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Bill Thayer

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The text that follows is reproduced from (the report of the) Thirty-Second Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 8th, 1901.

 p18  Robert Wallace Burnet
No. 581. Class of 1829.
Died, July 22nd, 1898, at Cincinnati, O., aged 90.

Robert Wallace Burnet was the son of Judge Jacob Burnet and was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the 20th of July, 1808. He entered West Point in his sixteenth year and graduated in 1829; among his classmates being Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Robert E. Lee and others who afterwards became distinguished. After graduation he entered the Fourth United States Infantry and served in Florida against the Seminole Indians. He was the Quartermaster of Dade's command, all of whom were massacred by the Indians. Lieutenant Burnet was not with the command at the time of the massacre, as he had been left by Major Dade at Tampa Bay to attend to some official duties, and thus escaped the fate of the others.

He resigned from the army March 31, 1833, and returned to Cincinnati, which was his home during his long life.

He was married October 19, 1836, to Miss Margaret Grosbeck, daughter of John H. Grosbeck. A younger sister of his wife became, years afterwards, the wife of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Joseph E. Hooker.

Three children survive the deceased, Jacob S. Burnet, Cincinnati; Edith B. Pomeroy, New York, and Mary B. Stone, New York. For several years after his marriage, Mr. Burnet was engaged in business as a member of the firm of Schillito, Burnet & Pullan, now the John Schillito Company. After this, for several years, he was a member of the banking house of Delafield & Burnet. Upon the death of his father, in 1853, he retired from active business, save the care of the family estate and affairs. He took great interest in measures for the relief of the poor of the city, and was for many years president of the Cincinnati Relief Union.

At the beginning of the Civil War Mr. Burnet was president  p19 of Cincinnati Literary Club, which was at once organized and drilled as a military company, known as the "Burnet Rifles," which he thoroughly equipped and personally drilled. A number of the members of this company became officers in the Union army and were distinguished for their services during the war.​a

Mr. Burnet, when the United States Sanitary Commission was organized, was appointed president of the western branch, and he gave, during the whole of the war, his time and his means liberally in furtherance of the work of the Commission.

He was a member of the Society of the Cincinnati by inheritance through his father, Judge Jacob Burnet, and his grandfather, Dr. William Burnet, who was Surgeon General in the revolutionary army. He was a member of the Board of Visitors to the Military Academy in 1849.

A sketch of his life appears in the history of Ohio and Hamilton County, published by Nelson & Company, Cincinnati, O., pages 479‑480.


Thayer's Note:

a I expected to find a lot of information online about the Burnet Rifles, but there is in fact very little. Rutherford Hayes, its Captain, would become its most famous member by being elected President of the United States; and — discounting professional military men — journalist and lawyer Edward F. Noyes, who went from the Rifles to service in the war, losing a leg in the Atlanta campaign, is probably runner‑up: he was promoted to Brigadier-General, and after the war became Governor of Ohio and Ambassador to France. The Rifles did not serve as a unit: their members, numbering fewer than a hundred, enlisted in the Union Army on an individual basis. The following vague snippet — vague in that it doesn't sort out the members of the Rifles from the wider member­ship of the Literary Club — is from Henry Howe, Historical Collections of Ohio: An Encyclopedia of the State Vol. I (1896), pp801‑802:

 p801  The Literary Club is the oldest of the kind in the country. At the first meeting were Judge Stanley Matthews and A. R. Spofford, Librarian of Congress. The club was devoted to the discussion of various topics, social, literary, theological and political, the reading of essays and a monthly newspaper; also recitations. Rutherford B. Hayes was elected a member in 1859, and on March 9th of that year, acting as chairman, he decided in the negative on the merits of the question: "Has the agitation in the North on the slavery question been an advantage?" On the merits of the question the club also voted in the negative.  p802 The same year the club discussed and decided in the negative, "Are there any causes at present existing from which we have reason to fear a dissolution of the Union?" Among its members have been many prominent men beside those here mentioned. Buchanan Read, Salmon P. Chase, Fred. Hassaurek, O. P. Morton, James Beard, Generals Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.McClellan and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pope, John W. Herron, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.John M. Newton, W. F. Poole, Ainsworth Spofford, Moncure D. Conway, Henry Howe, Chas. Reemelin, J. B. Stallo, Donn Piatt, E. F. Noyes, Alphonso Taft, etc. At the outbreak of the war the club organized itself into the Burnet Rifles, about 60 in number; a larger part of the members became officers in the Union army. The club is very flourishing, with an increased member­ship.

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