THE WEST POINT CONNECTION. NORTH CAROLINA AND THE CIVIL WAR
One of the most fascinating aspects of the American Civil War is
the fact that most of the top commanders on both sides knew each other.
They all had been trained at the United States Military Academy at West
Many had fought side by side in the Mexican War, 1846 – 1848. In
his excellent history of the Civil War, “Battle Cry of Freedom,” James
M. McPherson gives several examples. For instance, the American
commander, Gen. Winfield Scott, had on his staff, two young officers,
Lts. P. G. T. Beauregard and George B. McClellan.
Capt. Robert E. Lee made daring recconnaissances behind Mexican
lines, which helped win two battles during the war. After one of the
battles, Capt. Lee wrote a commendation for an officer in his command,
Lt. Ulysses Grant. Lee and Grant would meet later during those terrible
days in 1864, when Grant drove relentlessy toward Richmond and Lee’s
superb defensive tactics stymied Grant’s every move.
Their climactic meeting at Appomattox, Virginia, on April 9,
1865, is now part of American lore.
Grant also received “thanks” for his role in a daring attack on
Mexico City. The official report was given to Grant by Lt. John
Pemberton. Sixteen years later, on July 4, 1963, they would meet again
when, as commanding officer of Union Forces besieging Vicksburg, Gen
Grant accepted the surrender of Gen. Pemberton, in command
of.Confederate forces defending Vicksburg.
Lieutenants James Longstreet and Winfield Scott Hancock fought
together in the Battle of Churubusco. Sixteen years later, on a hot
July 3, 1863, CSArmy General Longstreet ordered the
attack against USArmy Gen. Hancock’s corps on Cemetery Ridge. The
attack was led by Gen. George Pickett, who knew Longstreet when they
fought together as lieutenants at the battle of Chapultepec, and
Pickett picked up the regimental colors that the wounded Longstreet had
Albert Sidney Johnston and Joseph Hooker fought together at
Monterrey. Col. Jefferson
Davis, in command of Mississippi volunteers, broke a Mexican charge at
Buena Vista. In this same battle, George Thomas and Braxton Bragg
were brother artillery officers. They fought with the same
professionalism they would later display against each other as army
commanders at a terrible ridge a continent away at the Battle of
Lookout Mountain, Tennessee (Nov. 24, 1863).
Lee, Joseph E. Johnston, and George Meade were on Gen. Scott’s
staff as engineers during the siege of Vera Cruz. (Lee and Meade would
help determine the outcome of the war and with it, the fate of the
nation during a cataclysmic three days at Gettysburg in July, 1863.)
Offshore, in this same siege, naval Lieutenants Raphael Semmes
and John Winslow shared a cabin. Some seventeen years later and five
thousand miles away, Winslow’s U.S.S. Kearsarge would attack and sink
Semmes’ C.S.S. Alabama.
The irony of the Mexican war from the American point of view is
that these same young officers, graduates of the same professional
school and displaying the same leadership and heroism that they had
learned together, would use the wartime experiences from the Mexican
War against each other less than a generation later.
The American Civil War was a West Pointer’s fight. The Mexican War
was their training
ground for a more savage war only sixteen years away. As they fought
together, they came to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and
tendencies in combat situations. As commander of Confederate defenses
before Richmond during the Peninsula Campaign (spring, 1862), Gen. Lee
knew that his opposite, Union Gen. McClellan, would fight a cautious
battle and would not press his advantage in numbers.
At Vicksburg, Grant knew that Pemberton would fight the battle by
the book and would go looking for Grant’s supply wagons. Grant decided
to live off the land (a forerunner to Sherman’a March through Georgia,
winter, 1864) and while Pemberton poked around trying to cut Grant’s
non-existent supply train, Grant was headed toward Jackson, Miss., and
a battle with Gen. Jos. E. Johnston. Grant decided to fight the two
Confederate armies facing him as separate units, defeat each
individually, and thus win the field. Which he did.
When the time came in 1861 to chose, loyalty to the State or
loyalty to the Nation, there were 463 West Point graduates still
living. 217 chose to stay with the North; 146 decided to fight for the
South. But they were a force all out of proportion to their numbers.
There were 1,007 generals who fought on both sides during the
war. West Point graduates were about 46% of this total. And yet of the
sixty largest battles, West Point graduates commanded both armies in
fifty-five of them; and in the five other battles, a West Pointer
commanded one of the opposing armies.
NORTH CAROLINA AND THE CIVIL WAR.
North Carolina was home to many West Point graduates who served
the Confederate Army in high command positions. One of the best was
Stephen Dodson Ramseur, West Point ’60. Born in 1837 in Lincolnton, he
resigned his US Army commission on Apr. 6, a few weeks before North
Carolina left the Union on May 21, 1861.
As colonel in the 49th North Carolina, he saw action at the Seven
Days Battle (Jun. 25 – Jul. 1, ’62) and was wounded at Malvern Hill on
Jul. 1. In Nov., ’62, he was appointed Brig. Gen. and commanding
officer of Ramseur’s Brigade. He was wounded again at Chancellorsville,
and led his brigade at Gettysburg and during the horrors of the
He sustained another wound at Spotsylvania, and by June, ’64, he
led his own division during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. He fought
at Winchester, Fisher’s Hill and was severely wounded at Cedar Creek on
Oct. 19, ’64. He died of his wounds the next day,
At age 27, he was the youngest West Point graduate to become a
major general in the Confederate Army. For repeated bravery in combat,
Gen. Ramseur received the personal thanks of Gen. Robert E. Lee. This
was the highest commendation a Confederate officer could attain.
Other North Carolinians with distinguished war records include
William Dorsey Pender, West Point ’54, who was born in Edgecomb County;
and Leonida Polk, West Point ’27, who was born in Raleigh.
Lewis Addison Armistead was born in New Bern. He atternded West
Point for two years but was dismissed from the Academy after two years
for disciplinary reasons: he broke a mess hall plate over the head of a
future Confederate Army general, Jubal Early.
Armistead performed with distinction in the Civil War. He led his
brigade in the climactic Pickett’s Charge against the Union center at
Gettysburg on July 3, ‘63. He got over the wall with about 150 of his
men and uttered the famous command, “Give them the cold steel!”
But he had too few men. Within moments, Federal troops attacked
and Armistead was critically wounded. He died a day later in Union
Here is a chart, showing the West Point classes of many important Civil
War generals and key civilian personnel:
CLASS USA ARMY CSA
1825 Robert Anderson (Ft. Sumter)
Albert Sidney Johnston
Robert E. Lee
Joseph E. Johnston
Benjamin S. Ewell
1835 Montgomery Blair
1837 Joseph Hooker
Lewis Armistead (not a graduate)
1838 Irvin McDowell
Pierre G. T. Beauregard
William J. Hardee
1839 Henry Halleck
Richard S. Ewell
1840 William T. Sherman
George H. Thomas
1841 John Reynolds
Don Carlos Buell
1842 William Rosecrans
Daniel H. (D.H.) Hill
Winfield Scott Hancock Simon Bolivar Buckner
Fitzjohn Porter Edmund Kirby
1846 John B. McClellan
Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson
Ambrose Burnside Ambrose
Powell (A. P.) Hill
1850 Governeur K. Morris
1852 George Crook
1853 James B. McPherson
John Bell Hood
James M. Schofield
George Washington Custer Lee
James Ewell Brown (J. E. B.) Stuart
William Dorsey Pender
1861 George Armstrong Custer
It was inevitable in the Civil War that cadets who had been
friends at West Point, would be commanding officers on opposing sides
during many crucial battles of the war.
One of the best examples of West Point cadets opposing each other
was the Union drive toward Atlanta during the late spring of 1864,
after the Battle of Chattanooga.
OPPOSING OFFICERS, DRIVE TO ATLANTA:
Gen. William T. Sherman, Commander of Union Armies, Western Theater
His subordinate commanders;
Gen. George Thomas, Army of the Cumberland
Gen. James B. McPherson, Army of the Tennessee
Gen. James M. Schofield, Army of the Ohio
These Northern Commanders Were Opposed by the Following Southern
Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, Army of Tennessee, relieved 7/64
by: WP ‘29
Gen. John Bell Hood
UP-DATE: the associations made at West Point, as well as at Annapolis
and now at the Air Force Academy, last a life-time. Careers are
advanced – or halted – based on these associations.
And generally, cream rises to the top.
A clear example of this is the West Point Class of 1915; of the 164
cadets who graduated in that class, fifty-nine of them achieved star
rank, the greatest number for any class. 24 became brigadiers; 24
became major generals; seven were lieutenant generals. There were two
four-star generals and two more became five-star Generals of the Army;
these were Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley.
Clearly, this was a performing group of exceptional officers. But the
associations these men formed from 1911 to 1915 enabled them to trust
each other to get their own jobs done – and to call on each other when
added council was needed. They helped win the war.
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