About Me

My photo
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.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

“A Pipe Full”

John Egan (USMA Graduation Photo 1862)
As the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy was preparing to meet in June 1908, Colonel John Calef was writing a eulogy that would appear in the Necrology section of the annual report.  Calef was one of the few Civil War era regular army artillery officers still alive.  It was his sad duty to memorialize the life of his classmate John Egan.

Calef and Egan served as young artillery lieutenants in the Army of the Potomac many years earlier.  Graduates of the Class of 1862, they were immediately pressed into service with that great army.   Both were present at the Battle of Antietam  Egan served in George “little Dad” Woodruff’s Light Company I, First Artillery supporting John Sedgwick’s division along the Smoketown Road.  He received a brevet promotion to First Lieutenant for gallant and meritorious service.  Calef was with Battery K, Fifth U.S. Artillery.  Commanded by Lieutenant William Van Reed, that battery supported Union regular infantry from George Syke’s division as it advanced across the Middle Bridge on the afternoon of the battle.  Calef’s role at Antietam was not significant enough to be recognized.  However, he would earn a name for himself nine months later on July 1, 1863 commanding the horse artillery of John Buford’s cavalry division.

In remembering his classmate, Calef chose to recall a humorous incident that occurred when the young men were still at West Point.  We take up John Calef’s account here:[1]

As a cadet "Dad" Egan, as he was known from his seniority in age, was a "popular man" in his class. From the natural expression of his long face the impression would be entertained that he was of a very serious turn of mind, but that only concealed a genial disposition and an ever-ready vein of Celtic humor which he was wont to vent at times in practical jokes.

When a first classman his room was the rendezvous for a certain coterie during the evening release from quarters. There, though "grim visaged war" was in the land, the pipes of peace were in full operation, and it got so that "Dad" thought a certain member of the band was unreasonably "sponging" on him for fuel for his pipe. So Egan got some fine sawdust which he stained with burnt sienna, and after drying the mixture he awaited his opportunity, which occurred the same evening. The rest of us in the secret were pulling away at our pipes, discussing graduation and the proximity to active service, when the individual in question, whose pipe was out, asked Egan for a "pipe full," and was told to help himself from the jar which contained a "new brand, just received." This he did, and after much puffing and the burning of many matches, Egan asked him how he liked "the flavor of the new tobacco?" The reply was: "I don't think much of it; it has a woody taste." The laugh following this criticism "released the cat," much to the embarrassment of the victim.

John Calef (USMA Graduation Photo 1862)
Egan died on his 69th birthday, July 23, 1906. After surviving three years of bloody civil war including five months of captivity in a Confederate prison, Egan was struck by a streetcar as he crossed 6th Avenue in New York City.   He died instantly.

[1] Calef, John. “John Egan” Association of Graduates Annual Reunion, June 12, 1908 p. 45