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 [decorative delimiter] Class of 1815

Vol. I
p133
131

(Born Va.)

James Monroe

(Ap'd Va.)

Born Sep. 10, 1799, Albemarle County, Va.

Military History. — Cadet of the Military Academy, Sep. 3, 1813, to Mar. 2, 1815, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to

Third Lieut., Corps of Artillery, Mar. 2, 1815.

Served: in the War with Algiers, 1815, and was wounded, June 17, 1815, while directing (as a subaltern of Bvt. Major S. B. Archer's company of the Corps of Artillery) a part of the quarter-deck guns of the U. S. Frigate Guerrière, in an Action with an Algerine frigate off Cape p134de Gata, Spain; as Battalion Adjutant of Artillery at New Orleans, Dec. 28, 1816, to Dec. 18, 1817; as Aide-de‑Camp to Bvt. Maj.‑General

(Second Lieut., Corps of Artillery, May 2, 1817)

Scott, Dec. 18, 1817, to Apr. 4, 1822; on Ordnance duty, Feb. 13, 1823,

(First Lieut., Corps of Artillery, Dec. 12, 1818)

(First Lieut., 4th Artillery,
in Re-organization of Army, June 1, 1821)

to May, 1826; in garrison at Ft. Monroe, Va. (Artillery School for Practice), 1827‑28, — and Ft. Columbus, N. Y., 1828‑30, 1830‑31; on Commissary

(Bvt. Captain, Dec. 31, 1828, For Faithful Service Ten Years in one Grade)

duty at New York, 1831‑32; and as Aide-de‑Camp to Bvt. Maj.‑General Scott, June 22 to July 13, 1832, on the "Black Hawk Expedition," but not at the seat of war.

Resigned, Sep. 30, 1832.

Civil History. — Asst. Alderman, 1832‑33, and Alderman of the city of New York, 1833‑35; and President of the Board of Aldermen, 1834. Aide-de‑Camp, with the rank of Colonel, to Governor Marcy, of the State of New York, June 27, 1836: declined. Member of the U. S. House of Representatives from New York city, 1839‑41; and of the Legislature of the State of New York, 1850 and 1852.

Died, Sep. 7, 1870, at Orange Mountain, N. J.: Aged 70.

Buried, Trinity Church Cemetery, Manhattan, New York, NY.

Biographical Sketch.

Colonel James Monroe, who was born Sep. 10, 1799, in Albemarle County, Virginia, died Sep. 7, 1870, at the residence, on Orange Mountain, N. J., of his only surviving child, Mrs. Douglas Robinson, having nearly completed seventy-one years of an eventful life. He was the nephew of President Monroe, who was a younger brother of his father, Andrew Monroe. They were descended from Captain Monroe, an officer in the army of Charles the First, who emigrated with the Cavaliers to Virginia in 1652.

Colonel Monroe, after receiving a good preliminary education, entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, N. Y., when scarce fourteen years old, and was graduated at that institution, Mar. 2, 1815. Upon his graduation he became Third Lieutenant in the Corps of Artillery; was promoted Second Lieutenant, May 2, 1817, and First Lieutenant, Dec. 31, 1818, retaining the same rank in the 4th Artillery in the re-organization of the Army, June 1, 1821; was brevetted a Captain, Dec. 31, 1828, "for faithful service ten years in one grade;" and resigned his commission in the Army, Sep. 30, 1832.

On the very day, March 2, 1815, of Colonel Monroe's graduation, our war with Great Britain having just terminated, Congress passed an act authorizing hostilities against Algiers, that piratical power having for some time before been engaged in depredations upon the little American commerce that remained in or near the Mediterranean.a

On May 20 a squadron, consisting of three frigates, one sloop-of‑war, and six brigs and schooners, sailed from New York for the Mediterranean, under Commodore Decatur's command, the Guerrière, 44, being his flagship. On board of this latter vessel was embarked Brevet Major S. B. Archer's company of U. S. Artillery, Lieutenant Monroe being one of its subaltern officers. On June 17, 1815, when off Cape de Gata, on the southern coast of Spain, Decatur's squadron fell in with and captured the Algerine frigate Mashouda, 46, after a short running fight, in which the Algerine admiral and nearly one hundred of his officers and men p135were killed and wounded, and four hundred and six made prisoners. In this spirited engagement Lieutenant Monroe directed a part of the quarter-deck guns of the Guerrière, and was wounded in the right hand while himself firing one of the pieces, which disabled several of his fingers for life. His physical bravery, here tested, was no less a marked characteristic of his after career than his ever conspicuous moral courage, first exhibited on this cruise. Having challenged a young naval officer, the meeting took place the next morning on the coast of Spain; but, instead of proceeding to blow out each other's brains, an apology was made to Monroe, who instantly, with that true chivalry of his nature, said to his antagonist that he had but anticipated his own intention in making the amende honorable. Quick to resent an affront, and ever ready to meet the responsibility of his own words and acts, this was the only occasion on which he appeared as a principal on the field, though, as second or friend, he settled no less than eighteen contemplated duels, some quite noted in our annals.

After his return to the United States, he served as Battalion Adjutant of Artillery at New Orleans, Dec. 28, 1816, to Dec. 18, 1817; as Aide-de‑Camp to Bvt. Maj.‑General Winfield Scott, Dec. 18, 1817, to April 4, 1822; on ordnance, garrison, and commissary duty at various posts for the next ten years; and again became Aide-de‑Camp to General Scott, June 22 to July 13, 1822, on the Black Hawk expedition, but did not reach the seat of war, he being taken sick at Chicago, where a large proportion of the troops were prostrated with Asiatic cholera.b

After leaving the Army, he entered political life at the solicitation of numerous friends who appreciated his clear intellect and high character. His first service was as Assistant Alderman in 1832‑33, and Alderman, in 1833‑35, of the Third Ward of New York city, being elected in 1834 to be President of the Board, when it was a distinction and proof of integrity to be in the City Council.c In 1836, William L. Marcy, then Governor of the State, tendered to him the position of his Aide-de‑Camp, with the rank of Colonel, but it was not accepted. From 1839 to 1841 he was an able and useful member of the U. S. House of Representatives, his colleagues from New York being such men as Ogden Hoffman, Moses H. Grinnell, and Edward Curtis. He was again elected to Congress, Nov. 3, 1846; but his election being contested by his opponent, David S. Jackson, the case was sent back, March 25, 1848, to the people, neither contestant being admitted. Colonel Monroe was re-nominated for the remainder of the term, but declined to run. Subsequently, in 1850 and 1852, he became a distinguished and leading member of the Legislature of New York, his adopted State. In 1852 he was a very active and influential partisan of General Scott, who was the Whig nominee for President of the United States. On this, as on all other occasions, he proved the sincere and ardent friend of his old chief, whom he had faithfully served during his military career, his devotion never ceasing during the declining years of that venerable hero and patriot.

His exemplary wife, to whom, as Miss Elizabeth Mary Douglas, he was married in 1821, having died in 1852, Colonel Monroe abandoned political life, and never after took an active part in city, state, or national affairs, except during part of the session of the Virginia Convention, which met Feb. 13, 1861, and after a fierce struggle of months, finally, April 17, 1861, resolved to throw off her allegiance to the United States. On this momentous occasion, Colonel Monroe, true to the memory of a great name so intimately connected with our existence as a nation, and to himself, educated under the flag of that nation, promptly proceeded to Richmond, where his bold heart and eloquent tongue, both in public and private, denounced the treasonable and suicidal act which was about to drench his beloved Virginia in blood. But though his native State took p136the fatal leap, he, during the long and desolating years of the terrible contest which ensued, never for a moment, in thought or deed, faltered in true loyalty to the Union. Though remaining in civil life, he never after ceased to feel a deep interest in all that affected the welfare of his country, and the progress of civil liberty throughout the world.

After losing his wife, much of his time was spent in the Union Club in New York, of which he was one of the earliest members. In the success of the club he took the deepest interest, and ever tried to maintain for it a high social position. It is unnecessary to say how universal was the attachment of all the members, who looked up to the Colonel as the father of the club. His presence ever shed a genial warmth amid the groups of fond friends which clustered around him to listen to his exhaustless store of anecdotes and incidents of the times in which he had lived. In his retentive memory were garnered many of the most precious scraps of the history of the events of our country and countrymen, particularly of the "Monroe family," General Scott, and, in fact, of all the public men — Webster, Clay, Calhoun, Marcy, Crittenden, Hoffman, etc. — with whom he had been intimate in and out of Congress. For hours he would dwell upon the services of his distinguished uncle, detailing the part taken by him in our Revolutionary struggle at White Plains, crossing the Delaware, storming the battery at Trenton, fighting at Brandywine by the side of Lafayette when wounded, as Aide-de‑Camp to Lord Stirling at the battles of Germantown and Monmouth, and his presence at Annapolis when Washington surrendered his commission as Commander-in‑Chief; of his services in the Virginia Legislature and Convention, and halls of Congress, with such men as Patrick Henry, George Mason, Madison, Pendleton, Marshall, Grayson, and others; of his enthusiastic reception as Minister to France, when publicly embraced by the President of the National Convention, the stars and stripes being intertwined with the tri-color of the new republic, and his later important agency in the acquisition of Louisiana; of his varied services as Governor of Virginia, Minister to England and Spain, and Secretary of State and temporarily of War during Madison's administration; and as President of the United States, making his northern tour with his Revolutionary blue coat, buff breeches, and cocked hat; or enthusiastically receiving, in 1824, Lafayette, who, from his youthful Revolutionary companion, had grown old with the cares of state and the sufferings of a dungeon, shared by his devoted wife, whose life, perhaps, had been rescued from the tigers of the Reign of Terror by the womanly courage of Mrs. Monroe while residing in Paris during her husband's embassy to France. With pride the Colonel would recount the memorable events of his uncle's administration; the admission into the Union of the States of Mississippi, Illinois, and Maine; the acquisition of Florida from Spain; the Missouri Compromise; the recognition of the independence of Mexico and the South American republics; the declaration of the "Monroe doctrine;" the judicious reorganization of the Army; the increase of the Navy; the strengthening of the national defenses; the protection of commerce; the aid to internal improvements; and the vigor and efficiency infused into every department of the public service.

It would require a volume to record Colonel Monroe's numerous anecdotes of General Scott and other distinguished soldiers and statesmen. Suffice it to say in this connection, it was due to Colonel Monroe's energy and devotion that the nation was saved from the disgrace of seeing the conqueror of Mexico superseded by the appointment of Thomas H. Benton as Lieutenant-General, and consequently to command the Army, then triumphantly marching to the Halls of the Montezumas.

Colonel Monroe, in general appearance and character, much resembled his distinguished namesake. Although not a man of brilliant endowments, p137he possessed a robust intellect, sharpened more by contact with men than the study of books; clear perception, which penetrated through the outer husk of pretension direct to the inner motives of action; a sagacious judgment, quickly discriminating between true and counterfeit character; and a tenacious memory that profited by everything coming within his keen observation. His manly courage, scrupulous integrity, and earnestness of purpose gave him great strength with his associates; while his genuine truthfulness, scorn of all hypocrisy, and sincere appreciation of real worth secured their universal confidence. He never became a petrified humanity wrapped in self, but was a living soul genially and lovingly in sympathy with his fellows. In the social circle, which was his favorite arena, his courteous manner, modest simplicity, sportive smile, and personal magnetism won all hearts. With his intimate friends he had no reserve, but would tell his stories with the mirthful humor of a boy. This sunshine of temperament, springing from warmth of feeling, never deserted him, even in his declining years or hours of pain. His pleasantry, however, which was the jubilee of a joyous heart, never wounded even the most sensitive by ridicule, satire, or a sneer. He never forgot a kindness or a friend; his benevolence and generosity were only surpassed by his chivalric honor and keen sense of justice; and it might be truly said of him, as was remarked by Jefferson of his uncle, that "if his soul was turned inside out, not a spot would be found upon it."

The writer knew him most intimately during his ebbing years, when life's last sands were low; but —

"Though old, he still retain'd

His manly sense and energy of mind:

Virtuous and wise he was, but not severe;

He still remembered that he once was young:

His easy presence check'd no decent joy.

Him even the dissolute admired; for he

A graceful looseness, when he pleased, put on,

And, laughing, could instruct."


Thayer's Notes:

a Arab piracy had been a problem for several centuries: the French finally put a stop to it by conquering Algeria in 1830. A good summary is given by the Encyclopedia Britannica article Barbary Pirates.

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b Details of the cholera epidemic that hit the troops in the Black Hawk War, doubling back on itself to hit them twice actually, can be read in "Rock Island and the Rock Island Arsenal", J. Ill. S. H. S. 33:324‑325.

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c Cullum's Register dates to 1891, when New York politics were as famous for corruption as Chicago's are today.


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