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Bill Thayer

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[image ALT: A head‑and-shoulders photograph, three-quarters left, of a man in his early middle age, with a shaggy beard and mustache. He wears a plain military jacket, noticeable only for its two large brass buttons near the collar. He has a serious, pensive air. He is John C. Tidball, a West Point graduate, whose career is detailed on this webpage.]

General John C. Tidball

The preceding image, and the text that follows, are reproduced from (the report of the) Thirty-Ninth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 12th, 1908.

 p35  John C. Tidball
No. 1379. Class of 1848.
Died, May 15, 1906, at Montclair, N. J., aged 81.

General John Caldwell Tidball was born in what is now West Virginia, on January 25th, 1825, of Scotch-Irish-Welsh ancestry. The head of the family immigrated to this country from Ireland prior to the Revolutionary War, settled in Virginia and took part in that war. Tidball's mother, a Miss Caldwell of Virginia, died when he was about nine years old, but his father lived to the ripe old age of 91.

When Tidball was five or six years old his parents removed to Belmont County, Ohio, and his boyhood days were passed on a large farm, situated on the Cumberland or National Road, over which passed an endless stream of immigrants to still more western homes. He came of that Scotch Presbyterian stock so strict in all their ways of thought, utterances and general conduct, and the early conscientious training imparted by his parents made a deep impression on him, though in later years he may have departed somewhat from the strict orthodoxy of their teachings.

He was appointed a cadet to the United States Military Academy from Ohio, July 1st, 1844. Graduating in 1848 in the same class with Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Duane, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Trowbridge, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Williamson, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.John Buford and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.R. I. Dodge, he was assigned as a Brevet Second Lieutenant to the Third Artillery, and on February 14th, 1849, was promoted Second Lieutenant in the Second Artillery. Up to the breaking out of the Civil War he was stationed at various posts, Fort Adams, R. I.; Fort Moultrie and Castle Pinckney, S. C.; participated in the Seminole War, 1849‑50; at Fort Defiance, N. M., 1853; exploring route to California, 1853‑54;​a on coast survey duty, 1854‑59; at the Artillery School, 1859‑60, and at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., 1860‑61.

Promoted Captain Second Artillery, May 14, 1861.

 p36  In April of that year the light battery ("A," Second Artillery) with which he was serving, (Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Barry's), formed a part of the expedition for the relief of Fort Pickens, Fla., and was so employed till July 3rd, 1861, when it was returned to Washington in time to participate in the first battle of Bull Run, under its new Captain, Tidball.

Soon after Captain Tidball organized his battery as a horse battery, and as such it became celebrated in the annals of the Army of the Potomac, with which it did such conspicuous service as to be prominently mentioned in official reports, and to be well known throughout the army. Its fortune was generally with the advanced or rear guards in its various campaigns, and it had the distinction of firing the opening guns in both the "Battles of Invasion," Antietam and Gettysburg.

It is not generally known that the custom of sending "taps" over the grave at the burial of a soldier originated with Captain Tidball. On the retirement from the Peninsular in August, 1862, Horse Battery "A," Second Artillery, was serving with the rear guard, and on reaching Yorktown one of the cannoniers died and was buried there. Not wishing to stir up the enemy by firing three rounds from the battery guns, as was customary, Captain Tidball substituted the sounding of "taps" (lights out), which impressive custom has since been observed at all military funerals, at the conclusion of the ceremony.

After much active and intrepid service at the head of his battery, Captain Tidball was appointed Colonel of the Fourth New York Heavy Artillery, and was Chief of Artillery of the Second Corps, Army of the Potomac, during the Wilderness Campaign, including the "Siege of Petersburg." He was made Commandant of Cadets at the U. S. Military Academy in July, 1864, but the position not harmonizing with his temperament during active operations, he returned to the field in October, 1864, as Chief of Artillery of the Ninth Corps, and was conspicuous in repelling the attack on Fort Steadman,º March 25th,º 1865, and the assault from Fort Sedgwick on the  p37 rebel works, April 1st, 1865. It is related of him that on the former occasion, the rebel sortie on Fort Steadman, while he was looking through an embrasure to observe the effect of shots, a shell from the enemy burst in the fort and a fragment buried itself in the revetment close to his side, but "he never batted an eyelid." His intrepidity, self-possession and coolness under fire were exhibited on many fields, and he received well-earned brevets through all the grades, including that of Major General, for specific acts of gallantry. He was mustered out of the volunteer service September 30th, 1865, and proceeded to join his old battery at the presidio of San Francisco, Cal.

In 1867 (May 5th) he was promoted Major (by selection) and was sent to command the District of Astoria, Oregon; from there, in July, 1868, to the District of Kenai, Alaska, with headquarters at Kodiak, some eight hundred miles west of Sitka; then in 1870 to the District of Alaska, with headquarters at Sitka. When his regiment, the Second Artillery, was ordered east, he was sent to command the post at Raleigh, N. C., and in May, 1874, he was ordered to the Artillery School at Fort Monroe as "Superintendent of Artillery Instruction." From thence he was called to the personal staff of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.W. T. Sherman, commanding the army, making with him, in 1883, an extended tour of western posts, during which he kept the itinerary and wrote a most interesting description of the Grand Canonº of the Colorado, as well as the rest of the country visited. From staff of the General commanding he was ordered to the command of the Artillery School at Fort Monroe, Va., and he was on that duty when retired for age, January 25, 1889. He died May 15th, 1906, at Montclair, N. J., aged 81 years, and was buried at West Point, N. Y.

From close professional association with General Tidball, as a subaltern in his battery during the Civil War, as Adjutant of the Second Artillery for eleven years, and as an instructor at the Artillery School, as well as being accepted as a personal friend, I feel that I was given an exceptional opportunity of  p38 knowing him intimately, which developed an affection and regard second only to those of family ties, unchanged by time and distance, and I never failed, when it was possible in my journeyings, to make a pilgrimage to his home of retirement.

Joining his battery in December, 1862, as a Second Lieutenant, I was led to believe by some of my brother subalterns that our Captain was very exacting, of choleric temperament, and much of a martinet. His personal appearance at that time was strikingly martial, especially when mounted. Above the average height, his dark piercing eyes with a far‑off thoughtful expression, handsome regular features, dark-brown wavy hair, beard and mustache, and in the prime of manhood, he reminded me of a picture I once saw of the "Knight in search of the Holy Grail." In due time I discovered that if duty was well performed, service with him was most agreeable. Behind the austere, rather reticent and dignified exterior there existed a love of humor and an affability that only required circumstances to develop. This was in one instance manifested by his predilection for a camp song, the heart-breaking deception of one "Joe Bowers," of Pike, as portrayed in the song of that name, and which I vainly endeavored to teach him during many Virginia marches. Some of the verses were learned and the melancholy story appreciated, but the air was beyond his musical talents. He would at times emerge from his dignified reserve and entertain us youngsters as we sat around the blaze of winter quarters, with interesting stories of the army "befo' de wo," including events of the Seminole War in Florida, extending as far back as his West Point days, evincing a most retentive memory of men and events. He possessed quite an artistic talent, painted in colors, and was a finished draughtsman, which proved a criterion for his detail with the coast survey. A monument to his ability and untiring industry is the voluminous and exhaustive "Manual of Heavy Artillery" which was adopted as a text-book at the U. S. Military Academy in 1880.

 p39  In a letter from his daughter, she writes: "His keen interest in all that related to his profession was apparent; but deeper than that was his intense interest in the country at large, for he certainly was a student of its development, all over the land. His mind had been richly stored with the history of the country for eighty‑one years, and he had a way of tra­cing back to the beginning of things, then looking forward for later developments."

In every position, whether in peace or war, in which the vicissitudes of service placed him, he was found equal, and in all he left his record of efficiency. He may well be referred to as one of the best types of the "Old Army," and one whose services, with many others, failed of proper recognition. Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.William Tidball, of the Coast Artillery, is a son of General Tidball.

Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.John H. Calef,

Colonel U. S. Army.

Thayer's Note:

a For the California expedition see my note to Gen. Tidball's entry in Cullum's Register, and the further links there.

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Page updated: 2 May 16