Alexander S. Webb

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Alexander Stewart Webb
Alexander S. Webb.jpg
Born(1835-02-15)February 15, 1835
New York City
DiedFebruary 12, 1911(1911-02-12) (aged 75)
Riverdale, Bronx, New York
Place of burialWest Point National Cemetery
AllegianceUnited States United States of America
Union
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service1855–1870
RankUnion army maj gen rank insignia.jpg Brevet Major General
Commands heldPhiladelphia Philadelphia Brigade
Battles/wars

American Civil War

AwardsMedal of Honor
Other workPresident of City College of New York
 
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Alexander Stewart Webb
Alexander S. Webb.jpg
Born(1835-02-15)February 15, 1835
New York City
DiedFebruary 12, 1911(1911-02-12) (aged 75)
Riverdale, Bronx, New York
Place of burialWest Point National Cemetery
AllegianceUnited States United States of America
Union
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service1855–1870
RankUnion army maj gen rank insignia.jpg Brevet Major General
Commands heldPhiladelphia Philadelphia Brigade
Battles/wars

American Civil War

AwardsMedal of Honor
Other workPresident of City College of New York

Alexander Stewart Webb (February 15, 1835 – February 12, 1911) was a career United States Army officer and a Union general in the American Civil War who received the Medal of Honor for gallantry at the Battle of Gettysburg. After the war, he was president of the City College of New York for thirty-three years.

Early life[edit]

Alexander Webb was born in New York City to a prominent family with a strong military lineage. His father was the well-known newspaper owner and diplomat (minister to Brazil in 1861), James Watson Webb, a former regular army officer. His grandfather, Samuel Blatchley Webb, was wounded at the Battle of Bunker Hill and served on George Washington's staff during the American Revolutionary War.

Webb graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1855, ranking 13 out of 34. He was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the 4th U.S. Artillery and was sent to Florida to serve in the Seminole War. After serving his duty in Florida, he was given an appointment to serve as an instructor of mathematics at West Point.

Civil War[edit]

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Webb took part in the defense of Fort Pickens, Florida, was present at the First Battle of Bull Run, and was aide-de-camp to Brig. Gen. William F. Barry, the chief of artillery of the Army of the Potomac, from July 1861 to April 1862. During the Peninsula Campaign, he served as Gen. Barry's assistant inspector general and received recognition for his assembling an impregnable line of artillery defense during the Battle of Malvern Hill; Brig. Gen. Daniel Butterfield wrote that Webb saved the Union Army from destruction.[1]

During the Maryland Campaign and the Battle of Antietam, recently promoted to lieutenant colonel, he served as chief of staff in Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter's V Corps. After Antietam, he was ordered to Washington, D.C., where he served as Inspector of Artillery. In January 1863 he was again assigned to the V Corps, now commanded by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, and served again as chief of staff. During the Battle of Chancellorsville, Meade gave Webb temporary command of Brig. Gen. Erastus B. Tyler's brigade and thrust him into battle. He performed well and Meade in his report on the battle paid particular detail to Webb's "intelligence and zeal". On July 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Webb brigadier general, to rank from June 23, 1863.[2][3] Three days before the Battle of Gettysburg, Brig. Gen. John Gibbon arrested the Philadelphia Brigade's commander, Brig. Gen. Joshua T. Owen, and Webb was given command of the brigade (the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, II Corps). Initially, the brigade resented having the meticulously groomed and well-dressed Webb as their commanding officer, but he soon earned their respect through his attention to detail, his affability, and his discipline.

Gettysburg[edit]

Statue at Gettysburg by J. Massey Rhind

Webb's most memorable military service was at Gettysburg. His brigade was posted on Cemetery Ridge with the rest of the II Corps on the morning of July 2, 1863. The brigade repulsed the assault of Brig. Gen. Ambrose R. Wright's brigade of Georgians as it topped the ridge late in the afternoon, chasing the Confederates back as far as the Emmitsburg Road, where they captured about 300 men and reclaimed a Union battery. Soon after, Webb sent two regiments to assist in counterattacking the assault of Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early's division on Cemetery Hill.[4]

On July 3, Webb's brigade happened to be in the center of the Union line to defend against Pickett's Charge, in front of the famous "Copse of Trees." As the Confederates launched a massive artillery barrage to prepare for their infantry assault, Webb made himself conspicuous to his men, many of whom were unfamiliar with their new commander. He stood in front of the line and leaned on his sword, puffing leisurely on a cigar while cannonballs whistled by and shells exploded all around. Although his men shouted at him to take shelter, he refused and impressed many with his personal bravery. As Maj. Gen. George Pickett's Virginia division approached to within a few yards, two companies of Webb's 71st Pennsylvania fell back, and Webb feared the personal disgrace and the results of a breakthrough in his line. He shouted to his neighboring 72nd Pennsylvania to charge, but they refused to budge. He attempted to grab their regimental colors and go forward with them himself, but apparently the standard bearer did not recognize him, because he fought Webb for the colors before he went down, shot numerous times. Webb ultimately gave up on the 72nd and strode directly in front of the chaos as Brig. Gen. Lewis Armistead's Confederate brigade breached the low stone wall, over to his 69th Pennsylvania regiment. Webb was wounded in his thigh and groin by a bullet, but kept going. With the help of two of Col. Norman J. Hall's New York regiments, and Brig. Gen. William Harrow's men, who ran over in a mass to get in their shots, Webb and his men brought the Confederate assault to a standstill, inflicting heavy casualties.[4]

Webb received the Medal of Honor on September 28, 1891, for "distinguished personal gallantry in leading his men forward at a critical period in the contest" at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. President Lincoln nominated Webb for appointment to the brevet grade of major general of volunteers for his service at Gettysburg, to rank from August 1, 1864, and the U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment on February 14, 1865.[5]

Later in the war[edit]

After Gettysburg, Webb received command of the division six weeks later and led it through the fall campaigns. His division played a prominent role in the Battle of Bristoe Station. When Gibbon returned to command in the spring of 1864, Webb went back to brigade command for the Overland Campaign. At the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, in May, he was hit by a bullet that passed through the corner of his right eye and came out his ear, but did not impair his mental abilities. The wound resulted in a false report that he had been killed and his death was reported in the New York Times on May 9.[6]

He returned to the army on January 11, 1865 and was chief of staff of the Army of the Potomac from that date until June 28, 1865.[7] Webb was the assistant inspector general of the Military Division of the Atlantic between July 1, 1865 and February 21, 1866.[7] Webb was mustered out of the volunteer force on January 15, 1866.[7]

On April 10, 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominated Webb for appointment to the brevet grade of brigadier general, USA (regular army), to rank from March 13, 1865, and the U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment on May 4, 1866.[8] On December 11, 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominated Webb for appointment to the brevet grade of major general, USA (regular army), to rank from on March 13, 1865, and the U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment February 23, 1867, recalled the confirmation on February 25, 1867, and reconfirmed it on March 2, 1867.[9]

Postbellum life[edit]

Statue of Alexander S. Webb at City College of New York campus in Harlem, New York City

General Webb stayed with the Army until 1870, assigned as a lieutenant colonel to the 44th U.S. Infantry Regiment, July 28, 1866, and the 5th U.S. Infantry Regiment, March 15, 1869.[7] He became unassigned, March 24, 1869.[7] During his final year, he served again as an instructor at West Point. He was discharged on December 5, 1870 with the final permanent rank of lieutenant colonel.[7]

From 1869 to 1902, General Webb served as the second president of the City College of New York, succeeding Horace Webster, another West Point graduate.[10] The College's curriculum under Webster and Webb combined classical training in Latin and Greek with more practical subjects like chemistry, physics, and engineering.

General Webb was a companion of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States and a founder and first Commander General of the Military Order of Foreign Wars. He was also an honorary member of the New York Society of the Cincinnati.

Legacy[edit]

Webb was an articulate and graphic author who wrote extensively about the Civil War, including his book published in 1881, The Peninsula: McClellan's Campaign of 1862. A full-length bronze statue of him stands at Gettysburg Battlefield, overlooking the approach of Pickett's Charge. A full-length statue of General Webb, in full military uniform, also stands in his honor on the campus of the City College of New York.[11]

Col. Charles S. Wainwright, chief of artillery of the I Corps, a friend and social peer of Webb in New York City, wrote that he was one of the "most conscientious, hard working and fearless young officers that we have." Meade's aide Theodore Lyman considered him "jolly and pleasant," although he was put off by Webb's "way of suddenly laughing in a convulsive manner, by drawing in his breath, instead of letting it out—the way which goes to my bones." But Lyman regarded Webb as a "thorough soldier, wide-awake, quick, and attentive to detail," despite this annoying quirk.

Webb died in Riverdale, New York. He is buried in West Point National Cemetery. A statue of Gen Webb was dedicated in the Gettysburg National Military Park in 1915.[12]

Civil War Historian, Brian Pohanka had brief and uncredited appearance as Webb in the 1993 film of the Gettysburg battle.[13]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Sword, p. 2081.
  2. ^ Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher. Civil War High Commands. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3. p. 730
  3. ^ President Lincoln nominated Webb for appointment to the grade of brigadier general on December 31, 1863, and the U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment on August 1, 1864. Eicher, 2001, p. 730
  4. ^ a b Tagg, pp. 50-51.
  5. ^ Eicher, 2001, p. 715
  6. ^ New York Times. May 9, 1864.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Eicher 2001, p. 558
  8. ^ Eicher, 2001, p. 738
  9. ^ Eicher, 2001, p. 709
  10. ^ "Gen. Alexander S. Webb". New York Times. October 16, 1898. Retrieved December 21, 2010. 
  11. ^ The statue is on the east side of Convent Avenue near both Shepherd Hall and the Administration Building.
  12. ^ New York Times, October 13, 1915, p. 7.
  13. ^ "IMDB". Retrieved 01/02/2012. 

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

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Academic offices
Preceded by
Horace Webster
President of City College of New York
1869 – 1902
Succeeded by
John Huston Finley