J.H. Beers & Co.

Commemorative biographical record of Dutchess County, New York online

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entire amount would be doubled by the addi-
tion of innumerable articles and series of papers
published in magazines and newspapers, and
never yet collected together; the author of
poetry and drama of an unusual excellence,
and an endless miscellany on almost every
conceivable subject, and who yet, in his own
peculiarly pre-eminent field as a military biog-
rapher, military historian and military critic,
has no peer in America."- Some indication
(though merely that) of his miscellaneous
authorship has been given in the preceding
pages. But his special place as a military
critic — and it is not an e.xaggeration to say
that he "has no peer in America" in this ca-
pacity — can be readily shown by the citation
of a few characterizations of him by persons
competent to pronounce judgment.

The late Lieut. (Brevet Capt.) Frederick
Whittaker, author of "Volunteer Cavalry,"
etc., after asserting that " until the close of
the [Civil] war" we Americans "had been ac-
customed to look to Europe, and especially to
France, for our military historians," adds,
emphatically: " But we are glad to say that
we have changed all that, and now possess in
America a military historian of the first rank."
It is, of course. General de Peyster whom he
thus eulogizes, and whom he describes as the
" author of the best military writing our coun-
try has yet produced." It was of de Peyster
also that Gen. Barnard, brother of the former
President of Columbia College, exclaimed:
" His judgment of military matters is almost
infallible ! " It was, again, de Peyster's ex-
haustive methods of research and indefatiga-
ble energy in collecting authorities to which
Gen. Adam Badeau bore witness when he
wrote to a friend: "He has accumulated a
wonderful amount of original matter, some of
which is absolutely invaluable, and I expect to
avail myself of it." It was de Peyster, like-
wise, of whom Gen. W. T. Sherman, in con-
junction with Maj.-Gen. H. W. Slocum, wrote:
" He is thoroughly conversant with all the
military operations of both armies during the
late war. He has written considerably on this
subject, and his writings have attracted much
attention." General de Peyster, also it was,
whom Brev. Brig. -Gen. William P. Wain-

•"Gen. J. Watts de Peyster, Author, Soldier, Historian, Military
Biographer and Critic." New York. 1894, p. .3.



Wright thus characterized: "His keen eye
for topography, his long and still unceasing
military education, his uncommon memory,
his powers of description, and his opportuni-
ties for using his abilities, constitute him the
only, as well as the first, military critic in
America." When Maj.-Gen. A. Pleasanton
penned the words: " His great acquaintance
with military matters, his long and faithful re-
search into the militarj- histories of modern
nations, his correct comprehension of our own
late war, and his intimacy w^th many of our
leading generals and statesmen during the
period of its continuance, with his tried and
devoted loyalty and patriotism," — it was of
General de Peyster of whom he wrote, while
Gen. Grant endorsed this characterization in
writing. Of de Peyster, also, Maj.-Gen. A. A.
Humphreys wrote:

Washington, May :^0, 18T2.

My Dear General: — 1 fully appreciatt; your labors,
which I am conscious have brought into clear relief what
was before obscure and ill-detined. Let me for a moment
suppose 1 am writing to a friend, not yourself, for you are
one of the few persons to whom one may write, as it were,
impersonally, and that implies a very high tribute to your
sense of the just.

Your industry in collecting facts upon any subject
you treat of, is literally untiring. In a long experience
among the working men of the country, 1 have rarely
found your equal, never, I think, your superior: and I
may pay the same tribute to your conscientious labor, in
the task of evolving the truth from the mass of matter
collected, much of it contradictory and apparently irrecon-
cilable with any known truths. Possessing a clear appre-
ciation of the great fundamental principles which should
govern military operations and battles, you are quick to
perceive adherence to, or departure from, them, and as
the extended study of the great military writers and his-
torians has imbued your mind with just military views,
so has it richly stored your memory with a redundant
supply of a[)t illustrative examples for every imiiortant
event or incident of our war.

To all these (jualiticatlons as a military critic, you
have addeii a ready, rapid, courageous pen, and a power
of application, that physical ailments, growing out of a
delicate jihysitpie. have not impaired, though they have
sorely tried jt * * * Sincerely Yours,
(Signed) A. A. Hu.mphreys.

To Maj.-Gen. J. Watts de Peyster.

Washington, Sunday, September 29, 1872.
My Dear General (oe Peyster);— I returned to
Washington, * * found a letter for me from Gen. Ba-
deau, * * intending to send you extracts from Ba-
deau's letter, in which he speaks so highly (and justly) of
your labors and pajiers. * * * He says, " you
have accumulated a wonderful amount of original matter,
some of which is absolutely invaluable, and I expect to
avail myself of it. etc., etc." You would not think I had
lost interest in the subject of your labors, had you heard
me talk to some Philadelphians about the pursuit of Lee.
I learnt only this summer of the effect of Stanton's tele-
gram on the (ith or 7th of April, giving the whole credit
of overtaking and attacking Lee, on the (>th of April, to
Sheridan. "There," they said in Philadelphia, (I am
told,) " the generals of the .Army of the Potomac are lag-
gards: it required Sheridan and Grant to overtake and
beat Lee." What an outrage on Wright and mvself that



COMMEMORATIVE BIOGRAPHICAL RECORD.



157



telegram was! We laggardsl The impression thus made
on the public in this movement of success, has never been
effaced; it remains to this day. To you, I am indebted,
my dear general, for the first presentation of the subject
to the public, that will tend to efface this impression.

Sincerely Yours,
(Signed) A. A. Hu.mphrevs,

Major-General U. S. V. ; Cbief of Staff. Army o£ tlie Potomac, lS(;:i-'4 ;
Brijj.-Gen.; Brev. Maj-Gen.; Chief of Engineers. U. S. A.

Still more significant was the testimony of
Sir Edward Cust, General, and author of the
nine volumes of "Annals of the Wars" and
six volumes of "Lives of the Warriors," in
dedicating his second series to Gen. de Pey-
ster, whom he only knew through the latter's
writings. From this dedication of twenty-eight
pages the following sentences have been extract-
ed: "I am desirous of marking my deep obliga-
tions to you by requesting permission to dedi-
cate my concluding volume to you and to your
military brethren. We appear to be men of
much the same mind, and of common sympa-
thies, desirous alike of employing our common
language for a common object — that of en-
lightening our comrades of a common profes-
sion with the necessity of applying the pre-
cepts of military history to the useful compre-
hension of their callirfg. Both of us agreeing
that the best instruction for all officers is to be
acquired from the deeds of the old masters in
the art of war ^ -^ -s^ The United States
were on the eve of a melancholy crisis of in-
ternational conflict, when you naturally wished
and you very reasonably desired to show, by
the introduction of a better system of war,
how to stay the waste of blood among your
countrymen in a strife which made every
brother on either side a soldier. ^ '^ ■^ I,
on the other hand, had fallen • upon the sere
and yellow leaf ' * *^ ^ and ^ ^ ^
had " * " as an old stager, become
disturbed by the intrusion of a new school
at our military colleges, pre-eminently among
the instructors of military history, who were
seeking to introduce a theory of war, against
which I sought to recommend a knowledge of
the past, or, as you put it, ' practical strat-
egy-' " ^ " I do not claim the merit
of originality. * ^ -f^ }^jy works were
written by me for the use of youths who
have already entered the service of arms, and
whose career has commenced, but whose pro-
fession has yet to be learned. * ^ ^ You
address the higher ranks of the army, and ap-
pear to seek to philosophize the art of war by
showing it to be capable, under its most scien-
tific phases, of being less lavish of human



blood. "^ " * To both our grievances the
remedy is the same — practical strategy. I
readily accept from you this expression. It
comprises all that be said or written upon
skill in war, and while I agree with you that
this is best evinced by sparing the lives of its
instruments as much as possible, I hold that
this is in fact the whole art of war."

Reference has already been made to a re-
mark of Gen. Adam Badeau, in a letter to a
friend, in view of the help he expected to
receive from Gen. de Peyster's resources in
connection with an important military work on
which he was engaged at the time. "He,"
(de Peyster), wrote Badeau, "has accumulated
a wonderful amount of original matter, some
of which is absolutely invaluable, and I e.xpect
to avail myself of it." Not a few have been
under the deepest obligation to Gen. de Peys-
ter in this way, although he has not always
received the credit which is, one would think,
the very least which a service of this character
deserves. The most astonishing case of this
kind is to be credited to the late Comte de
Paris, who, in spite of the greatest obligation
to General de Peyster, made not the slightest
acknowledgment in his work on our Civil War.
When the Count was preparing the volume of
his history, embracing the battle of Gettys-
burg, he enlisted the assistance of General de
Peyster, who himself, or through his friend,
Major-General A. A. Humphreys, U. S. A.,
must have furnished the Count information,
including statistics and opinions founded on
thorough examination, equivalent to hundreds
of pages of paper. The Count acknowledged
the correctness of his correspondents' judg-
ment, and his American editor or translator,
after applying to the General for the trans-
lation of a passage which no one else could
explain, wrote that he recognized the influence
of the General throughout the Gettysburg
pages.

Although the Count remained in the most
intimate correspondence with the General — a
correspondence which has been preserved —
writing continually from whatever spots the
General's letters reached him, even from the
Escurial in Spain, he did not acknowledge in
his introduction to the Gettysburg volume his
indebtedness to his American correspondent;
most likely because General de Peyster was
not a regular army officer; consequently, the
General refused to meet him when he came to
the United States, although he admitted to a



158



COMMEMORATIVE BIOGRAPHICAL RECORD



relative how much assistance the General had
afforded.

So astounding was the Comte's conduct in
this matter that mutual friends in America,
cognizant of all the facts, did not scruple to
express in writing their disapproval of what
he had done. Thus in a letter to General de
Peyster, dated at Philadelphia, June 29, 1893,
soon after the appearance of the Comte's
book, his American editor wrote: "In place
of writing letters he (Comte de Paris) had bet-
ter have done you justice. If ever I have a
chance I shall say so to him in pretty strong
language."

The same writer, in a letter to General de
Peyster dated at Philadelphia June 23, 1S83,
says:

It was the Comte's duty, after having used your
pamphlets and reviews to the extent that he did, and ax
n/iowii Iji/ till text, to have at least expressed his obhga-
tion. .And the biographical ])ortion appears in some cases
to be a reprint. That is rather strong, but I mean what
I write.

It may have been the unusual method of
appropriating General de Peyster's materials,
alluded to here, which made the Comte so
reluctant to give him credit, very prudently
deeming it unwise to advertise the source of
matter //nts laid hold of. The editor's sugges-
tion that the Comte should have "done justice"
in "place of writing letters," is in allusion to
the Comte's prolonged correspondence with de
Peyster. Indeed, the Comte seemed to over-
look the fact that in this correspondence he
had left behind him the most indubitable proofs
of the obligation which he was so loth to con-
fess. Such "royal" injustice is of curious in-
terest, and some passages from the Comte's
letters to General de Peyster will be given here.
Lest the charge of a deviation from exact lit-
eralness might be made, the precise phrase-
ology and spelling of the Comte will also be
preserved. His command of English was won-
derfully direct for a foreigner, but not abso-
lutely perfect. In a long letter to the General,
dated November 23, 1877, he wrote:

I must apologize for having been so long before re-
turning to you my best thanks for the rabiable informa-
tion concerning the battle of Gettysburg which you were
kind enough to furnish me with, both in your letter and in
the notes which you forwarded to me as a kind of appendix
to your paniplet on that battle. I was so busy upon all
these materials that I had no time to write. I have now
to acknowledge the receipt of your letters dated the 21st
of September, the (ith, loth and 22nd of October, and the
first of November. I really feel quite ashamed to have
left unanswered until now so many and such interesting
letters, but if I did not write to you 1 worked hard on these
letters as well as on the notes from your " Decisive Con-



flicts," which go as far as No. 68. I dare say I k note the
ir/(ole net Ijji heart. It is full of raried information of views
icliich throir a great and often a nete light upon the events
and of incidents irhirh the historian carefully picks up to
reliere the barrenness of his narratire. * * * Such are
the main points upon which I think it necessary to tell
you my opinion in answer to the remarks contained in
your letters. Whenerer I hare only to nay antin and fully
agree irith yo'i, I do not in.iist. I shnllarail myself of yovr
kind 2>ermis«iiin to put you frankly any ijuestion irhich my
future readings may suggest.

He writes to the same, under date Decem-
ber 1 8, 1877:

Receive my best thanks for your two letters of No-
vember 21st and December 1st, as well as for the notes
which you did send me under the same seal as a continu-
ation of those previiiusly received by me. * * * J
knew of the existence of the maps which you mention of
.■\dams county, Pa., and Frederick county, .Md., but 1
have not yet been able to get a copy of these through the
American agency of Stevens in London. Where could I
apply to get these?

On January 29, 1878, he writes again (in a
letter of very great length i:

I avail myself of the ojiportunity to acknowledge the
receipt of your letters of December 19th, 2»th, ;Wth and
of January 1st, as well as of Gen. Whipple's report with
your post.script. You seem to think that some of your let-
ters addressed to me last summer have been lost. It irould
be indeed rery unjortunate and f/iope it it not the case: but in
order to ascertain the fact, as 1 keep all those letters to-
gether, so as to he able to consult them as often as I icant,
as soon as I return home I shall send you a list of every
letter received from you last year. You may be assured
that J shall carefully ireight the information which you gave
me concerning the numbers engaged at Oettysburg. * * *
/ ijuite agree with yov and my excellent friend. Gen.
Ilinnjihreys, when you assert that the Army of the Poto-
mac did not number as many men on the field of battle as
would appear from the field returns |)repared some days
before. * * * )7(« see by the length of my answer how
fully I raluc your letters and my gratitude for the trouble
you take in giving me every iuformation within your reach.

On March 6, 1878, he wrote:

1 thank you very much for your letter of January 29ili
and February 16th, the last received yesterday, with the
photographs which you were kind enough to send me.
* * * I shall gratefully accept any papers concerning
reliable and unpublished information on the Civil war,
posterior to July 4, ISfUl What you tell rhe of Sickles'
coolness when wounded is very striking. * * * The
jilan and pamphlet on Gettysburg are also received.

Again (March 23, 1878):

I have to acknowledge the receipt of your letters
dated February 2:ird and March Island 4th, ((«(/ ^//



Online LibraryJ.H. Beers & CoCommemorative biographical record of Dutchess County, New York → online text (page 31 of 183)