The Class of 1861
Custer, Ames, and Their Classmates after West Point
Publication Year: 2008
Ralph Kirshner has provided a richly illustrated forum to enable the West Point class of 1861 to write its own autobiography. Through letters, journals, and published accounts, George Armstrong Custer, Adelbert Ames, and their classmates tell in their own words of their Civil War battles and of their varied careers after the war.
Two classes graduated from West Point in 1861 because of Lincoln's need of lieutenants: forty-five cadets in Ames's class in May and thirty-four in Custer's class in June. The cadets range from Henry Algernon du Pont, first in the class of May, whose ancestral home is now Winterthur Garden, to Custer, last in the class of June. “Only thirty-four graduated,” remarked Custer, “and of these thirty-three graduated above me.” West Point's mathematics professor and librarian Oliver Otis Howard, after whom Howard University is named, is also portrayed.
Other famous names from the class of 1861 are John Pelham, Emory Upton, Thomas L. Rosser, John Herbert Kelly (the youngest general in the Confederacy when appointed), Patrick O'Rorke (head of the class of June), Alonzo Cushing, Peter Hains, Edmund Kirby, John Adair (the only deserter in the class), and Judson Kilpatrick (great-grandfather of Gloria Vanderbilt). They describe West Point before the Civil War, the war years, including the Vicksburg campaign and the battle of Gettysburg, the courage and character of classmates, and the ending of the war.
Kirshner also highlights postwar lives, including Custer at Little Bighorn; Custer's rebel friend Rosser; John Whitney Barlow, who explored Yellowstone; du Pont, senator and author; Kilpatrick, playwright and diplomat; Orville E. Babcock, Grant's secretary until his indictment in the "Whiskey Ring"; Pierce M. B. Young, a Confederate general who became a diplomat; Hains, the only member of the class to serve on active duty in World War I; and Upton, "the class genius."
The Class of 1861, which features eighty-three photographs, includes a foreword by George Plimpton, editor of the Paris Review and great-grandson of General Adelbert Ames.
Published by: Southern Illinois University Press
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Title Page, Copyright Page
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List of Illustrations
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Some years ago I went to a large dinner at the White House, a socialevening, and after dinner a few of us were taken on an informal tour by thepresident. At one point, I believe in the Oval Office, President Kennedymotioned to me and said, “George, I’d like to talk to you about your grand-I was, as you can imagine, somewhat startled by this request. It turned out...
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The Class of 1861 is, in a way, a book of collective autobiography. Two classesgraduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1861because of Lincoln’s urgent need for lieutenants. This book covers all mem-bers of Adelbert Ames’s May class and George A. Custer’s June class—including Southerners who left before graduation to join the Confederacy....
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Pauline Ames Plimpton generously shared her reminiscences, reflections, and enthusiasm about her grandfather Adelbert Ames. She was the first of three people I talked with who knew members of the class of 1861. Her son, George Plimpton, also knew General Ames, and I am grateful to him for let-ting me use his reflections on the general (given at the Kennedy Library ...
Part One: War Years
1. Introduction: Buglers’ Assembly
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George Armstrong Custer (#34, June) was last in his class, or, as he put it,“only thirty-four graduated, and of these thirty-three graduated above me.”1In his unfinished “War Memoirs”—on which he was still working while rid-ing to Little Bighorn—Custer says, “The first official notification receivedby me of my appointment to the Military Academy bore the signature of...
2. Flames of Rebellion
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The senior class of 1861 graduated on May 6. The head of the class, HenryAlgernon du Pont, remarked to his aunt, “I do not know why the list of grad-uates has not been published this year. The papers did not seem to get holdof the fact of our graduation at all, as all ceremony, grand reviews, etc. weredispensed with.”1 But of course the newspapers had more dramatic events to...
3. Courage and Ambition
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In a war where even generals sometimes led from the front, “boy generals”(in their mid-twenties) could earn the confidence of their men by displayingbravery on a regular basis. It certainly helped make Custer a popular com-mander despite his heavy casualties. Emory Upton said, “officers must exposethemselves freely if they would have their commands do their whole duty.”1...
4. The Vicksburg Campaign
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Peter Conover Hains, who fired the signal gun at Bull Run, was still alivewhen The Military Engineer published his article “The Vicksburg Campaign”in its issue of May–June 1921. At Vicksburg, he was the chief engineer of theThirteenth Corps in the Union Army of the Tennessee. According to Hains, The annals of history do not disclose the story of a military campaign of...
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In the east, 1863 would also see Confederate “capacity for further mischief”reduced, but at a heavy price. John B. Williams (#26, May), who had foughtat Bull Run, Yorktown, and Malvern Hill, was dismissed on February 11,1863, for what would later be called combat fatigue. Orville E. Babcocknoted on February 13, 1863, “Wrote to Cross. Visited Wall St. Received...
6. The Boy Generals
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The most obvious (if not the most attractive) quality in a boy general wasambition. On August 31, 1863, Colonel Thomas L. Rosser suspected (inac-curately) that Jeb Stuart was keeping him from becoming a general. “I havealways liked Gen. Stuart,” Rosser told his wife, “and have supported him inevery instance and it is very hard for me to believe that he would desert...
7. Custer, Rosser, and du Pont
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On January 1, 1864, the famous Confederate diarist Mary Chesnut quotedPierce Young, of the class of June: “General Young says, ‘Give me those dare-devil dandies I find in Mrs. C’s drawing [room]. I like fellows who fight anddon’t care what all the row’s about.’”1 The head of the class of May, HenryA. du Pont, recalled where he was that day when he wrote The Campaign of...
8. Ending the War
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The last surviving Union general, Adelbert Ames, of the class of May, liveduntil 1933, the opposite of Felix Robertson in every way. Ames commandedthe Federal infantry division that stormed Fort Fisher, “the Gibraltar of theConfederacy,” which guarded the South’s last major open port, Wilmington,North Carolina. Ames read his own account of the capture of Fort Fisher...
Part Two: Postwar Lives
9. Adelbert Ames: Reconstruction Governor
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From the summer of 1866 until June of the next year, Adelbert Ames trav-eled in Europe and kept a three-volume “Journal While Abroad.” In hisdiary, he records his views on race, Reconstruction, President Johnson, andIn Berlin, Prussia, on August 24, 1866, Ames says, “At half past eleven thismorning I saw about five or ten thousand soldiers reviewed by the King.”...
10. George Armstrong Custer: Little Bighorn
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The postwar road to Little Bighorn began in Texas in 1865, where Custercommanded a reorganized cavalry division of troopers wanting to go homeand, for the first time, was unpopular with the men he led. Custer’s commandwas part of General Philip Sheridan’s army near Mexico. Custer seemed tohave been an exception to the usual problem of being promoted beyond...
11. Thomas Lafayette Rosser:Custer’s Rebel Friend
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After breaking out at Appomattox Court House on April 9, Rosser was cap-tured at “Courtland,” his wife’s house, on May 2, 1865, and taken to Rich-mond. He was soon released after the Federals learned that he had notsurrendered at Appomattox and therefore could not be violating the parolethat Confederates who were there received. On May 2, 1867, he lectured at...
12. John Whitney Barlow: Explorer of Yellowstone
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John Whitney Barlow is remembered not for a battle but for a park. HisReport of a Reconnaissance of the Basin of the Upper Yellowstone in 1871 waspublished by Congress, which set aside land the next year for the firstnational park.1 From his headquarters in Chicago, General Philip Sheridanhad sent Barlow, his chief engineer, to map the Yellowstone Basin. Barlow...
13. Henry Algernon du Pont: Businessman, Senator, Author
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After the Civil War, Henry Algernon du Pont remained in the artillery andserved on a board (with his classmate Emory Upton) to assimilate tactics forartillery, infantry, and cavalry. Du Pont married Mary Pauline Foster in 1874,left the army in 1875, and lived in Europe for a year. He then became headof the sales division of E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. He was president and...
14. Judson Kilpatrick: Playwright and Diplomat
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The cavalryman became a diplomat on December 1, 1865, when Kilpatrickaccepted an appointment as U.S. minister to Chile from President AndrewJohnson. Kilpatrick married Louisa Valdivoso, niece of the archbishop ofSantiago, on November 3, 1866. Kilpatrick served in Chile until AugustAlthough “being naturally a politician”—according to James Harrison...
15. Orville E. Babcock: The Rise and Fall of Grant’s Secretary
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For gallant and meritorious services in the field, Babcock had been brevet-ted brigadier general, U.S. Army, on March 13, 1865. After the war, Babcockstayed with Grant. The advantages to the young officer of being an aide tothe commanding general of the army were obvious. Less obvious, at least tohistorians, was what Grant saw in Babcock and why he remained so loyal...
16. Pierce M. B. Young: Confederate General and U.S. Diplomat
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Between being a major general in the Confederate cavalry and a UnitedStates diplomat, Pierce Manning Butler Young served in Congress. He wasable to take his seat through the influence of the military governor of Geor-gia, General George G. Meade, whose son was a West Point friend. GeneralMeade wrote to General Grant on June 3, 1868, saying, “This letter will be...
17. John J. Garnett: Sketches of Grant and Lee
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Robert E. Lee wrote a letter about John J. Garnett on October 18, 1866, thatshows that after the war people asked him for advice on every subject. Dr.William Morris of Williamsburg had written to General Lee to find out ifrumors about Garnett’s troubles during the war were true. The doctor’sdaughter was evidently considering spending the rest of her life with Colonel...
18. Peter C. Hains: Bull Run to World War I
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Hains became major of engineers and superintending engineer of the FifthLight-House District in 1870. While engineer secretary of the Light-HouseBoard (1874–1879), he translated Léonce Reynaud’s Memoir upon the Illumi-nation and Beaconage of the Coasts of France. Hains acknowledged his debt tohis father-in-law, noting, “Chapters I and II . . . were translated by Rear-...
19. Emory Upton: “The Class Genius”
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After the war, Upton became the most influential soldier of his class (andalmost any other). After commanding cavalry in East Tennessee (July–August 1865) and Colorado (August 1865–April 1866), he became lieu-tenant colonel of the Twenty-fifth Infantry on July 28, 1866. Upton spent1866 through 1867 at West Point, instructing cadets while developing new...
Appendix A: Roll Call
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Appendix B: Associations and Museums Honoring Members of the Class of 1861 and Their Families
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About the Author, Back Cover
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Ralph Kirshner, a graduate of McGill, Long Island University, and the University of Maine, was a librarian in Maine, New York, and Wyoming. He has written articles on members of the class of 1861 and on other Civil War and historical figures ...
Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2008