard on his grave at Windham Center Cemetery.
[8] Edmund Kirby Smith (1824-1893) resigned from the U.S. Army on April 6, 1861.  While five of his former roommates confronted Robert E. Lee’s army in the Maryland, Smith lead another army into Kentucky in the fall of 1862. He defeated a federal force at Richmond Kentucky on August 30 1862.  On October 9, 1862 he along with James Longstreet became the first two officers promoted to the newly created rank of lieutenant general in the Confederate Army.  (Thomas Jackson’s effective date of promotion was not until October 10, 1862.)  Smith commanded Confederate forces in the Trans-Mississippi for the second half of the war and surrendered the Confederacy’s last army-level command at Galveston Texas on May 26 1865.

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