The Class of 1846

Those who graduated from the United States Military in 1846 would enjoy a certain measure of notoriety if only because of their connection with the likes of Thomas Jackson, George B. McClellan, and that penultimate symbol of heroic if useless sacrifice, George Edward Pickett. McClellan, who graduated second in the class, was twice commander of the Army of the Potomac. Jackson, the legendary Stonewall, remains one of the most recognizable, albeit somewhat controversial, commanders of the war that convulsed North America from 1861 to 1865. Pickett, who graduated last in the class, is indelibly imprinted on the American memory in consequence of the charge made by his division on July 3, 1863.

If Darius Nash Couch, Cadmus Marcellus Wilcox, and George Stoneman are not household names, the fact remains that no less than twenty of those who left the USMA in 1846 became generals in the armies of the United and Confederate States of America. Those men, and others of the Class of ’46, fought in Mexico, contested against the Indian tribes from Florida to Washington, and finally met one another in bloody confrontations. Time and again, the war became intensely personal, as when Truman Seymour and John Gray Foster met with their old friend David Jones to conclude the surrender of Ft. Sumter or George Henry Gordon sought to halt Jackson’s advance in the Shenandoah Valley.

A collective biography is an exceptionally difficult form. If Waugh chooses to focus on McClellan and Jackson, and concentrates on events after 1861, he does not neglect many of the lesser lights of the class; while the years between 1861 and 1865 are undeniably central to the nation’s history.