About Me

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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, June 15, 2017

Not Stewart's Way

USS Brandywine
Like the number one graduate in Robert E. Lee’s Class of 1829, the man who beat George McClellan for top honors in the immortal West Point Class of 1846 is also relatively unknown. Unlike Charles Mason (USMA 1829) who sat out the Civil War as a Copperhead, Charles S. Stewart made important contributions to Union victory as a military engineer. 

Charles Seaforth Stewart was born at sea, April 11, 1823, on board the American ship Thames, in N. Lat. 8 degrees, 30 minutes, W. Long. 134 degrees of the Pacific Ocean near the Hawaiian Islands.  His parents Reverend Charles Samuel Stewart, and Harriet Bradford Tiffany were sailing there among the first party of American missionaries to that island kingdom. His infancy was spent on the Island of Maui.  His mother's illness compelled their return to the United States while he was still a small child. She died when he was 7 years old.  Charles’ boyhood was passed mostly at Cooperstown, New York. He underwent a five year program of  classical education at the prestigious Edgehill School at Princeton, New Jersey.  In October 1839 at the age of 17, he joined his father, now a Navy chaplain aboard the USS Brandywine, a 44-gun frigate as clerk to Captain William C. Bolton USN.  The ship embarked on a three-year cruise of the Mediterranean as part of a squadron commanded by Commodore Isaac Hull.  In the spring of 1841 the ships were ordered out of the Mediterranean as relations with Great Britain deteriorated over the Caroline incident.  Despite fears of a confrontation, the ships passed by Gibraltar uneventfully on their way back New York where they arrived on May 12 1841.[1]

Though he came from a naval heritage, Charles was very desirous to obtain an appointment to West Point. His father proudly described his son’s qualifications for a Military Academy appointment in a letter to Secretary of War John C. Spencer. 

 “His personal qualifications are good.  He is well formed, has a sound constitution, and is in full health. He has been carefully educated, and after having been five years at a distinguished classical school at Princeton left it with testimonials and [illegible] of the highest merit for talent, attainments and good morals.  In addition to the Latin and Greek languages, he speaks and writes the French with great facility, and is not unacquainted, either in reading or speaking with the Spanish and Italian.  He draws with great correctness and taste and for two and a half years has had opportunities for observation by travel in several of the principal kingdoms of Europe and in all respects is probably better prepared to do credit to himself and honor to such an institution, as West Point than one in a hundred of all who have entered it. The severity of the course of study exacted from the cadets is well known to him, not so far from being a discouragement is an incentive to his desire and his solicitude for an appointment.”[2]

No less a person than New Jersey Senator Samuel Southard advanced the young man’s application.  Southard was a former navy officer acquainted with Charles’ father.  He capably served as Secretary of the Navy in the administrations of James Monroe and John Quincy Adams. At the time of Stewart’s application, Southard was President pro tempore of the Senate and acting Vice President of the United States after the death of William Henry Harrison and the elevation of Vice President John Tyler to the presidency. 

Charles was appointed a cadet at the U. S. Military Academy, from New Jersey, and entered on September 1, 1842 at the age of 19 years and 4 months. A highly educated and well-travelled young man, he would indeed be a formidable rival for an equally well prepared 15 year old from Philadelphia.  George McClellan despite his young age had completed two years at the University of Pennsylvania and like Stewart was well versed in languages, the classics, and mathematics. 

McClellan’s avowed goal was to be number one but he met his match in the New Yorker.  Writing to his mother he wrote: “Toiling up hill is not what it is cracked up to be!  I do not get marked as well for as good (or a better) recitation, as the man above me… if I were already above him, I could distance him, I think.” [3]

Here is a comparison of Stewart and McClellan’s academic rankings at West Point:[4]

Fourth Year 1843
Stewart ranked 1st overall; 1st in Mathematics;  1st in French;  5 demerits (9th).
McClellan ranked 3rd overall; 3rd in Mathematics; 5th in French; 51 demerits (137th).[5]

Third Year 1844
Stewart ranked 1st overall; 2nd in Mathematics; 2nd in French; 7th in Drawing; 1st in English; 2 demerits (8th).
McClellan ranked 3rd overall; 1st in Mathematics; 6th in French; 20th in Drawing; 6th in English; 25 demerits (52nd).

Second Year 1845
Stewart ranked 1st overall; 1st in Philosophy; 1st in Chemistry; 6th in Drawing; 0 demerits (3rd).
McClellan ranked 4th overall; 2nd in Philosophy; 2nd in Chemistry; 12th in Drawing; 60 demerits (102nd).

First Year 1846                                                               
Stewart ranked 1st overall; 1st in Engineering; 1st in Ethics; 1st in Artillery; 1st in Infantry tactics; 3rd in Mineralogy and Geology; 0 demerits (5th).
McClellan ranked 2nd overall; 2nd in Engineering; 2nd in Ethics; 2nd in Artillery; 3rd in Infantry tactics; 1st in Mineralogy and Geology; 20 demerits (62nd).

Stewart appears to have been a mature, quiet, studious, and unassuming young man.  As indicated in his father’s letter to the Secretary of War, he welcomed the challenge and discipline of the Military Academy.  In four years of study, he ranked number one every year and accumulated just seven demerits.  McClellan was outgoing and friendly and very well liked at West Point.  Though a top performer, he was approachable and helpful to his classmates.  He “earned” 156 demerits, not a large number over four years but a more active pattern perhaps indicative of his teenage years.  It was in McClellan, not Stewart that classmates and instructors alike saw the greatest potential.  Classmate William Gardner speaking of McClellan said “we expected him to make a great record in the army, and if opportunity presented, we predicted real military fame from  him.”[6]  Erasmus Keyes, one of McClellan’s future corps commanders was an instructor at the Academy at the time both men passed through.  Of McClellan, Keyes wrote, “A pleasanter pupil was never called to the blackboard.”

Stewart graduated on July 1, 1846, at the head of his class, numbering fifty-nine members, the largest class that had up to that time been graduated from the Academy. In addition to McClellan, its members included such notables as John Foster, Jesse Reno, Darius Couch, Thomas Jackson, Albert Magilton, Truman Seymour, Richard Rush, Samuel Sturgis, George Stoneman, Dabney Maury, David R. Jones, George Gordon, Cadmus Wilcox, and George Pickett.

Though fiercely competitive McClellan and Stewart were most assuredly friends.  They maintained a correspondence over the years, some of which is included in the Charles Stewart family papers at the Houghton Library at Harvard University.

Upon graduation, McClellan and many of his classmates were immediately ordered to Mexico.  Stewart was not among them, instead being assigned as Assistant Engineer in the construction of Fort Trumbull, Connecticut. His lack of Mexican War service probably worked to his disadvantage.  He narrowly escaped death on November 27 1846 when the Sound Steamer Atlantic on which he was a passenger broke up in a severe coastal storm.  Perhaps owing to his long experience aboard ships, Charles was one of the few survivors who succeeded in getting ashore.

Stewart returned to West Point in 1849 as Assistant Professor of Engineering. He was reunited there with McClellan now a Mexican War hero who commanded the Engineer Company.   The two young officers, no longer academic rivals renewed their acquaintance and no doubt worked closely together.   McClellan left for other duties in 1851. Stewart remained at West Point until 1854 when he took up work as superintending engineer in the construction of Forts Warren, Independence, and Winthrop, in Boston Harbor.

On April 15, 1857, Charles Stewart married Cecilia Sophia DeLouville Tardy, granddaughter of Alexis Evstaphieve, Russian Consul General at New York.  Three children, two boys and a girl were born of this marriage.[7]  Stewart continued to perform engineering duties around Boston until 1861.  With the start of the Civil War, he was dispatched to the Tidewater area of Virginia.  He constructed the defenses of Hampton Roads and field works around Newport News. Stewart was attached to the Army of the Potomac upon its arrival on the Peninsula in April 1862.  Brigadier General John G. Barnard, Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac says this about Stewart’s service with that army: 

Capt. C. S. Stewart, was temporarily detached from duties at Fort Monroe, and
joined the army about the middle of April. He was attached to General Sumner's headquarters during the siege [of Yorktown]. On the advance of the army he accompanied the advance guard under Brigadier General Stoneman with whom he remained until the arrival on the Chickahominy, where he was taken sick from overexertion and was obliged to return to Fort Monroe…. [he] rendered valuable services at Yorktown, and at the battle of Williamsburg he discovered the unoccupied works on the enemy's left, ascertained the existence of and reconnoitered the route by which they might be gained, and by which Lieutenant Farquhar (who had accompanied him) led Hancock's brigade. To him, therefore, the decided successes on that part of the field are in a great measure due…. Afterwards, with the advance guard under General Stoneman, he was so unsparing of himself in his reconnaissance and reports of the character of the country, roads, etc., as to induce the sickness which compelled him to leave the field.[8]

Stewart remained at Fort Monroe after the departure of McClellan’s army in August of 1862.  He was Consulting Engineer during James Longstreet’s siege of Suffolk in April 1863 and later led the construction of additional field fortifications covering Portsmouth and Norfolk.  In 1864, Stewart was in charge of building the defenses around the prisoner of war camp at Point Lookout Maryland.  He ended the war as chief engineer of the Middle Military Division. He ended the war as a Major in the Engineers with two brevets to Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel.  Stewart spent five years superintending the construction of the Delaware River and Bay defenses.  From 1870 until his retirement in 1886 he was stationed in California serving on numerous construction projects and engineer boards.  Stewart rose to the rank of full colonel in 1882. 

On July 1st, 1886 his son Cecil graduated from the Military Academy and was appointed a second lieutenant in the 3rd Cavalry.  He served for 21 years and among other assignments serve in combat in the Phillippine Insurrection.  One of Cecil’s classmates was another cavalryman by the name of John J. Pershing. 

Charles Stewart retired on September 16, 1886.  His wife died just two months later in California.  Now a widower, Stewart returned to his boyhood home of Cooperstown.  He led a quiet life, but remained active in church and local affairs for many years.  On April 23, 1904 he was appointed a Brigadier General, United States Army retired, in accordance of an Act of Congress approved April 23, 1904.  Three months later while on a trip to Siasconset, Massachusetts, he suffered an accidental fall.  He died of internal injuries resulting from that accident on July 22, 1904, age 81. Charles Stewart is buried at Lakewood Cemetery in Cooperstown New York. 

How was it that such a distinguished officer never reached general officer rank?  Stewart and McClellan were on excellent terms after they graduated.  They served for a time at West Point after the Mexican War.  While under Little Mac’s command in the Army of the Potomac, Stewart made important contributions to the siege of Yorktown and Battle of Williamsburg and lead the reconnaissance of Stoneman’s cavalry as it advanced toward Richmond in May of 1862.  I will leave it to General Alfred A Woodhull an old friend to offers a possible explanation. 

“It was a complaint of McClellan's and of Stewart's friends alike
that the former, when holding effective influence and knowing as he surely
knew his classmate's admirable qualities, failed to make him a general
officer of volunteers. It was so easy to do, and so easy to have undone
should it prove undesirable, that the explanation seems to be that McClellan
awaited Stewart's initiative by application. But that was not Stewart's
way… In many respects the career of General Stewart represents that of
the mass of those meritorious officers upon whose intelligence, fidelity,
and high sense of duty to the nation the essential character and the
ultimate efficiency of every permanent military establishment must depend.
They rarely are in the public eye, and they discharge their duty
with assiduity because it is their duty. They shrink from notoriety and from the   
well-intentioned but worthless praise of incompetent judges,
and equally disdain the censure of the partisan and the ignorant.” [9]

[2] Charles Stewart to John C. Spencer February 12, 1842, Charles S. Stewart West Point Application File 1842 318
[3] John C. Waugh , Class of 1846 (New York: Warner, 1994), 54 New York;  George McClellan to Elizabeth McClellan, February 1, 1845, McClellan papers.
[4] Official Register of the Officers and Cadets of the U.S. Military Academy, West Point New York for the years 1843-1846
[5] Demerits ranking is based on all four classes
[6] Waugh, Class of 1846, 66; Gardener, Memoirs page 8
[7] Charles Seymour Stewart, born April 12, 1858; died, February 8, 1893. Cecil Stewart, born April 12, 1864 died 1933, Cora Stewart, born March I5,  1873; died, February 1, 1876.
[8] OR 11:1 Report of General Barnard page 123-124; Reports of Brig Gen. John G. Barnard, U. S. Army, Chief Engineer of operations from May 23, 1861, to August 15, 1862.
[9] 1905 Association of Graduates “Charles S. Stewart” 70-71