Major General Alexander Macomb

(b. 1782 - d. 25 Jun 1841) Range 55 Site 147

General-in-Chief of the U.S. Army

 
National Intelligencer, Saturday, June 26, 1841
 
We regret to announce the death of General Alexander Macomb, the General-in-Chief of the United States Army which occurred at half past 2 o'clock yesterday. His funeral will take place on Monday next at 10 o'clock a.m.
 

The National Intelligencer, Monday, June 28, 1841
 
The Funeral of General Macomb
Which is to take place from his late residence today, at 10 o'clock, will be an interesting spectacle as well as an honorable tribute to the station, the services, and the personal character of the late Commander of the Army.

The Orders from the Departments, directing Funeral Honors to the deceased, will be found in our columns to-day.

The Company of U.S. Light Infantry on duty at Fort McHenry arrived here yesterday for the purpose of attending the Funeral.

It is probable, we understand, that a number of Volunteer Military Companies also will arrive in this city from Baltimore this morning for the same purpose.

Little did we expect, when we attended the Funeral of Gen. Harrison, on which occasion Gen. Macomb commanded the Military escort, that we should so soon have to follow the remains of the living General to the tomb.


The National Intelligencer, Monday, June 28, 1841
 
The Late Major General Macomb
We have a melancholy pleasure in transferring to our columns the following Biography of Major General Macomb, whose Funeral is this day to be solemnized, in whose death this city has to mourn the decease of a virtuous and beloved fellow-citizen, and in whom the Nation laments the loss of the distinguished and gallant Commander of its Military forces.

Major General Alexander Macomb was born at Detroit, April 3, 1782. The city of Detroit, at that time, was a garrison town, and among the first images that struck his eyes were those of the circumstances of war. These early impressions often fix the character of the man.

His father was a fur merchant, respectably descended and connected. He removed to the city of New York while Alexander was yet an infant. When he was eight years of age, he placed him at school at Newark, in New Jersey, under the charge of the Reverend Doctor Ogden, who was a man of mind, belonging to a family distinguished for talents.

In 1798, while Macomb was quite a youth, he was elected into a select company, which was called, "The New York Rangers." The name was taken from that Spartan band of rangers selected from the provincials who, from 1755 to 1763, were the elite of every British commander on Lake George and the borders of Canada. At the time he entered the corps of New York Rangers, Congress had passed a law receiving volunteers for the defense of the country, as invasion by a French army was soon expected. This patriotic band volunteered their services to Government, which were accepted, but he soon left this corps, and obtained a cornetcy at the close of the year 1798, and was commissioned in January 1799. General North, then adjutant general of the Northern army, soon saw the merits of the youthful soldier, and took him into his staff, as deputy adjutant general. Under such a master as the intelligent and accomplished North, Macomb made great progress in his profession, and in the affections of his brother officers of the army. The young officer that Hamilton noticed and North instructed, would not fail to be ambitious of distinction. He visited Montreal in order to observe the discipline and tactics of the veteran corps kept at that important military post, and did not neglect his opportunities.

The thick and dark cloud that hung over the country passed away-a great part of the troops were disbanded, and most of the officers and men returned to private life; a few only retained; among them was Macomb, who was commissioned as a second lieutenant of dragoons, and sent forthwith on the recruiting service, but it was not then necessary to push the business; and as he was stationed in Philadelphia, he had fine opportunities to associate with the best informed men of the city, and found easy access to the Franklin and other extensive libraries, of which advantages he did not fail to improve.

When his body of recruits was formed, he marched with it to the Western frontiers to join Gen. Wilkinson, an officer who had been left in service from the Revolutionary war. In the company of Wilkinson, and of Col. Williams, the engineer, he must have gathered a mass of materials for future use. With him he went into the Cherokee country to aid in making a treaty with that nation. He was on this mission nearly a year, and kept a journal of every thing he saw or heard. This was a good school for one whose duty it might hereafter be to fight these very aborigines, and, in fact, these lessons of the wilderness are not lost on any one of mind and observation. The corps to which he belonged was disbanded, and a corps of engineers formed; to this he was attached as first lieutenant. He was now sent to West Point, where he was, by the code there established, a pupil as well as an officer. Being examined and declared competent, he was appointed an adjutant of the corps at that post, and discharged his duty with so much spirit and intelligence, that when the first court martial, after his examination, was convened, he was appointed judge advocate. This court was ordered for the trial of a distinguished officer for disobeying an arbitrary order for cutting off the hair. Peter the Great could not carry such an order into execution, but our Republican country did; and the veteran Col. Butler was reprimanded for not throwing his white locks to the wind when ordered so to do by his superior. The talents and arguments exhibited by Macomb as judge advocate on this court martial, brought him into very great notice as a man of exalted intellect as well as a fine soldier. He was now called upon to compile a treatise upon martial law and the practice of courts martial, which, in a future day of leisure, he effected, and his book is now the standard work upon courts martial for the Army of the United States. In 1805 Macomb was promoted to the rank of captain in the corps of engineers, and sent to the seaboard to superintend the fortifications which had been ordered by an act of Congress. By this service he became known to the first men in the country, and his merits were duly appreciated from New Hampshire to the Floridas.

In 1808 he was promoted to the rank of major, and acted as superintendent of fortifications until just before the war, when he was advanced to a lieutenant colonelcy. He was again detailed to act as judge advocate on a court martial for the trial of Gen. Wilkinson, who had called the court on C.J. Butler. He added to his reputation in this case. Wilkinson was his friend, but Macomb discharged his duty with military exactness.

At the breaking out of the war of 1812, he left the seat of Government, where he had discharged an arduous duty, in assisting to give form and regularity to the army then just raised by order of Congress. All sorts of confusion had prevailed, from the want of a uniform system of military tactics; he was fortunate in his exertions. When there was honorable war, he could not be satisfied to remain, as it were, a cabinet officer, and wear a sword only to advise what should be done, which seemed to be the regulations of the Army in respect to engineers; he therefore solicited a command in the corps of artillery that was to be raised, and was gratified by a commission as colonel of the third regiment, dated July 6, 1812. The regiment was to consist of twenty companies of one hundred and eighteen each. It was, in fact, the command of a division, except in rank. His reputation assisted in raising this body of men, and in November of that year he marched to the frontier with his command. Macomb and his troops spent the winter at Sackett's Harbor. He contemplated an attack upon Kingston, but was defeated in his plan by the fears of some and the jealousies of others; but he soon distinguished himself at Niagara and Fort George: at the same time Commodore Chauncey was endeavoring to bring the enemy's fleet to battle on Lake Ontario. The next service performed by Col. Macomb was under Gen. Wilkinson, and if the campaign was not successful, Macomb was no chargeable with any portion of the failure.

In January, 1814, he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general; and was appointed to a command on the east side of Lake Champlain. Nothing of importance in the history of Gen. Macomb transpired, although he was constantly on the alert in the discharge of his duties, until the coronal of his fame was won at the defense of Plattsburgh. This defense our limits will not permit us to describe with any minutences, but suffice it to say, that, in the summer of 1814, Sir George Prevost, Governor General of the Canadas, had received a great augmentation of his regular forces, by detachments from the army which had fought in Spain and Portugal under the Duke of Wellington. These were among the best troops in the world, and he now determined to strike a blow upon our frontiers that should be decisive of the war, and bring our nation to terms at once. His fleet, on Lake Champlain, was considered superior to that of ours, and he was well informed that we had not there any army of consequence. Early in September he pushed on towards Plattsburgh, and met, for several days, with little opposition. His error was delay; but he wished to move safely, and saw nothing to prevent his progress. Previous to the 11th, there had been some smart skirmishing, in which the British found more courage and efficiency than they expected, from troops so hastily called out. Early on the 11th the British gave battle by land and water-fifteen hundred of the regular army, and uncertain bodies of militia, made up Macomb's army. The enemy was fourteen thousand strong. The battle was a decisive victory on the part of the American forces; Macdonough captured the British fleet, and Sir George returned to Canada the next night. The victory was as brilliant as unexpected. Honors were voted Macomb in every part of the country. New York and Vermont were foremost in their tributes of respect. The President promoted him to the rank of major general, dating his commission on the day of his victory. The event had a happy effect on the negotiations then going on at Ghent, and unquestionably paved the way for a treaty of peace.

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