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The following text is reproduced from (the report of the) Eleventh Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 17, 1880.

p73 Charles S. Merchant
No. 92. Class of 1814.
Died, December 6th, 1879, at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, aged 84.

Brevet Brigadier General Charles Spencer Merchant, the senior officer of the Army in date of original commission, the oldest graduate of the United States Military Academy, and the President of our Association of Graduates, died December 6th, 1879, at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He was born February 22d, 1795, at Albany, New York. His mother was Elizabeth Spencer, of distinguished New England descent; and his father was George Merchant, a graduate of Princeton, an eminent classical teacher, a Paymaster, United States Army in the war of 1812‑15 against Great Britain, and subsequently Mayor of Albany and Treasurer of the State of New York.

Young Merchant had a good rudimentary English and Latin education; entered in 1811, upon the study of Medicine, under Dr. Townsend, a celebrated physician of Albany, New York; and Sept. 7th, 1812, was appointed a Cadet through the influence of Colonel Alexander Macomb (subsequently General-in‑Chief of the United States Army), and Judge Ambrose Spencer, of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, who was a family connexion. At this time the Military Academy, through the neglect and hostility of the Secretary of War, had only a nominal existence. Fortunately for the Institution and the country, Dr. Eustis ceased to be at the head of the War Department shortly after.

Merchant reported for duty, September 30, 1812, at West Point, to Capt. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Alden Partridgeº, the only officer present. The Acting Superintendent and the newly arrived "plebe," then constituted the whole of the magnificent Military Academy, which, under the existing law of April 29, 1812, was to consist of two hundred and sixty Cadets, one Professor of Engineering, one of Philosophy and one of Mathematics (each with an Assistant Professor), one Teacher of French and another of Drawing. With such an ample Academic Staff on paper, and with one Cadet in actual possession, we cannot wonder that "Old Pewter," as Capt. Partridge was familiarly called, should have admitted Merchant as a full fledged Cadet, to constitute the fourth, third, second and first classes, without any examination into his physical and mental qualifications, or p74his capacity, as required by law, to be at once "trained and taught all the duties of a private, non‑commissioned officer, and officer, and encamped at least three months of each year."

By December 15th, 1812, while the Acting Superintendent, who was an admirable drill-master, was putting Merchant through his facings, and teaching him the "goose step," five other Cadets (Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.George W. Gardiner, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Nathaniel G. Dana, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.John Munroe, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.John S. Allansonº and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Isaac A. Adams), dropped in at West Point to form the "School of the Company." By this time the Hudson Highlands were covered with snow and the winter vacation began, for in those days, the winters were considered too severe for the germination of mathematical ideas in youthful brains; hence the six ardent aspirants for military glory were furloughed till April 15th, 1813, when the Military Academy resumed its existence under the more favorable auspices of a new Secretary of War, the veteran General Armstrong.

Merchant being considered proficient in the manual of arms and company drill, and a master of the elements of Algebra and Geometry, was by Partridge and his Academic Staff, graduated March 11th, 1814, and at once was promoted in the Army to be a Third Lieutenant in the First Artillery, and passed through every regimental grade.

Till the war, then existing against Great Britain, was terminated, Merchant performed only garrison and recruiting service. Hostilities had ceased in 1815, yet it was not till 1818, that the provisions of the Treaty of Ghent were fully executed. In the latter year Lieut. Merchant, with thirty soldiers from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, proceeded to Eastport, Maine, as an escort to Gen. Miller, who there relieved the British garrison of Fort Sullivan, Merchant being left in command of the transferred Post. For many years subsequently he continued in the performance of the routine duties of an artillery officer, varied by occasional short tours of more stirring service, as at Fort Moultrie, when South Carolina threatened nullification; in charge of the Clothing Depot at Black Creek, in the early part of the Florida War; in occupation of northern frontier posts during the Canada border disturbances of 1838‑41; and in command of Fort Brown, on the Rio Grande, pending our last campaign in Mexico.

Six years after this last Mexican campaign, the Third Artillery, to which Major Merchant belonged, was ordered to take post on the Pacific coast. Accordingly, Col. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.William Gates, with his command, embarked December 20, 1853, on board the San Francisco for California, p75via Cape Horn. Though the steamer was new, her trial trips had not proved entirely satisfactory; some of her machinery was experimental; she was overloaded with coal munitions of war, provisions and baggage; and in nautical phrase, was "too deep" and not thoroughly seaworthy. Notwithstanding, her master, Capt. Watkins, left Sandy Hook with his precious freight of over seven hundred souls, on the morning of the 21st, which soon proved to be an "unlucky Friday," for a gale sprung up in the afternoon, which, increasing in force, carried away sails and caused frequent breaching‑to of the ship. On Sunday morning, when off Cape Hatteras, she was struck by a heavy gale, rendered nearly unmanageable, and drifted northerly before the storm. About midnight the engine stopped working, leaving the vessel at the mercy of the waves. Major Merchant, disturbed by the heavy laboring of the ship, awoke his family, and all descended to the lower cabin, already crowded with passengers, soldiers, and disorderly servants suffering with cholera or overcome by debauchery.

The storm increasing through the night, it was found the ship could not long hold together, for, rolling in the trough of the sea, every wave struck tremendous blows under the guards, tearing up the planking fore and aft. All hands were employed in clearing decks and lightening the leaking ship. The water gained upon the pumps, and the soldiers had to be organized into bailing gangs. At 8 A.M., of the 24th, the San Francisco was struck amidships by a tremendous sea, carrying away the entire main saloon, stripping the starboard paddle‑box, demolishing both smoke-stacks, staving through the quarter-deck, and washing overboard Col. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Washington, Major Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Taylor and wife, Captain Field, Lieut. Smith, several male and female passengers, and about 180 soldiers. This huge roller, on striking the ship, filled the lower cabin with three feet of water, while all were engaged in prayer to God for their preservation. The horrors of the scene can hardly be described. Families, from the gray-haired veteran to the infant child, clinging together in dread despair, fled for safety to the upper-deck; some, believing the vessel to be sinking, leaped in desperation overboard; the survivors, at every lurch of the ship, encountered the dashing spray; delicate women and children, half-clad, were exposed to the chill tempest piercing to the very heart; and all around, among the foaming billows, were strong men in their agony struggling for existence, the next moment by the succeeding wave to be hurled into eternity.

p76 "Then rose from sea to sky the wild farewell,

Then shrieked the timid, and stood still the brave;

Then some leap'd overboard with fearful yell,

As eager to anticipate their grave:

And the sea yawn'd around her like a hell."

The writer of this sketch can feelingly appreciate this moment of overwhelming agony and unutterable despair; for, in 1846, under urgent orders to procure the engineer equipage for the siege of Vera Cruz and for Gen. Scott's invasion of Mexico, he himself had embarked in a tempestuous winter's night, on board the steamer Atlantic, which, disabled by the terrific gale, lay drifting the sport of the wild waves' play, for thirty-four hours, till dashed to pieces against the rocky shore of Fisher's Island, where he, almost as by a miracle, escaped from the steamer's sea‑side, continuously washed by the death-sweep of the storm. The roar of the tempest, the crashing of timbers, the booming of billows, the shrieks of suffering, and the tolling of the bell of the vessel "rocked in the cradle of the rude imperious surge," again rings a death knell in his ears, and revives the memory of a most fearful tragedy!

On the evening of that calamitous Christmas Eve, Lieut. Murray of the Navy, who was the support and life of the despairing, descried a sail in sight — the brig Napoleon — but the gale soon swept her away. Another sail, the Maria Freeman, appeared, but she soon vanished. For three weary days and nights on that coffin of the deep, were they the sport of accumulating horrors, powerless to move by steam or sail, exposed to mid‑winter blasts from a snow-clad coast, famished in body and agonized in heart, dreading new dangers, anticipating certain death, and their only hope in God, who stilleth the storm. But, even in that trying crisis, there was a silver-lining to the portentous cloud; lovely women wasº there, active in the sweet ministrations of tenderness and self-denial; brave young officers, as if leading a forlorn-hope, unceasingly battled against the destroying elements; and the common soldier, worthy of his profession, heroically strove to shelter and to save.

At last, on the 28th, another sail was sighted, and joy lit up every eye. It proved to be the brig "Kilby," forty-eight days out from New Orleans, bound for Boston, much damaged by the storm, short of provisions, and with only one cask of water. Nevertheless, her noble captain, forgetful of his own disasters, thought only of those in greater peril. On the next day, the weather having moderated, she made fast a hawser from the steamer and proceeded to remove, with her only boat saved from the storm, the passengers of the San Francisco. The women p77and children were first cared for, were let down from the stern of the steamer by ropes around their waists and under their arms, into the frail, leaky craft, and by it transferred, under the skillful guidance of Lieut. Murray, to the Kilby, the daughters of Major Merchant bailing the boat throughout the perilous transit. Again the gallant Murray returned to the steamer, but after another trip the little life-saver went to pieces. Before night, about one hundred, including officers, passengers and soldiers, were got on board the brig, which at 10 P.M., was obliged to cut the hawser, the weather becoming squally and the sea rising. At dawn the next morning, after hours of vain search, no steamer was to be found, therefore, the Kilby, believing the San Francisco had foundered in the night, directed her course towards New York, where she safely arrived, though the privations and sufferings of the passengers were terrible, everything including matrasses being wet, nothing but the thin clothing, in which they escaped, to shield them from the January blasts, and only a gill of water to moisten, per day, their coarse and stinted rations.

The separation of the Kilby from the steamer proved a blessing in disguise, for the remaining passengers were rescued by larger and better vessels — the Three Bells and the Antartic.º The noble young officers of artillery, who had displayed such defiance of danger in every peril, were the last of the regiment to leave the sinking steamer, in which went down all the baggage, clothing and money. Of those who embarked on that hapless steamer, only about one‑half returned alive.

"Safe on shore, with joy to tell

What cruel dangers them at sea befell."

In his disabled condition consequent upon falling through a hatchway of the San Francisco, Major Merchant awaited orders till June 10th, 1857, when he was promoted to be Lieutenant-Colonel of the Third Artillery, which he rejoined in California, remaining there till 1861.

Soon after the outbreak of the Rebellion, he was promoted, August 27th, 1861, to be the Colonel of the Fourth Artillery. Being now sixty‑six years old, and too advanced in years to take the field, he was placed on the border line of hostilities, in command of Fort Washington, an important post on the Potomac nearly opposite to Mount Vernon, where he remained till retired from active service, August 1st, 1863. Then he was transferred to Bedloe's Island, New York Harbor, which he commanded until October 1st, 1866, when he was placed on Court-p78Martial duty, from which he was relieved in 1869, under the law forbidding the employment of retired officers on any military duty.

Merchant spent the remainder of his days in the quiet of his family, first at Astoria, New York, and then at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he died, December 6th, 1879, at the advanced age of eighty-four of which two‑thirds of a century were passed in the military service of his country.

Few graduates had lived through a more prominent period of history. Merchant was born while Washington was yet President of the United States, and probably he saw all of his successors. In his day the Nation had expanded from fifteen to thirty-eight States, extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Its population had grown from less than four to over forty millions; the steamer and locomotive born after him, before his death, traversed every region of the land; science and the arts had wrought the most prodigious miracles; and the progress of our people seemed illimitable, though the wars with savage or civilized foes had raged almost continuously within our borders. In Europe, too, the most wonderful events had transpired during Merchant's life. He was born a quarter of a century before George III died, lived during England's palmiest period, and survived till Victoria had been over two score years on the throne. His long life embraced the epoch of Napoleon's meteor career from the day of the Sections in Paris, till his death at St. Helena; the restoration of the Bourbons; the reign of the House of Orleans; the Second Empire; and the firm establishment of the French Republic. Merchant's boyhood had witnessed Prussia prostrate before the conqueror of Continental Europe; and in his old age he had seen this same little kingdom, grown to a mighty military empire, annihilate the Third Napoleon at Sedan. And in other countries, of both hemispheres, the old veteran in his eighty-four years, had beheld the march of history advancing with more giant strides than ever before made in the tide of time.

Gen. Merchant possessed in a marked degree, those gentle, kind and sympathetic qualities which endear man to his fellows; he was modest, reserved, and unselfish; shunned notoriety, and scorned all untruth and charlatanism; was simple in his tastes, temperate in his habits, frugal of means, but generous in hospitality; was truly tender, affectionate and loyal to his family, every member of which ardently returned his devotion; was staunch and sincere in all his friendships, and never treasured malice, even against an enemy; though not a professor of religion, he p79had that catholic charity which covereth multitudes of sins; was conscientious, methodical and prompt in the performance of his official duties; was proud of his profession, and tenacious of his rights and reputation as a soldier; was deferential to his military superiors, affable to his equals, and just to inferiors; and to every condition of men was courteous, and, even to the humblest, considerate in all things. Though Merchant was not a person of shining mark in the fields of literature or war, he was an honest man, "the noblest work of God."

"Heroic virtues did his actions guide;

And he the substance, not th' appearance, chose."

(Brevet Major-General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.George W. Cullum.)


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