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Bill Thayer

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The text and illustration that follow are reproduced from (the report of the) Twenty-Sixth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 10th, 1895.

[image ALT: A photograph of an old man. He is Henry Coppée, the subject of this webpage.]

 p86  Henry Coppée
No. 1241. Class of 1845.
Died, March 21, 1845, at South Bethlehem, Pa., aged 74.

Dr. Henry Coppée, the acting President of Lehigh University, after a short illness of about a week, died of heart disease early March 21, 1895, at his home in South Bethlehem, Pa.

This visitation of Providence has taken from a sorrowing community, an eminently active and valued citizen, an able adviser and devoted leader in many good causes, a prominent educator in his ever active and responsible field of duty, and highly esteemed and loved by his many acquaintances during his long and eventful life. His sudden demise is a mournful loss to his many esteeming friends and to his late field of duty.

The widow, formerly Miss Julia de Witt, of West Point, N. Y., four daughters and one son, survive the distinguished and esteemed Professor. The descendants are Mrs. George Jenkins,  p87 of South Bethlehem, Mrs. Murray Duncan, a resident of Michigan, Mrs. E. L. Griffith, of San Francisco, Miss M. P. Coppée, and Henry St. Legetº Coppée, a graduate of Lehigh University, as a Civil Engineer and now in the United States Engineering service at Vicksburg, Miss.

Dr. Coppée was born in Savannah, Ga., October 13th, 1821, and was of prominent French ancestry. He received his early education at Yale College and, for three years as a Civil Engineer, was connected with the Georgia Central Rail Road. He entered the United States Military Academy, July 1st, 1841, and graduated No. 11 in a class of 123, and was appointed Brevet Second Lieutenant, Second Artillery, July 1st, 1845. His cadet career was always pure and exemplary, a pride to his relatives and friends as well as to himself. Well educated, able and active-minded, polished in manner and kind-hearted, he was ever genial with his associates and possessed their lasting friendship. As a Christian, the principles he practiced and inculcated were ever pure and with his ability, were a fore-runner of his subsequent useful career, and gave to all who came in social or business relation with him, full confidence in his ability and firm integrity.

After service of a year on garrison duty at Governor's Island, Lieut. Coppée, soon after the outbreak of the Mexican War was sent with his regiment to Mexico, where he took part under that noble soldier General Winfield Scott, in the siege of Vera Cruz, the battles of Cerro Gordo, Contreras and Cherubusco,º the storming of Chepultepec,º and the assault of and capture of the City of Mexico, in each of which he did gallant and exemplary duty and gained the rank and commission of Brevet Captain, "for gallant and meritorious conduct in the battles of Contreras and Cherubusco,º Mexico, August 20th, 1847."

From August 22, 1848, to June 22d, 1849, Capt. Coppée was on duty at the Military Academy as Assistant Professor of French, then temporarily at Fort McHenry, Maryland, whence from January 14th, 1850, to May 16th, 1855, he was at the Military Academy as Principal Assistant Professor of Geography, History and Ethics.

 p88  On June 30th, 1855, he resigned from the Army and at once became Professor of English History and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, which position he held to 1866, during which time the degree of M. A. was conferred upon him by the University of Georgia; and that of L. L. D. by the University of Pennsylvania and by Union College of New York.

At the opening of the Civil War in 1861, though expected and urged, by relatives and Southern friends of prominence and power, to give his services to the benefit of the Southern cause, and also urged by Northern friends to join the Union Army, Professor Coppée, knowing his binding obligations to the Union and deeply regretting the outbreak and attempted separation by his Southern friends, resisted all temptations to take an active part in the contest, and decided to remain at his post in the University of Pennsylvania and maintain his useful occupation of educating the young men of the country, abiding the result of the contest as the decision of "Him who does all for the best."

During the invasion of Pennsylvania by General Lee, circumstances changed, conditions were critical and the cause of our country was almost held in a balance. Professor Coppée saw the danger to the Union, and though deeming himself but a small element in the active cause, at once tendered his services to the Governor of Pennsylvania by whom he was appointed an aide on his staff. He subsequently served on the staff of the Department Commander, General D. N. Couch, U. S. A., as provisional or extra aid-de‑Camp and Military Secretary. Of the circumstances and the necessities of the services at that time, General Couch has written:

"Prof. Coppée came to Harrisburg about the 20th of June, with other Pennsylvanians, prepared to organize for the defence of the State against the invasion of Lee. I was very glad to see the Professor and, at once, sent him towards Altoona in order to keep me advised of affairs in that portion of my Department. He was recall to Harrisburg on the 24th of June and appointed by me Military Secretary with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. Of course, I had no authority to issue commissions, but the  p89 exigencies of the hour demanded extreme measures. The Colonel's military education and field experience in Mexico, admirably fitted him for the position. I now recollect back thirty-two years, with the anxiety of those momentous days, with an army of new, half-armed men and seemingly every burden placed upon my shoulders, that Colonel Coppée, with patience and diligence, served the public cause with the earnestness and loyalty of a veteran of the Army of the Potomac. on the 10th of July, the Colonel accompanied me when the Department Headquarters were established at Chambersburghº and continued on duty until the 15th of the same month, the day after Lee had withdrawn his Army to Virginia. The exigencies which had demanded the Colonel's services having ceased to exist, he returned to his home in Philadelphia."

Professor Coppée's varied and useful occupation in civil life is best given in General Cullum's "Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the United States Military Academy," from which the following is taken:

Civil History. — Professor of English Literature and History, University of Pennsylvania, 1855‑56. Degree of M. A. conferred by the University of Georgia, 1848; and of L. L. D. by the University of Pennsylvania, 1866, and by Union College of New York, 1866. Secretary of the Board of Visitors to the U. S. Military Academy, 1868. Member of several Scientific and Historical Societies, 1851‑67. Author of "Elements of Logic, designed as a Manual of Instruction," 1858; "Elements of Rhetoric," 1859. "Grant and his Campaigns," 1866; and several Military works, 1858‑67. Edited a "Gallery of Famous Poets," 1858; and a "Gallery of Distinguished Poetesses," 1861. Editor of the "United States Service Magazine," 1864‑66; and Contributor to the Principal Reviews and Magazines in the United States since 1848. Compiler of "Songs of Praise in the Christian Centuries," 1866. Author of "English Literature considered as an Interpreter of English History," 1873; and Editor of the American Edition of the Comte de Paris' "Guerre Civile en Amérique," 1875‑76. Author of "History of the Conquest of Spain by the Arab-  p90 Moors, with a Sketch of the Civilization which they achieved and imparted to Europe," 1881; and "Life of General George H. Thomas."​a U. S. Commissioner to the Annual Assay of the Philadelphia Mint, 1874. Lay Delegate from Central Pennsylvania to the General Convention, Protestant Episcopal Church, held at New York City, 1874 and 1880. Regent of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C., since 1874. Lecturer on International Law, in the Union University Law School, Albany, N. Y., 1875‑76. President of the Lehigh University, at Bethlehem, Pa., 1866‑75, and acting President since; and Professor of English Literature and History since 1866.

Immediately after the announcement in the Lehigh University Chapel of the death of Dr. Coppée everywhere was voiced the deepest regret for the loss of this prominent educator and principal for many years of the Institution. The undergraduates at once assembled for the purpose of drawing up Resolutions expressive of their appreciation of his services and their sorrow at his death and to arrange to do honor to the deceased President.

The members of the faculty also met for the same purpose and all paid warm tribute to their departed friend and co-worker. Professor E. H. Williams, Jr., in speaking of Dr. Coppée's work at Lehigh paid the following tribute, which illustrates the polished character of the deceased as well as his extensive and useful services. Professor Williams said:

"The Lehigh University began its career as a technical university with all its courses based upon a grounding in the classics. It was a new departure, and sound in theory; but time soon showed that too little time could be given to the technical studies to allow thoroughness. Through the stormy seas of its launching and over the first third of its voyage the new university was guided by Dr. Coppée with credit to himself and honor to the institution. A master of the languages spoken in Central and South America, he began at the outset to attract students by circulars in their own languages, and with the result that from the outset a large proportion of the graduates were from those regions and have carried home the thoroughness of training for  p91 which Lehigh is justly famous, and which is the logical result of the foundation laid out by himself.

After matters were running in proper order he laid down the onerous duties of the Presidency in 1875; but was not released from this work till the following year, when he became Professor of English Literature, Constitutional and International Law, and the Philosophy of History, and retained the chair to his death. As senior Professor he was President pro tempore in the absence of the President. From time to time he has been called to assume the helm of the University; first, during the dark days after the departure of Dr. Leavitt, and again when death removed Dr. Lamberton. It seemed as if the fates combined to thrust upon Dr. Coppée the work he had declined, when circumstances were most adverse; but in spite of added labors and accumulated years he was a support that never failed, and he goes to his well-earned rest with the deserved encomiums of colleagues and students.

"With him justice was always tempered with mercy, and many a young man is pursuing his work unwittingly that the earnest requests of Dr. Coppée converted a severe sentence for some youthful indiscretion into a paternal warning that went to the heart and produced the needed reformation. He was loved by his students, and every year the faculty was petitioned that the 'Doctor' would favor them with talks on subjects of mutual interest, and they always found a hearty response from the good man. The students' semi-weekly paper of to‑day fitly voices their views. 'His works put forth in the clear light of day stand for themselves. In his personal connection with the students he has always been one of their truest and most loyal friends.

" 'Never forgetting that he was a gentleman, always kind, always courteous, he interested himself in the welfare of every young man who came under his influence. Of large intellect and clear foresight he stood forth as one of the most prominent educators in this country, and his opinions and approbation were eagerly sought for by all. This noble life has burned itself out, and his loss will be felt too deeply for words by everyone, graduate or undergraduate, who calls Lehigh his alma mater.'

 p92  "As a Christian the influence of Dr. Coppée will be missed, as he showed that there need be no loss of the harmless pleasures of life to those whose faces were set heavenward, and under his Presidency there was a freedom given to religious exercise as connected with the University that showed that he felt as he talked, and that when a young man came to Lehigh he was to be treated as a man, and made to assume the responsibilities of one. This course brought a ready response from all whose manhood was of a healthy type, and is referred to with pleasure by the older alumni.

"As a writer Dr. Coppée was accurate and pleasing, and his works — too many to be noted here — will form a worthy monument. The Government many years ago appointed him one of the Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, and such he remained until his death. In many other positions outside of his collegiate work he was called upon to serve and died 'full of honors.' Nothing more fitting can be said of him than the encomium of his students: 'His life was passed in one of the most useful of labors — teaching young men — and his example and guidance have made many a man's future brighter.' "

Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Fitz-John Porter

Thayer's Note:

a The Life is not mentioned in the entry in Cullum's Register. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.George H. Thomas was the most successful Southern general to fight on the Union side during the War between the States.

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Page updated: 13 Nov 13