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Bill Thayer

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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.

 p18  Richard Cuyler Churchill
No. 2127. Class of 1866.
Died June 24th, 1879,
at "Wodelesse," near Sing Sing, N. Y., aged 34.

The only son of Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.William Hunter Churchill, Third Artillery, (who lost his life during the war with Mexico), the grandson of Inspector-General Sylvester Churchill, U. S. Army, and of R. Randolph Cuyler, of Georgia, for whom he was named, the subject of our sketch came among us in June, 1862, at once the prominent soldier of the class. Even as 4th‑classmen, we had picked him out as our future adjutant. Tall, straight as a lance, exquisitely moulded in form and feature, with the face of an Apollo, the limbs of an Antinous, there was not in his day at the academy a man to rival him in manly beauty. He was at once our model and our pride.

Cadet days during the great war were not what they are now. Hearts were heavy; the black drapery of mourning was on nearly every arm; our one excitement was the throb of news from the front, but with First Class camp and the summer of '65 came victory and peace, and once more the Academy was thronged with visitors, and the corps rallied to their entertainment. Then and ever afterwards Churchill was our leader. An exquisite dancer, a very knight in bearing and winning  p19 courtesy, even those who envied his superiority were the first to urge upon him every prominence that classmates could offer.

Graduating highest in the Artillery arm, Churchill was commissioned in the 4th Regiment, and before the graduating leave was over had received his promotion to a first-lieutenancy. Serving awhile as instructor of the foot battery at West Point during the summer encampment, he was married in November, the consummation of an engagement that had covered his entire cadet life; and here, as in everything else, fortune had reserved for him her choicest gifts.

Joining his regiment in December, and serving uneventfully at Forts Whipple and Delaware until the summer of 1869, Churchill was then ordered to the Military Academy in the Department of Drawing, a duty for which he was thoroughly qualified. Here, in the society of his devoted wife, and with his children growing in sturdy health and grace around him, with congenial associates and occupation, he was supremely happy. As in cadet days, he was the one indispensable feature of every entertainment, and never more thoroughly in his element than when lavishing the hospitalities of his cheery fireside upon the friends incessantly gathered there.

Two bright years rolled by. The summer of '71 arrived, and with it an order relieving the Adjutant of the Military Academy from duties long and faithfully performed, and announcing to the army the appointment of Lieut. R. C. Churchill, 4th Artillery, as his successor.

Utterly unsolicited, utterly unexpected, it was yet the one thing he wished for, and, at the time, the very step his ambition demanded. He set speedily to work to prepare himself for the new and important duties, and was hard at it, heart and soul, when, without other explanation than that "it was a mistake," his appointment as Adjutant was revoked.

Keenly sensitive to what he deemed a slight, he sought in vain a solution of the mystery; but could only gather that some strong and secret adverse influences had been exercised, and, in deep disappointment, and smarting under a sense of double injustice, Churchill tendered his resignation, obtained leave of absence until the date of its acceptance (Sept. 1st, 1872), and tore himself from the profession to which he was fondly attached.

As a means of livelihood, Churchill was totally independent of the service, but his love for West Point was too strong to admit of utter  p20 separation. Renting the old Cozzens homestead, he devoted himself to the education of his children and the study of his art. In furtherance of his fondness for painting, he also took, and for several years retained, a studio in New York City, but his home was always about the Point, and hardly a day passed that did not see him there.

In 1876, however, the cares of a beautiful estate that had become theirs by inheritance, induced him to drop all other occupations and to establish his family in what was now their own "Wodelesse," near Sing Sing, on the Hudson. An occasional run to the South in the winter, and two brief trips to Europe, were the only absences he allowed himself. Five years ago, slight symptoms of a malady were noted, but they were of so flitting a nature, as to cause no apprehension. Last spring he nursed his little ones through a siege of scarlet fever, and was to all appearances in the bloom and vigor of health, when in June the fatal seizure came. Unsuspected till then, "Bright's disease" had made its insidious inroad upon his frame, and in one brief week of illness bore him away.

On the afternoon of June 23d, the physicians thought him in no danger. At midnight all hope was gone, and with the coming of the new day all that was left of a magnificent manhood, lay cold and breathless in the arms of his sore-stricken wife and little ones.

He had no fear of death, no shrinking when the summons came. His mind was unclouded, his brain still vigorous, when the Conqueror faced him. "It is hard to die young," was the only complaint he uttered; but then, as the end drew near and delirium set in, the strong love of the profession he had abandoned, shone forth in every word. Calling for his old comrades by name, straightening up in bed, his voice, firm and powerful, rang out in the familiar words of command. He never knew but that he died on dress parade.

By birth, by lineage, by education a gentleman and soldier, by nature honorable, in character firm and self-sustained, he sought few intimacies, but kept the friends he chose. Utterly devoted and indulgent as husband and father, a home is desolated in his loss. And we of '66? What can we say? With every year have we been called upon to mourn some stalwart form that stood though those four years shoulder to shoulder with us in the solid ranks of the battalion. The shafts of death that fall so thick among us claim no undistinguished name. Brilliancy and scholar­ship we lost in Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Weeden and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Woodruff; manly vigor and  p21 strength are shrouded with Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Swift and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Cranston; manly grace and beauty went down with Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Dixon, Worden​a and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Tracy Lee; but all these attributes were graved when Churchill fell.

"The courtier's, scholar's soldier's eye, tongue, sword,

Th' expectancy and rose of the fair state,

The glass of fashion and the mould of form,

Th' observed of all observers — quite, quite, down."

(Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Charles King, U. S. Army.)

Thayer's Note:

a John Lorimer Worden, Jr. — his full name from List of Cadets Admitted into the United States Military Academy (1902) — did not graduate: he left the Academy in 1864, fought in the War between the States with the 13th New York Heavy Artillery Regiment, ending the war as Captain in the Volunteers; and died a First Lieutenant in the Regular Army at Sacketts Harbor in 1873. His father was the commander of the U. S. S. Monitor in its battle with the Merrimac (see A Short History of the United States Navych. 17), and would go on to become Superintendent of the Naval Academy.

Cadets Cranston and Tracy Lee, mentioned by Capt. King as members of the Class of 1866, started out as such, but were turned back, graduating only with the Class of 1867.

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