Border State Cadets at West Point

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Military Academies of the United States
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Henry du PontThe cadets that had the most difficult decisions to make were those who came from the Border States. Their states took a great deal of time to make up their minds on the question of secession.

One of the most well-known Border Staters was Henry du Pont of Delaware. Today, we might not think of Delaware as a Border State but in 1860 it was a slave state. The number of slaves in the state had been 8,887 in 1790 but by 1860 it had diminished to 1,798.

DuPont was a scion of the E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, a company founded by his grandfather, Eleuthère Irénée du Pont. Henry initially attended the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He then attended West Point and graduated first in his class in 1861.

Shortly before his graduation, du Pont received a letter from his uncle Samuel who was a naval officer. Cadets from the class of May 1861 had petitioned the government to allow them to graduate early. In the letter Samuel du Pont wrote: “…your country which has educated you is in danger…don’t let a du Pont be wanting in this hour of trial.”

He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant of Engineers upon his graduation on May 6, 1861. Soon after he was promoted to First Lieutenant in the 5th Regiment, U.S. Artillery on May 14, 1861. During the war he was an officer in the light artillery rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Henry du Pont was initially assigned to the defenses of Washington and New York Harbor. From July 6, 1861 to March 24, 1864, he served as regimental adjutant (administrative officer) until he was promoted to captain. He subsequently became chief of artillery in the Army of West Virginia. At the Battle of New Market du Pont successfully covered the retreat of the Union forces by skillful use of his artillery batteries.

Du Pont was part of General Philip Sheridan’s army in the Shenandoah Valley of northern Virginia. He received the Medal of Honor for his handling of a retreat at the Battle of Cedar Creek, allowing Sheridan to win a victory in the battle.

During the war, du Pont received two brevets (honorary promotions). The first was to the rank of major, dated September 19, 1864, for gallant service in the battles of Opequon and Fisher’s Hill. The second brevet was to the rank of lieutenant colonel, dated October 19, 1864, for distinguished service at the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia.

There were a number of Border State cadets who ultimately fought for the Confederacy. Charles Carroll Campbell of Missouri graduated with his class in May 1861, was commissioned  as a lieutenant of the First U.S. Cavalry but was dismissed on June 6, 1861 when he tendered his resignation.

He was second in command of the First Missouri Infantry at Shiloh. He later was in command of the Confederate arsenal at Atlanta and finally he was chief of ordnance on the staff of General Joseph Wheeler. In a turnabout Campbell served in the U. S. Corps of Engineers.

Olin E. Rice of Kentucky graduated with his class in May 1861, was commissioned  as a lieutenant of the Ninth U.S. Infantry but was dismissed on June 6, 1861 when he tendered his resignation. He was a captain of the First Missouri Infantry at Shiloh. He then served on the staff of General Simon Bolivar Buckner and was a colonel by the end of the war.

Mathias Winston Henry of Kentucky graduated with his class in May 1861, was commissioned  as a lieutenant of the Union’s Mounted Rifles but was resigned on August 19, 1861 and joined the Confederate Army. He became chief of artillery for Hood’s Division.

William Watkins Dunlap of Kentucky was dismissed from the Union Army when he refused to take the oath of allegiance. He eventually became a lieutenant colonel in the Confederate Army.

James Parker Porter of Kentucky was Custer’s roommate and contested the last in the class with him. He later became lieutenant colonel of the First Mississippi Artillery.

George Owen Watts of Kentucky graduated with his class in May 1861, was commissioned  as a lieutenant of the Union’s Mounted Rifles but was resigned on August 10, 1861 and joined the Confederate Army. As an engineer officer on the staff of General Simon Bolivar Buckner, he built the works at Fort Donelson, Fort Pillow and Nashville.

As you can see the vast majority of Border State cadets sided with the Confederacy.

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