[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[decorative delimiter]

The following text is reproduced from (the report of the) Twenty-Fifth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 12th, 1894.

 p61  Lucius Bellinger Northrop
No. 650. Class of 1831.
Died, February 9, 1894, near Baltimore, Md., aged 83.

General Lucius Bellinger Northrop, the famous Commissary General of the Confederate Army, whose death took place near Baltimore on the 9th of February, was one of the most remarkable figures in our Civil War.

 p62  He was born at Charleston, South Carolina, on the 8th of September, 1811. He came of an old and distinguished family, including the Pinckneys, Bellingers, Bulls, and other prominent South Carolina names. His paternal ancestor, Joseph Northrop, came from England in 1639, and settled at Milford, Connecticut. Dr. Joel Northrop, grandfather of General Northrop, served through the American Revolution as physician and surgeon. He sent his two sons to the south, where one of them, Amos Bird Northrop, married Claudia Bellinger, of Charleston. Their son, the subject of this sketch, entered West Point in 1828, and graduated three years later. It was at the Military Academy that he first met Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Jefferson Davis, who was three years his senior, but a strong friendship sprang up between the two Cadets, which continued during their service in the Indian Territory, grew stronger during the Civil War, and ended only with the death of Mr. Davis.

Lucius B. Northrop graduated in 1831, high in his class, which contained a number of young men who distinguished themselves in after life.​a Among these may be mentioned General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Randolph B. Marcy, Major-General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.William H. Emory, Major-General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.A. A. Humphreys, Chief of Engineers, U. S. Army, General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Humphrey Marshall, of Kentucky, General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Francis H. Smith, President of the Virginia Military Institute, and Colonel Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Henry Clay, Jr., who fell, gallantly fighting, at Buena Vista. Lieutenant Northrop was assigned to the Seventh Infantry, and transferred to the First Dragoons in August, 1833. After serving in the Indian Territory eight years, he became disabled by a bullet wound in the right knee, and went on sick leave of absence from October, 1839, till January, 1848, when he was dropped, but re-appointed with his former rank, in August, 1848, and promoted Captain, First Dragoons, in July, 1848. In 1839 he returned to his former home in Charleston, where he remained until the Civil War was on the eve of breaking out, when Jefferson Davis wrote to him from Montgomery, Alabama, in January, 1861, asking him to accept the position of Commissary-General of the Confederatedº Army. He was fifty years old when he was called from  p63 his quiet, uneventful life in Charleston to take a prominent part in the most momentous struggle of modern times. Jefferson Davis had a high opinion of the ability and fitness of Northrop for the important position of Commissary-General, for he said: "To direct the production, preservation, collection and transportation of food for the army, required a man of rare capacity at the head of the Subsistence Department. It was our good fortune to find such a one in Lucius B. Northrop, who was appointed Commissary-General at the organization of bureaus of the executive departments of the Confederate Government. He performed his difficult duty with success."

When Richmond became the capital of the Confederacy, General Northrop accompanied President Davis and his cabinet to that city in May, 1861, and proceeded to organize the Subsistence Department for the impending struggle. The Battle of Bull Run, which was fought on the 21st of July, 1861, was a brilliant, but barren victory, for Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Beauregard's splendid vision of capturing Washington, raising Maryland, and ending the War, resulted in nothing but bitter disappointment. The southern people blamed Johnston and Beauregard for not advancing upon Washington immediately after the victory of Bull Run and these Generals attempted to throw the blame upon the Commissary Department. In a letter from Jefferson Davis to General Northrop, in my possession, he says: "Beauregard's excuse that he did not advance on Washington for the want of provisions and transportation, is unfounded in fact and untenable in argument. The reasons he gave on the night of my conference with him and Johnston, after the battle, were the strength of the fortifications on the south bank of the Potomac, and the allegation that they were garrisoned by troops who were not involved in the panic caused by the defeat at Manassas.º As to transportation, he had more than enough for ammunition and hospital stores, and with a country then teeming with supplies, required nothing more. Again, if he had not burned the bridge across Bull Run, the railroad could have been at his service all the way to Washington, it having been repaired by the enemy as they advanced, and left  p64 by them in good condition." The Commissary-General showed by a detailed statement, that ample stores and transportation were provided for Beauregard's army, and that the advance on Washington was not prevented by any deficiency in the Subsistence Department. On the contrary, there was a vast accumulation at Thoroughfare Gap, where a Confederate Packery had been established by General Northrop for supplying the Army of Northern Virginia. "Johnsonº burned up everything at the Packery, and nearly everything at Manassas," says the Commissary-General. "Burned and 'abandoned' are with him univocal words; the latter is the one used, the former was his method in his retreat; conflagration announced to Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.McClellan that he need have no care about the safety of Washington." Upon this subject, Jefferson Davis, in a letter in my possession says: "The destruction on the retreat from Manassas and the burning of the packing establishment at Thoroughfare Gap, was twice and three times inexcusable. First, because there was no necessity for a hasty retreat; second because we had no collected stores of canned provisions; and third, on account of the claim you (General Northrop) have mentioned, as preferred by him that the men should have more bacon and less fresh meat." Further on in the same letter Mr. Davis said that he had known General Northrop as a soldier, and a good one, and that, but for his physical disability, he would have preferred to have given him a command in the field rather than at the head of a bureau."

From the battle of Manassas to the end of the war the relations between Beauregard and Johnston and President Davis and General Northrop were unfriendly. Davis, believing Northrop to be right, always sustained him against the machinations of these two generals during the war, and after. The enemies of President Davis and General Northrop called for an investigation of alleged abuses in the Commissary Department. Upon this subject, I give an abstract from a communication of the Hon. John B. Baldwin, Chairman of the joint select committee of both Houses of the Confederate Congress. Mr. Baldwin's letter was addressed to General Northrop, while the latter was confined in  p65 Castle Thunder, Richmond, as a prisoner of war, by order of Edwin M. Stanton.

Strasburg, Va., October 11, 1865.

My Dear Sir:

I always regarded you as the worst treated man in the Confederacy, and it would be truly hard to be the most severely dealt with by the United States. * * * I well remember on the floor of the Confederate House of Representatives, having stated as a result of my investigation on the means of public defence, that our investigation had disclosed to the entire satisfaction of at least the majority of the committee, that the Commissary Department of Subsistence, under the control of Commissary-General Northrop had been managed with a foresight and sagacity, and with a far-reaching comprehensive grasp of its business, such as we had found in no other bureau connected with the army supply, with, perhaps, a single exception. This statement was made in the presence of the committee of the House, and I called upon members to correct me if I mistook or misinterpreted their views. No correction was offered."

One of the most serious charges made against General Northrop was that he deliberately starved the Federal prisoners confined at Anderson ville, and other places. It was upon this charge that Stanton ordered his arrest soon after the close of the war. While in prison, General Northrop wrote to Captain S. V. Reid one of the Chief Commissaries, C. S. A., asking him how the Federal prisoners were fed, and received the following reply, dated Lynchburg, Va., August 13, 1865. "In accordance with instructions from your bureau, the same rations were issued to prisoners as were issued to our troops in the field. In some instances owing to their want of facilities for cooking, hard bread was issued to them, while corn meal unsifted was issued to our troops at the breastworks. Whenever the prisoners were unfed, (if it ever happened) it was through negligence of officers of the guard in charge, for no re­quisition was ever made which was not filled."

 p66  This unjust charge of starving Federal prisoners was also refuted by Colonel Frank G. Ruffin, Assistant Commissary-General of the Confederate Army, Colonel R. J. Moses, of South Carolina, Major S. B. French, of Virginia, all of whom were connected with the Commissary Department.

In February, 1865, General Northrop resigned his position of Commissary-General and removed to North Carolina, where, as already mentioned, he was arrested shortly after the war, and taken to Richmond, where he was held without any special charge being made, until November, 1865, when he was released upon parole, not to leave the State of Virginia. Not being allowed to return to his former home in Charleston, he bought a farm in Albemarle County, near Charlottesville, where he lived for twenty-five years, until, on the 28th of February, 1890, he was stricken with paralysis, and removed to Baltimore.

By the death of General Northrop one of the most conspicuous figures of the Civil War has passed away. He was a man with strong likes and dislikes, of unimpeachable integrity, of the highest honor, generous, proud, unselfishly devoted to his friends, and with rare intellectual ability.

He was at West Point during Edgar Poe's brief sojourn at the Military Academy, and the dreamy young poet failed to make a favorable impression upon the heroic South Carolinian.

In appearance, General Northrop was tall and commanding. His resemblance to Jefferson Davis was remarkable, and not less in their stern and immovable refusal to accept with patient resignation the result of the war.

Eugene L. Didier

Thayer's Note:

a Of those enumerated, three did attend the Academy at the same time as Cadet Northrop, but were members of other Classes: Randolph B. Marcy and Humphrey Marshall (both 1832), and Francis H. Smith (1833).

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 20 Aug 10