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Bill Thayer

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The text that follows is reproduced from (the report of the) Ninth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 13th, 1878.

 p52  Albert E. Church
No. 508 — Class of 1828.
Died March 30th, 1878, at West Point, N. Y., aged 70.

Professor Albert E. Church, eldest son of Chief Justice Samuel Church of Connecticut, was born at Salisbury, Connecticut, Dec. 16th, 1807. His father, a distinguished and successful lawyer, none of whose decisions while acting as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of that State, were ever reversed, intended that his eldest son, who inherited his clear, logical mind, should follow the same profession. To this end, after attending for a short time the common school of his district, he was placed at a select school, that he might be prepared to enter Yale College, whence his father had graduated with high honor in 1803, in the same class with the late John C. Calhoun of South  p53 Carolina, who was one of his most intimate college friends. It was this friendship that changed the course of the son's education after he had nearly fitted himself to enter at Yale, by securing him a Cadet's warrant for West Point.

He entered the United States Military Academy in June, 1824, and devoted himself to its duties, determined to achieve its highest honors. From the commencement of his academic career he took a high standing among his classmates, and finally graduated at the head of the class in 1828. Having been commissioned in the Artillery service, he was stationed for a time at Newport, R. I. In 1831 he was assigned to duty at the Military Academy as assistant Professor of Mathematics. In 1832 he was ordered to Fort Independence, in Boston Harbor, whence he was recalled in the following year to the Military Academy to assume the duties of Principal Assistant Professor of Mathematics. During all the years after he graduated, up to this time and for some years after, he devoted all the time that could be spared from his professional duties, to the study of the Law, with the expectation of adopting the profession and ultimately of joining his distinguished father in its prosecution. Those who knew the grasp of his mind, and his determination to master every subject which seriously engaged his attention, will not doubt that he would have fully and honorably complemented and sustained his father's reputation.

But the course of his life was differently ordered. On the resignation of his friend, Professor Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Charles Davies, he was appointed to succeed him as Professor of Mathematics at West Point. Whatever might have been his success as a lawyer, there can be no doubt that he achieved a greater success as an instructor of youth. Being thoroughly familiar with his subject, understanding all its difficult and doubtful points, all its real and imaginary perplexities, with a distinct and pleasant voice, a kind and urbane manner, he had the happy faculty of making his subject and his method of treating it attractive to his pupils. Both by the unity and detail of his expositions he led them easily on to the mastery of the subject, and many a "fundler" left the recitation room in a cheerful mood, by reason of the patient and gracious manner with which he had been helped to understand some intricate problem, so that he almost persuaded himself that he had solved it by his own ingenuity. One needed to be dull or idle to be "found deficient" under such instruction. In addition to other duties he was, prior to his appointment as Professor on account of his legal attainments,  p54 assigned to act as Judge Advocate in Courts Martial, a duty which he discharged with conspicuous ability.

One of his colleagues, the Rev. Professor Forsyth, who has devoted some time to the investigation of the subject of teaching and teachers, stated in his sermon delivered at Prof. Church's funeral that he had spent more years in teaching — all of them at a single institution — than any other Professor of whom he could obtain any record or knowledge in this or any other country.

Finding some of the text books used in his course too meagre or obscure he prepared others to take their places. These were adopted by the authorities of the Academy, and have been also adopted for use in many of the colleges and advanced schools in the country. Among his published works are, "Elements of Differential and Integral Calculus," and ofº an "Improved Edition containing the Elements of the Calculus of Variations," "Elements of Analytical Geometry," "Elements of Analytical Trigonometry," and "Elements of Descriptive Geometry with its application to Spherical Projection, Shades and Shadows, Perspective and Isometric Projections."

During the year preceding his death, he commenced in connection with the late Prof. Davies a thorough revision of the latter's edition of Bourdon's Algebra, a work that he carried to completion after the death of his predecessor. In this, the last published work of his life, as in all those of earlier years, the same evidence of his thoroughness and exactness of expression appears; he fully appreciated this most essential point so often over­looked by authors of mathematical works, and no student at the Academy could complain of the vague or obscure wording of his mathematical text books.

In his social and domestic relations Prof. Church was not less fortunate than in his professional career. Possessing an excellent constitution and being temperate and systematic in his habits, he hardly knew what it was to be an invalid although he had reached the scriptural allotment of human life. Prompt as the sun his sections never lost a moment in awaiting his appearance in the recitation room. Punctual himself he made others punctual. The most leisurely inclined of his pupils caught the spirit of his punctuality. Nothing was allowed to interfere with the requirements of duty, and the occasions of his absence from his academic duties were very rare. His uniform urbanity and kindliness of manner, although he was a strict disciplinarian,  p55 won the highest respect and secured the most kindly, even tender appreciation of his pupils.

His cheerful and genial temperament, his charitable and catholic spirit, his strong but refined sense of humor, his brightness and thorough bonhommerieº made him an ever welcome and never-wearying friend and companion. But the crowning grace and excellence of his character was found in his abiding, cheerful and undoubting faith as a Christian, a steadfast, trustful follower of the Divine Master. For more than half a century, he was an earnest, consistent and faithful communicant of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Led into this faith in the spring-time of his youth by the persuasive, convincing eloquence of a distinguished clergyman (the late Bishop McIlvaine), he adhered to it through life.

On the evening of Thursday, March 28th, 1878, he read before the U. S. Military Service Institute, at West Point, a most interesting paper recounting some of his half-century experiences and reminiscences of West Point life.​a Written con amore at the request of the society, its flowing sentences full of history, sentiment and anecdote, fell upon an appreciative and delighted audience. On the following Saturday, while rays of the setting sun were glorifying the grey walls of old Fort Putnam, his long, honorable and useful life was ended, and his gentle spirit, without a moment's suffering, was translated to another sphere.

(Geo. W. Holley)

Thayer's Note:

a Church, Albert E.: Personal Reminiscences of the Military Academy, from 1824 to 1831. A Paper Read to the U.S. Military Institute, West Point, NY: U. S. M. A. Press, 1879.

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