The Class of 1861: Custer, Ames, and Their Classmates after West Point

By Ralph Kirshner

George Armstrong Custer wrote approximately his pal Pierce Manning Butler younger, who left West element to develop into a accomplice normal: "I have in mind a talk held on the desk at which I sat through the iciness of '60–'61. i used to be seated subsequent to Cadet P. M. B. younger, a gallant younger fellow, a classmate of mine, then and because the struggle an intimate and valued friend—a major-general within the accomplice forces in the course of the conflict and a member of Congress from his local kingdom [Georgia] at a later date. the impending struggle was once as ordinary the topic of dialog within which all participated, and within the freest and so much pleasant demeanour. . . . ultimately, in a part jocular, part earnest demeanour, younger grew to become to me and added himself as follows: 'Custer, my boy, we will have warfare. it truly is little need speaking: I see it coming. all of the Crittenden compromises that may be patched up will not ward off it. Now allow me prophesy what is going to occur to you and me. you'll move domestic, and your abolition Governor will most likely make you colonel of a cavalry regiment. i'll pass right down to Georgia, and ask Governor Brown to offer me a cavalry regiment. And who understands yet we may well circulation opposed to one another through the conflict. . . .' calmly as we either appeared this boyish prediction, it used to be destined to be fulfilled in a awesome degree."

Ralph Kirshner has supplied a richly illustrated discussion board to permit the West aspect classification of 1861 to write down its personal autobiography. via letters, journals, and released bills, George Armstrong Custer, Adelbert Ames, and their classmates inform of their personal phrases in their Civil warfare battles and in their different careers after the war.

Two periods graduated from West aspect in 1861 as a result of Lincoln's want of lieutenants, forty-five cadets in Ames's classification in may perhaps and thirty-four in Custer's type in June. The cadets diversity from Henry Algernon du Pont, first within the category of may well, whose ancestral house is now Winterthur backyard, to Custer, final within the classification of June. "Only thirty-four graduated," remarked Custer, "and of those thirty-three graduated above me." West Point's arithmetic professor and librarian Oliver Otis Howard, after whom Howard collage is termed, is additionally portrayed.

Other well-known names from the category of 1861 are John Pelham, Emory Upton, Thomas L. Rosser, John Herbert Kelly (the youngest basic within the Confederacy while appointed), Patrick O'Rorke (head of the category of June), Alonzo Cushing, Peter Hains, Edmund Kirby, John Adair (the in basic terms deserter within the class), and Judson Kilpatrick (great-grandfather of Gloria Vanderbilt). They describe West aspect ahead of the Civil struggle, the battle years, together with the Vicksburg crusade and the conflict of Gettysburg, the braveness and personality of classmates, and the finishing of the war.

Kirshner additionally highlights postwar lives, together with Custer at Little Bighorn; Custer's insurgent pal Rosser; John Whitney Barlow, who explored Yellowstone; du Pont, senator and writer; Kilpatrick, playwright and diplomat; Orville E. Babcock, Grant's secretary till his indictment within the "Whiskey Ring"; Pierce M. B. younger, a accomplice basic who grew to become a diplomat; Hains, the single member of the category to serve on lively accountability in global struggle I; and Upton, "the classification genius."

The publication beneficial properties eighty-three pictures of all yet one of many graduates and a few of the nongraduates. Kirshner contains an appendix entitled "Roll Call," which discusses their contributions and lists them in keeping with rank within the class.

George A. Plimpton presents a foreword approximately his great-grandfather, Adelbert Ames-Reconstruction governor of Mississippi and the final surviving Civil conflict general-and President Kennedy.

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Eight Custer would say after he became a general, Often I think of the vast responsibility resting on me, of the many lives entrusted to my keeping, of the happiness of so many households depending on my discretion and  judgment—and to think that I am just leaving my boyhood makes the responsibility appear greater. This is not due to egotism, self­conceit. I try to make no unjust pretensions. I  assume nothing I know not to be true. It requires no extensive knowledge to inform me what is my duty to my country, my command. . . . "First be sure you're right, then go  forward! " I ask myself, "Is it right? " Satisfied that it is so, I let nothing swerve me from my purpose. nine       Page 27 Custer certainly had the self­confidence and drive of a superb battle leader. He was ready to push ahead at the critical moment (even if his critics would say at any  moment). Philip Sheridan would note that "Custer is still pushing on" in a letter to Grant the night before the surrender at Appomattox. Like other generals writing about  Custer, Sheridan often uses some form of the word "pushing" to describe what the most famous boy general is doing. 10 That kind of relentless confidence and drive is  most likely to be found in young commanders. At least that is the view of Emory Upton, who mentions Custer at Gettysburg in an article called "Facts in Favor of  Compulsory Retirement. "11 Upton might have called the case of Admiral Farragut—who was over sixty and exceeded by no one in drive and daring—an exception. Blackford might have pointed  out that Farragut did not go to West Point. In any case, Blackford has his own explanation for why the South lost: Jefferson Davis was a West Pointer and Abraham  Lincoln was not. Contrasting the leadership styles of Lincoln and Davis, the former Confederate officer says, "our President insisted upon retaining direct personal  control of every detail of every department, and placed only men in his Cabinet who were of abilities sufficiently moderate to consent to occupy the position under such  regulations. How differently Lincoln managed! But he, fortunately for his side, had not been educated at West Point. "12 In a letter from West Point, Alfred Mordecai of the June class, now assistant professor of mathematics, told Oliver Otis Howard what it was like on February 11,  1862. "All here are as usual," Mordecai remarks, "only more quiet than formerly, not the place it used to be. " The elder Alfred Mordecai, after resigning from the  United States Army and refusing to take part in the war, was not sure what he should do. His son tells O. O. Howard, "I was in Philadelphia at Christmas . . . my  father in poor spirits but well . . . the only source of worry is that father can find nothing that he will do or rather thinks he ought to do whilst remaining perfectly  impartial. "13 The elder Alfred Mordecai eventually became a mathematics teacher in Philadelphia. His son in the June class continued the family tradition in ordnance, becoming a  brevet major in 1863 for the siege of Fort Wagner, South Carolina, and chief of ordnance in the Army of the James (May to September 1864), the Army of the Ohio  (October to November 1864), and the Department of the Cumberland (November 1864 to June 1865).

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