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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.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Randolph Marcy’s West Point Years

Randolph Marcy - USMA 1832
Note: This is another in a series of posts that will explore the relationships of the West Pointers who fought at the Battle of Antietam.

Before son-in-law George McClellan named him as his Chief of Staff, Randolph Marcy had already served a long distinguished career as an army officer and established himself as an explorer of some renown.

Randolph Barnes Marcy was born at Greenwich Massachusetts on April 9, 1812.  At the age of 16 years, 3 months he reported to the United States Military Academy on July 1, 1828 and there joined 68 other young men in what would eventually become the Class of 1832. 

Marcy was the only member of his class who fought at the Battle of Antietam. However, Erasmus Keyes who graduated number ten in the class served as an instructor at West Point for many years and as a long time military assistant to Winfield Scott. Keyes commanded the Fourth Corps of the Army of the Potomac during the first year of the Civil War. One division of the Fourth Corps under Darius Couch participated in the Maryland Campaign but Keyes remained at Fort Monroe with the balance of the corps when the Army of the Potomac withdrew to Washington.

James Barnes USMA 1829
As a fourth classman, Marcy was acquainted with a number of upper classmen who he would either serve with at Antietam or face in battle there.  Foremost was Robert E. Lee who graduated in 1829 at the end of Marcy’s first year at the academy.  Also in that class was James Barnes who like Marcy hailed from Massachusetts.   Barnes who ranked only three below Lee was held over at the Academy during Marcy’s second year as assistant teacher of French.  His regular army career in the 4th Artillery was brief and he resigned in 1836 after being stationed at Charleston South Carolina during the Nullification Crisis.  Barnes returned to the army 25 years later as colonel of the 18th Massachusetts Infantry and at the time of the Battle of Antietam commanded the first brigade of George Morell’s division.  One year behind Lee and Barnes were William Pendleton from Virginia and Robert Buchanan from Maryland.  Like Barnes, Pendleton’s regular army career was rather brief.  The future commander of Lee’s artillery reserve was commissioned in the 2nd Artillery in 1830. Pendleton returned to West Point during Marcy’s last year to teach mathematics and then resigned from the army in 1833 to pursue a life in the Episcopal clergy. Robert Buchanan on the other hand was a hard-bitten lifer.  He was commissioned in the 4th Infantry.  Winning two brevet promotions for gallantry in Mexico, he would serve in the same regiment for 30 years rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel on September 9, 1861.  Buchanan like Barnes commanded a brigade in the Fifth Corps.   He served in Sykes “Regular” division commanding the first brigade. Just a year ahead of Marcy was Andrew A. Humphreys of Pennsylvania. Commissioned in the 2nd Artillery, he resigned in 1836 but reentered the Army in 1838 as a topographical engineer.  Humphrey’s entire antebellum career was in that branch. There he rose to the rank of colonel and chief topographical engineer of the Army of the Potomac.   Later commissioned a brigadier general U.S. Volunteers, Humphrey received command of new division of troops on September 12, 1862 who were hastened to western Maryland to become the third division of the Fifth Corps.

Chart 1 – Randolph Marcy’s classmates in the Maryland Campaign
Robert E. Lee
2 of 46 
Corps of Engineers
Commander, Army of Northern Virginia
James Barnes
5 of 46 
4th Artillery
1st Brigade, 1st Division, Fifth Corps
William Pendleton
5 of 42 
2nd Artillery
Artillery Reserve. Army of Northern Virginia
Robert Buchanan
31 of 42
4th Infantry
1st Brigade, 2nd Division, Fifth Corps
Andrew Humphreys
13 of 33
2nd Artillery *
3rd Division, Fifth Corps
29 of 45
5th Infantry
Chief of Staff, Army of the Potomac
Rufus King
4 of 43
Corps of Engineers
1st Division, First Corps (till placed on sick leave)
George Morell
1 of 56
Corps of Engineers
1st Division, Fifth Corps
George G. Meade
22 of 56
3rd Artillery *
Pennsylvania Reserve Division, First Corps
Marsena R. Patrick
48 of 56
2nd Infantry
3rd Brigade, 1st Division, First Corps
* Both Meade and Humphreys resigned and later reentered the Army as topographical engineers

Four other future Antietam officers arrived at West Point in the three years after Marcy became a cadet. Rufus King from New York reported to West Point one year later.   King ranked high enough to obtain a coveted commission in the Corps of Engineers.  Serving just three years, King moved to Wisconsin and became a brigadier general U.S. Volunteers on May 17 1861.  As a division commander under Irvin McDowell, King saw action at Groveton and accompanied the Army of the Potomac into Maryland. There he succumbed to epilepsy and was placed on the sick list.  King’s division was commanded by John Hatch at South Mountain, and by Abner Doubleday at Antietam. 

George Morell USMA 35
In his last year at West Point, Marcy met three new fourth year men.  Joining the ranks in the summer of 1831 were George Morell, George Meade, and Marsena R. Patrick.  Members of the Class of 1835, only Meade would pursue a military career.  Commissioned initially in the 3rd Artillery he, like Humphreys resigned in 1836 and reentered the Army in 1842 as a topographical engineer.   Serving in the Mexican War, Meade would receive a brevet for gallantry at Monterry.  Morrell, who ranked number one in the Class of 1835 would also be commissioned in the engineers but would resign in 1837.  Patrick would stick it out in the 2nd Infantry for 15 years earning a brevet in Mexico before resigning in 1850 to pursue agricultural interests.  Morell would command a Fifth Corps division under Fitz-John Porter.  At Antietam Meade and Patrick fought in the First Corps.  Meade commanded the vaunted Pennsylvania Reserve Division and Patrick commanded a brigade of New Yorkers in the division that originally belonged to Rufus King. 

With respect to academics and conduct, Marcy was in the lower half of his class in both accounts. As a 4th year cadet, he started near the bottom.  His second year at West Point appears to be his best.  He put forth a prodigious effort and worked his way up 20 ranks. His total demerits that year were a respectable total of 14.  But after that, his academic performance improved only marginally as the number of demerits increased significantly.  Marcy ended up 28 of 44 academically but 147 of 211 in the order of merit.

Chart 2 - Academic Performance and Conduct - Randolph Marcy

Fourth Year
Third Year 1830
Second Year
First Year
Academic Ranking *
53 of 69
33 of 59
31 of 52
28 of 44
Order of Merit *
118 of 209
27 of 215
103 of 219
147 of 211
Note:  Academic ranking is within the class.  Order of merit is within the entire corps of cadets
Source:  Register of Officers and Cadets U.S. Military Academy 1829, 1830, 1831, 1832.

In pursuing the relationship of the men who fought at Antietam, their time and memories together at West Point forged relationships that ran to the end of their lives. It is no wonder that men like Marcy Meade, Morell, and Humphreys were comfortable in each other’s company. It is interesting how many of Marcy’s acquaintances at West Point were destined for the Fifth Corps.  Men like Morell, and Humphrey as division commanders and Barnes and Buchanan at brigade level were at the top level of Fitz-John Porter’s corps. 

And as they gathered to fight at Antietam, Marcy and his West Point comrades would face two more of their own just east of Sharpsburg. 

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