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[image ALT: A photograph of an old man of distinguished appearance, sporting a rather splendid handlebar mustache and wearing an early‑19c suit. He is George Alford Cunningham, a West Point graduate whose career is detailed on this webpage.]

Colonel George Alford Cunningham

The preceding image, and the text that follows, are reproduced from (the report of the) Thirty-Sixth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 13th, 1905.

p51 George Alford Cunningham
No. 1784. Class of 1857.
Died, May 13, 1904, at Richmond, Va., aged 66.

Col. George Alford Cunningham, the second son of Joseph and Emily Alford Cunningham, was born near Columbus, Ga., July 9th, 1837, and spent the early years of his life on his father's plantation at Chunnynuggee, Ala. At the age twelve he was sent to school at Poughkeepsie, N. Y., from there to and from that time until his graduation from the Military Academy at West Point, was in the South only on occasional visits.

p52 He graduated from West Point in the Class of 1857, with distinctiona and was assigned to the First Cavalry; in 1858, he was appointed Second Lieutenant in the Second Cavalry. He served in the Utah Expedition and was in command of a Company at Camp Cooper, Texas, under Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Robert E. Lee, then Colonel in the United States Army, and afterwards Commander of the military forces of the Southern Confederacy.

He resigned from the United States Army, February 27th, 1861, and cast his fortunes with the Southern Confederacy, thus severing his boyhood ties, as a majority of his old friends remained in the Old Army. He went at once to Montgomery, Ala., and reported for duty in the Confederate service. He served at Fort Jackson, La., until September, 1861, when he was assigned to General John B. Floyd's Army in West Virginia, where he participated in the engagements at Carnifex Ferry, Cotton Hill and Laurel Creek. He was promoted for conspicuous service in battle to Captain, Major and Colonel of Artillery. In 1862, he was transferred to Kentucky as Major of Artillery. At Fort Donelson he rushed into the thickest part of the battle and received a serious wound. Upon his return to duty he was assigned as Commandant of Fort Caswell, N. C., and of the river defenses, with headquarters at Wilmington, N. C. He continued to hold that position until nearly the end of the War. He participated in a number of engagements connected with Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Foster's movement against Goldsboro, where he was again seriously wounded, and in the action following the evacuation of Wilmington — the Battle of Bentonville, N. C. He surrendered with General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Joseph E. Johnston's Army, in 1865.

Col. Cunningham was married in 1863, to Miss Emily Reed Branch, the fourth daughter of Thomas Branch, Esq., of Petersburg, Va., and had four children, Emily Annie, Branch, George A. Cunningham, Jr., and John Patterson, who died in infancy. His window and sons, Branch and George, survive him; his daughter, afterwards Mrs. Theodore B. Lyman, having died in 1894.

p53 After the war, Col. Cunningham engaged in business with his father and brother-in‑law, being a member of the widely known firm, Thomas Branch & Company, Bankers, of Richmond, Va., and resided in that city until 1886, where he was widely known and had many friends. The last named year he withdrew from the firm of Thomas Branch & Company and moved to Augusta, Ga., where he was, until 1900, President of the Augusta Brick Company.b Retiring from business he returned to Richmond, and resided in that city until his death.

Although of a modest and retiring disposition, Col. Cunningham was a brilliant and interesting conversationalist. By his many fine qualities of heart and mind he endeared himself to those who came most intimately in contact with him. It was certainly true in his case that "those who knew him best loved him best." While always a student and caring little for outdoor sports, he preserved to the last his military carriage and bearing, towering above his fellowmen, and his handsome appearance was commented on by all wherever he appeared.

Col. Cunningham's religious faith was clear and strong from the time of his youth. During the last ten years of his life, however, when he became a Roman Catholic, he turned his attention in the most decided manner toward things spiritual, and spent much of his time in prayer and meditation. His religious duties during this period furnished the chief comfort of his life, and he died in the hope of a glorious immortality.

His last illness came without premonition to himself or his family, and after lingering from December to May, in great suffering, with a soldier's fortitude, he died as he had lived — a Christian and a gentleman — on the morning of May 13th, 1904, at half past seven o'clock. His body was laid to rest in beautiful Hollywood, at Richmond. "There was, there is, no nobler, gentler, manlier man."

***


Thayer's Notes:

a Cadet Cunningham graduated 25th in his class of 38.

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b A curious, even somewhat striking omission, possibly: Col. Cunningham's entry in Cullum's Register has him serving in the Corean military in 1888‑1889.


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Page updated: 13 Nov 13