Cover image for The Class of 1861 : Custer, Ames, and their classmates after West Point
The Class of 1861 : Custer, Ames, and their classmates after West Point
Kirshner, Ralph, 1946-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Carbondale : Southern Illinois University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xix, 224 pages, 24 unnumbered pages of plates : portraits ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1440 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
U410 .N1 1861 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



George Armstrong Custer wrote about his friend Pierce Manning Butler Young, who left West Point to become a Confederate general: "I remember a conversation held at the table at which I sat during the winter of '60 '61. I was seated next to Cadet P. M. B. Young, a gallant young fellow, a classmate of mine, then and since the war an intimate and valued friend a major-general in the Confederate forces during the war and a member of Congress from his native State Georgia] at a later date. The approaching war was as usual the subject of conversation in which all participated, and in the freest and most friendly manner. . . . Finally, in a half jocular, half earnest manner, Young turned to me and delivered himself as follows: 'Custer, my boy, we're going to have war. It's no use talking: I see it coming. All the Crittenden compromises that can be patched up won't avert it. Now let me prophesy what will happen to you and me. You will go home, and your abolition Governor will probably make you colonel of a cavalry regiment. I will go down to Georgia, and ask Governor Brown to give me a cavalry regiment. And who knows but we may move against each other during the war. . . .' Lightly as we both regarded this boyish prediction, it was destined to be fulfilled in a remarkable degree."

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 book features eighty-three photographs of all but one of the graduates and some of the nongraduates. Kirshner includes an appendix entitled "Roll Call," which discusses their contributions and lists them according to rank in the class.

George A. Plimpton provides a foreword about his great-grandfather, Adelbert Ames-Reconstruction governor of Mississippi and the last surviving Civil War general-and President Kennedy."

Author Notes

Ralph Kirshner, a contributor to the Dictionary of American Biography and the American National Biography, has worked as a librarian in Maine, New York, and Wyoming and currently lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Table of Contents

Forewordp. xi
Prefacep. xv
Acknowledgmentsp. xvii
Part 1 War Yearsp. 1
2 Flames of Rebellionp. 13
3 Courage and Ambitionp. 25
4 The Vicksburg Campaignp. 37
5 Gettysburgp. 47
6 The Boy Generalsp. 59
7 Custer, Rosser, and Du Pontp. 66
8 Ending the Warp. 87
Part 2 Postwar Livesp. 95
9 Adelbert Ames: Reconstruction Governorp. 97
10 George Armstrong Custer: Little Bighornp. 111
11 Thomas Lafayette Rosser: Custer's Rebel Friendp. 120
12 John Whitney Barlow: Explorer of Yellowst1p. 124
13 Henry Algernon Du Pont: Businessman, Senator, Authorp. 127
14 Judson Kilpatrick: Playwright and Diplomatp. 130
15 Orville E. Babcock: The Rise and Fall of Grant's Secretaryp. 132
16 Pierce M. B. Young: Confederate General and U.S. Diplomatp. 136
17 John J. Garnett: Sketches of Grant and Leep. 138
18 Peter C. Hains: Bull Run to World War Ip. 141
19 Emory Upton: The Class Genius""p. 144
Appendix A Roll Callp. 153
Appendix B Associations and Museums Honoring Members of the Class of 1861 and Their Familiesp. 173
Notesp. 175
Bibliographyp. 205
Indexp. 217