The Class of 1846

The Class of 1846


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No single group of men at West Point—or possibly any academy—has been so indelibly written into history as the class of 1846. The names are legendary: Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, George B. McClellan, Ambrose Powell Hill, Darius Nash Couch, George Edward Pickett, Cadmus Marcellus Wilcox, and George Stoneman. The class fought in three wars, produced twenty generals, and left the nation a lasting legacy of bravery, brilliance, and bloodshed.

This fascinating, remarkably intimate chronicle traces the lives of these unforgettable men—their training, their personalities, and the events in which they made their names and met their fates. Drawing on letters, diaries, and personal accounts, John C. Waugh has written a collective biography of masterful proportions, as vivid and engrossing as fiction in its re-creation of these brilliant figures and their pivotal roles in American history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345434036
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/25/1999
Edition description: ILLUSTRATED
Pages: 672
Sales rank: 656,759
Product dimensions: 5.47(w) x 8.22(h) x 1.44(d)

About the Author

John C. Waugh is a veteran former newspaper correspondent and bureau chief of The Christian Science Monitor, who has since turned historical reporter. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Civil War Times Illustrated, The New Republic, The Nation, and numerous other national publications. He has served on the senior staffs of a Republican vice president and a Democratic US senator. A lifelong student of the Civil War, he is also the author of Reelecting Lincoln, published in 1998. He and his wife, Kathleen Lively, live in Arlington, Texas.

Read an Excerpt

Late spring had come at last to western Virginia in 1842, the trees were green again on the mountains, and Gibson Butcher was going to West Point.  But Thomas J. Jackson couldn't generate much enthusiasm for his friend's good fortune.  He wished he were going instead.  He had wanted that appointment himself.

Earlier in the spring, four of them had taken an informal examination at the Bailey House in Weston.  It had seemed the only fair way to see who was best qualified.  Jackson had done all right, considering his education, but not good enough.  Butcher was better at arithmetic, and everybody knew mathematics was the most important subject taught at West Point.  So it was Butcher's name that Samuel L. Hays, the district's first-term Democratic congressman, sent to the secretary of war.  It was Hay's first appointment to the military academy, and he wanted it to be right.

Butcher left in late May and arrived at the steamboat landing on the Hudson River on June 3.  He was a young man of good character, well thought of and well connected in the district.  He had a quick mind, and he was ambitious.  It was believed he would do well at West Point.  

But the academy wasn't what Butcher thought it would be—not at all.  When he saw what awaited him on the plain above the landing, he paled.  When he learned of all of the duties, the discipline, the marching and studying he would have to do, he started back toward the landing.  He was soon gone, telling nobody he was leaving.

At home again and glad to be back, he stopped at Jackson's Mill on the West Fork River between Weston and Clarksburg, where Tom lived with his uncle Cummins, one of the district's numerous and prominent Jackson's.  Tom's father had died when he was only two years old, and he had come eventually under the care of this strapping, good-hearted uncle.  Butcher knew how badly Tom had wanted that appointment. He could have it now if he still wanted it, because Butcher could never consent to live that kind of life.

Jackson's blue-gray eyes must have glowed as Butcher explained what had happened.  Here was a second chance.  He might not be as good as Butcher at arithmetic, but the examination at the Bailey House hadn't tested for doggedness.   Nobody could outdo Tom Jackson for doggedness.  In Butcher's place he never would have left West Point voluntarily once he arrived, no matter how much it distressed him.  They would have had to throw him out.  That's the way he was.

Jackson was a constable in Lewis county, one of the youngest, at eighteen, in that part of the country.  But his prospects were not promising.  He was as ambitious as Butcher, perhaps more so.  He wanted to make something of himself in the world, and that required a better education than he had or was likely to get there in the mountains.  He didn't necessarily want to be a soldier.  Soldiers were as rare in those parts as educations.  Tom had perhaps never seen a soldier in his life.

But at the military academy educations were free, and the best you could get.  Nearly twenty years before, President Andrew Jackson had called West Point "the best school in the world."  The academy still set the standard among institutions of higher learning in the country for engineering and science.  West Point graduates were not only going on to become soldiers, but also engineers—among the finest in the world.  Its graduates were designing and building the nations's most dramatic new internal improvements—its major roads, dams, canals, harbors, and railroads.  An education like that was worth having, and now he might have it after all.

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