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Bill Thayer

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[image ALT: A photograph of the head and shoulders of a man of late middle age, with a very receded hairline. He is General James van Voast, whose career is detailed on this webpage.]

Brigadier-General James van Voast

The preceding image, and the text that follows, are reproduced from (the report of the) Forty-Seventha Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 12th, 1916.

 p79  James van Voast
No. 1543. Class of 1852.
Died July 16, 1915, at Cincinnati, Ohio, aged 88.

General James van Voast was born in Schenectady, N. Y., September 19, 1827. He graduated at Union College, Schenectady, and was elected a member of the Phi Beta Kappa society of graduates. He also graduated from the West Point Military Academy in 1852, and was assigned to the Third Artillery, being detailed as Assistant Instructor at West Point during the Summer of 1852.

His regiment was embarked on the Steamer San Francisco in December, 1853, for California. After a few days' sail, it encountered a terrific storm, which completely disabled the machinery. Her upper deck was carried overboard, several officers and their families and about 150 enlisted men were lost.​b The failure of the expedition caused the Secretary of War to order a Court of Inquiry, General Scott being President. The Court heard a great deal of testimony and in giving its opinion on various matters, said, "On the wreck Lieutenants Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Winder, Van Voast and Chandler, particularly, distinguished themselves and seem to have earned a just  p80 claim to special commendation." And so again on the Kilby some of the junior officers were obliged, under continued privations and sufferings, to take upon themselves many important duties of command for the common safety of all. "In this connection Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Gardinerº and Lieutenant Van Voast seem entitled to special notice." The proceedings of this Court are published in General Orders No. 8, War Department, June 5, 1854.

In 1855, Lieutenant Van Voast left the Artillery and was appointed a First Lieutenant in the Ninth Infantry, a new regiment raised for service among the Indians on the Pacific Coast. In this regiment, he served as Reg. Quartermaster, being with the regiment in a campaign against large bodies of Indians. When the Civil war commenced, he was with his regiment on the Pacific Coast at Fort Colville, near the British possessions. Many officers of the Ninth Regiment (being from the South) resigned and joined the Confederacy. It was kept on the Pacific Coast during the war, guarding the interests of the Union. Captain Van Voast was made Provost Marshal of San Francisco, April, 1863, and served in this capacity till November, 1864, when he was ordered to assume command of troops to constitute the Eighth California Infantry, to be instructed for the defense of the Coast in Heavy Artillery and Captain Van Voast was to be made Colonel.

This regiment was nearly organized when he was ordered East, as Major, to the Eighteenth Infantry. In February, 1865, he arrived at Columbus, Ohio, was stationed there a few months and then at Jefferson Barracks, Mo., and then in command at Fort Laramie, W. T. In the winter of 1865, he left Laramie in command of Cavalry and Infantry, and marched to the relief of Fort Phil Kearny, at which post, near the Big Horn Mountains, there had been a terrible massacre of troops by the Indians. On this march the thermometer ranged from five to forty degrees below zero.

 p81  He being in command, reconstructed old Fort Reno, 1867, and was in command of D. A. Russell in 1868. In 1869‑70, he was a member of a Board to revise Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Upton's tactics and to report upon the best breech-loading rifle for the Army, Generals Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Schofield, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Merritt, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Potter and Hamilton, being the other members.

He was made Lieutenant Colonel of Sixteenth Infantry in 1871, and was stationed at Nashville, Tenn., in command of the regiment. In 1874, he was made Acting Assistant Inspector General of the Disbursement of money in the Department of the South, including the mouth of the Mississippi River and other places on the Sea Coast.

In 1882, being Colonel of the Ninth Infantry, he was severely injured while travelling in Texas on duty, and was retired. The letters addressed to Colonel Van Voast show that the Generals, in whose command he served, had implicit confidence in his judgment and that he was highly appreciated by his superiors, and his subordinates, as a most reliable and competent officer.

Most of his ancestors came to this country in 1639.

One of the ancestors of General Van Voast, William Teller, was in charge, over two hundred years ago, of Fort Orange, now Albany, N. Y., and was one of the five patentees of Schenectady, N. Y.

The following is taken from the History of Union University, Union College, Schenectady, N. Y.:

"James Van Voast, Cincinnati, Ohio, Brigadier General, United States Army, retired, is a native of Schenectady, N. Y., born September 19, 1827, son of John G. Van Voast and Marie Remsen Teller, his wife, and is of old Hudson and Mohawk Valley colonial stock. On the paternal side he is descended from one of the Van Voasts, who settled at Fort Orange (Albany) in 1681, and on the maternal side is a descendant of William Teller, who settled at Fort Orange in 1639, and was one of the proprietors of Schenectady in 1662.

"General Van Voast acquired his earlier education in the lyceum at Schenectady in 1844, his teachers there having been Mr. Clark and Mr. Kelly, both famous pedagogues in their time. After leaving  p82 the lyceum he entered Union College and was a student there during his sophomore and junior years (1847 and 1848), but before finishing the college course he entered as a cadet the United States Military Academy at West Point, and there laid the foundation of his subsequent military career. However, he was graduated from Union College in 1853 and received his degree of artium baccalaureus from President Nott, of whom he has distinct recollection and feelings of the warmest admiration.

"Having finished his military education at West Point, General Van Voast was commissioned an officer of the United States Army, and from that time until his retirement, by reason of disability in line of duty, he has given his services to the government, and in whatever capacity he has been called, his part has been well done and according to the highest conception of a soldier's duty. At the beginning of and throughout the Civil War he was stationed with his regiment in California, and was assigned to duty on the Pacific slope, much of the time acting as Military Provost Marshal of San Francisco, California.

"General Van Voast always has retained member­ship in Upon College Phi Beta Kappa, and he also is a member of the secret society Delta Phi. He has been twice married. First, in 1855, with Helen Pierce Hoar, of Massachusetts, who died in 1859, leaving one daughter, Helen Van Voast. He married, second, Virginia Moss Harris, of Kentucky, by whom he has two children — Virginia Remsen Van Voast, and Dr. Rufus Adrian Van Voast, a graduate of Yale, 1900, and of Harvard Medical School, 1905."

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Thayer's Notes:

a The title page actually bears "Forty-Sixth", but this is an error, as can be seen by a glance at the 1915 report, which is the Forty-Sixth, and all those before it in uninterrupted yearly succession since the First in 1870.

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b As might be expected, the disaster elicited a great deal of newspaper coverage at the time; a sample of which, with detailed statements by several survivors giving a pretty clear picture of the wreck and its aftermath and where Lieutenant van Voast comes in for much praise, is provided by The New York Times, Jan. 16, 1854.

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Page updated: 17 Mar 16