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Bill Thayer

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The following text is reproduced from (the report of the) Nineteenth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 11th, 1888.

 p95  Alfred Beckley
No. 334. Class of 1823.
Died, May 26, 1888, near Raleigh C. H., West Virginia, aged 86.

General Alfred Beckley was born, May 26, 1802, at Washington, District of Columbia. He was the son of John Beckley, the first Clerk of the House of Representatives under the administration of Washington. After his father's death his mother sent him to attend a school at Frankfort, Kentucky, but, being  p96 desirous that he should receive a higher education, she succeeded, through General William H. Harrison, then United States Senator from Ohio, in securing a cadet appointment for her son.

Young Beckley entered the Military Academy September 25, 1819, and was graduated therefrom July 1, 1823. During his residence at West Point the Corps of Cadets made three summer excursions — the first, in 1820, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; the second, in 1821, to Boston, via Albany and Springfield; and the third, in 1822, to the battle-field of Minisink, Orange County, New York, to bury the bones of those who were there massacred by the Tories and Indians in the revolutionary war. While at the academy, and ever after, Beckley was an enthusiastic admirer of the institution which had commenced its existence almost coincidentally with his own.

Upon his graduation Beckley was promoted to the Artillery, and served in garrison at Fort Monroe (Artillery School for Practice), Fort Marion, Florida,​a and Fort Hamilton, New York, and for over six years was on Ordnance duty. He reluctantly resigned from the army, October 24, 1836, to look after his large inherited property in Fayette County, Virginia, from which, mainly through his instrumentality, Raleigh County was formed, in 1849‑50, with Beckley for its County seat. In both Fayette and Raleigh Counties he filled most acceptably many offices of honor and trust; was also Grand Worthy Patriarch of the Sons of Temperance of the State of Virginia, 1860; Delegate, at large, from his State to the National Democratic Convention at St. Louis, Missouri, 1846; Member of the House of Delegates of West Virginia, 1877; and Brigadier-General of Militia from 1849 to 1861.

Though the Union candidate for the State Legislature in 1860, and strenuously opposed to the secession of Virginia, which he considered parricide, he felt in honor bound, when his regiment was subsequently drafted into the State service, not to shrink from its command. His militia campaign of two months skirmishing with Union pickets terminated the field services of his brigade, whereupon he resigned his commission and returned to his home.

 p97  Fayette County had only a small population and no professional men when Beckley went there. He, therefore, studied medicine and practiced it without charge in relieving the sick and suffering. Being a devout man, he also took upon himself the office of local preacher. In truth, he was the leading man of his community, and was much revered and greatly beloved for his valuable services and many estimable qualities. He speaks of himself as being "of a sanguine temperament and quite irascible," yet he was of a forgiving disposition, ever looked upon the bright side of life, and, even in his old age, cheerfully bore the burthen and infirmities of years.

When his last hours approached he had a strong presentiment that he would die upon his birthday, as he did, May 26, 1888, having completed eighty‑six years of a well-spent life.

George W. Cullum,

Brevet Major-General U. S. Army.

Thayer's Note:

a In 1886, Alfred Beckley wrote his autobiography, which as far as I know remains unpublished. Excerpts of it, apparently a single uninterrupted narrative, were published in Vol. 42 (April, 1964) of the Florida Historical Quarterly, pp307‑320, edited by Cecil D. Eby Jr., Doris C. Wiles and Eugenia B. Arana, under the title "Memoir of a West Pointer in Saint Augustine: 1824‑1826". In it we see a young man on his first station after artillery training at Fort Monroe, as he remembers himself at the sunset of his life: good descriptions of Fort Marion and St. Augustine, and also of his entertainments — which will entertain today's reader as well. The narrative is available online, to some, at JSTOR; it remains under copyright, so I cannot reproduce it onsite.

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Page updated: 1 Jun 14