Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.
[decorative delimiter]

 [decorative delimiter] Class of 1817

Vol. I

(Born Vt.)

Ethan A. Hitchcock​1

(Ap'd Vt.)

Born May 18, 1798, Vergennes, VT.

Military History. — Cadet of the Military Academy, Oct. 11, 1814, to July 17, 1817, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to

Third Lieut., Corps of Artillery, July 17, 1817.

Transferred upon application, and promoted to

Second Lieut., 8th Infantry, Feb. 13, 1818.

Served: in garrison at Mobile, Ala., 1817‑18, — and New Orleans, La.,

(First Lieut., 8th Infantry, Oct. 31, 1818)

1818‑19; as Adjutant, 8th Infantry, June 1, 1819, to June 1, 1821, being

(First Lieut., 1st Infantry,
in Re-organization of Army, June 1, 1821)

 p168  on Recruiting service, 1819; in garrison at the Bay of St. Louis, Mis., 1821‑22, — and at Baton Rouge, La., 1822‑23; on Recruiting service, 1823‑24; at the Military Academy, as Asst. Instructor of Infantry Tactics,

(Captain, 1st Infantry, Dec. 31, 1824)

Feb. 1, 1824, to Apr. 20, 1827; on Recruiting service, 1827‑29; at the Military Academy, as Commandant of Cadets and Instructor of Infantry Tactics, Mar. 13, 1829, to June 24, 1833; on frontier duty at Ft. Crawford, Wis., 1834‑35; volunteered for a campaign in the Florida War against the Seminole Indians, 1836, being engaged in the Skirmishes at Camp Izard, Feb. 27, 28, 29, and Mar. 5, 1836; as Acting Inspector-General of the Western Department, Feb. 10 to July 5, 1836; on Recruiting service, 1836‑37; as disbursing Indian Agent, Mar. 2, 1837, to Dec. 31, 1839; on Northern Frontier, at Madison Barracks, N. Y.,

(Major, 8th Infantry, July 7, 1838)

1840, during Canada Border disturbances; in garrison at Jefferson Barracks, Mo., 1840; in the Florida War, 1840; on Special duty​a at the War Department, Sep. 29, 1841, to Aug. 29, 1842; in garrison at Ft. Stansbury, Fla., 1842; in command of the Western District of Florida, from which he removed Pascofa's band of hostile Indians, 1842‑43; in

(Lieut.‑Colonel, 3d Infantry, Jan. 31, 1842)

garrison at Ft. Stansbury, Fla., 1843, — and Jefferson Barracks, Mo., 1843‑44; on frontier duty at Ft. Jesup (Camp Wilkins), La., 1844‑45; in Military Occupation of Texas, 1845‑46; on sick leave of absence, 1846‑47; in the War with Mexico, 1847‑48, being engaged in the Siege of Vera Cruz, Mar. 9‑29, 1847, — Battle of Cerro Gordo, Apr. 17‑18, 1847, — Battle of Churubusco, Aug. 20, 1847, — Battle of Molino del

(Bvt. Colonel, Aug. 20, 1847, for Gallant and Meritorious Conduct
in the Battles of Contreras and Churubusco, Mex.)

Rey, Sep. 8, 1847, — Storming of Chapultepec, Sep. 13, 1847, — Assault

(Bvt. Brig.‑General, Sep. 8, 1847,
for Gallant and Meritorious Conduct in the Battle of Molino del Rey)

and Capture of the City of Mexico, Sep. 13‑14, 1847, — and as Acting Inspector-General of the Army commanded by Major-General Scott during the Campaign of 1847‑48; in mustering out Volunteers at Independence, Mo., 1848; on sick leave of absence, 1849‑50; on detached service at Washington, D. C., 1850‑51; in command of the Pacific Division,

(Colonel, 2d Infantry, Apr. 15, 1851)

July 9, 1851, to May 21, 1854; and in garrison at Carlisle Barracks, Pa., 1854‑55.

Resigned, Oct. 18, 1855.

Civil History. — Resided at St. Louis, Mo., engaged chiefly in literary pursuits, 1855‑62.

Military History. — Served during the Rebellion of the Seceding

(Major-General, U. S. Volunteers, Feb. 10, 1862)

States, 1862‑66: on Special duty, under the direction of the Secretary of War, at Washington, D. C., Mar. 17, 1862, to Oct. 1, 1867; and as Commissioner for the Exchange of Prisoners of War, Nov. 15, 1862, to Oct. 1, 1867.

Mustered out of Volunteer Service, Oct. 1, 1867.

Civil History. — Tendered the appointment of Governor of Liberia, by the American Colonization Society, Apr., 1833 (declined); and again, 1837 (declined). Author of "Remarks upon Alchemy and the Alchemists," p169 2a 1857; "Swedenborg a Hermetic Philosopher,"​2b 1858; "Christ the Spirit,"​3 1860; "Red Book of Appin, and other Fairy Tales," 1863; "Remarks on the Sonnets of Shakespeare, etc.;"​4 "Spenser's Colin Clouts Explained," etc.,​5 1865; and of Notes on the "Vita Nuova of Dante," to explain its spiritual character and purpose, 1866.

Died, Aug. 5, 1870, at Sparta, Hancock Co., Ga.: Aged 72.

Buried, West Point Cemetery, West Point, NY.

Biographical Sketch.

Major-General Ethan Allen Hitchcock, who was born May 18, 1798, at Vergennes, Vt., died Aug. 5, 1870, at Sparta, Ga., aged 72, and his mortal remains were re-interred Dec. 14, 1871, at West Point, N. Y. His father was Samuel Hitchcock, one of the Circuit Judges of the United States under the Administration of President Washington, and his mother was a daughter of the celebrated General Ethan Allen, whose name, general appearance, and many marked characteristics were inherited by the grandson from the old hero of Ticonderoga and Crown Point.

At the age of sixteen he became a Cadet at the United States Military Academy, from which he was graduated and promoted in the Army to be Third Lieutenant in the Corps of Artillery. Advancement in the Infantry being more rapid, he, on his own application, was transferred to its Eighth Regiment, Feb. 13, 1818, as a Second Lieutenant, and became First Lieutenant, Oct. 31, 1818. After serving at Mobile and New Orleans in this regiment till June 1, 1819, he became and continued as its Adjutant till the re-organization of the Army, June 1, 1821, when he was transferred to the First Infantry, in which he was subsequently promoted Captain, Dec. 31, 1824. Till 1829, except for three years as Assistant Instructor of Infantry Tactics at West Point, he was employed on recruiting and garrison duty, after which he became Commandant of Cadets at the Military Academy, where his soldierly qualities and marked intelligence were most conspicuous. Upon being relieved from this responsible position, June 24, 1833, he went to Fort Crawford, Wis., and continued on frontier duty till the outbreak of the Florida War, for which, following his military instinct, he at once volunteered. He immediately became Acting Inspector-General in "Gaines's Campaign of 1836" against the Seminole Indians, which terminated after a few skirmishes at Camp Izard, not far from the battlefield of "Dade's Massacre," so graphically described in Hitchcock's report of this heroic struggle, written on the spot.​b This campaign was one of the many blunders of that unfortunate war, the responsibility for which led to so many after-criminations and recriminations among our commanding officers, and finally to a court of inquiry. Before this court Hitchcock testified that the continuance of the war was in no small degree due to the want of concert between the rival generals, Scott and Gaines, which testimony was perhaps the incipient cause of General Scott's unfriendliness to Hitchcock.

 p170  In 1833 the appointment of Governor of Liberia had been tendered to Hitchcock by the American Colonization Society, which was then, and on its renewal in 1837, declined.

From Florida, Hitchcock returned with General Gaines to the Western Department, from which he was transferred to recruiting service, and subsequently, Mar. 2, 1837, to Indian duty. His services as disbursing agent to the ignorant savages of the Northwest Territory were invaluable, and marked by the inflexible justice and unflinching firmness characteristic of the performance of all his public duties. Rigidly adhering to the strict interpretation of his instructions, and resolutely determined to do right, he saved those wild children of the forest a large portion of their annuities which they had inly assigned to those whose wicked intent was to deceive and swindle them; but while protecting the weak by this firm, honest, and humane course, he himself incurred the bitter enmity of these men, who subsequently rose to influence. However, it was enough that in his own heart was crystal purity, that his conscience was void of offense, and that all his proceedings met the cordial approval of the upright Poinsett, then Secretary of War, by whom he was highly complimented, and who, as a reward for his good deeds, had appointed him, July 8, 1838, a Major in the newly-created Eighth Infantry. Though relieved from this service Dec. 31, 1839, and for the succeeding two years doing garrison duty, he was placed, Sep. 29, 1841, by Secretary John Bell, who highly appreciated the sterling merits and administrative abilities of Hitchcock, in charge of the Indian Bureau, then under the War Department. For near a year he continued in this important trust, exposing frauds and discharging unworthy agents, despite the influences brought against him.

Leaving Washington, he joined his regiment in Florida, from which he removed, in 1842‑43, Pascofa's band of hostile Indians. Thence he was transferred to the Western frontier, where he remained till 1845, in the mean time, Jan. 31, 1842, having been promoted Lieut.‑Colonel of the Third Infantry, the command of which soon devolved upon him, and took him back to Florida. Though stationed amid pine barrens, under his careful instruction and guided by his scholar­ly influence the Third became the crack regiment of infantry, not only in drill and discipline, but in high mental culture. Upon the transfer of the regiment in Apr., 1843, to Jefferson Barracks, Hitchcock, though a laborious student and prolific writer, never for a moment neglected the care of his regiment. For the first time after the war of 1812‑15, mainly through his efforts, there were "evolutions of the line" at Jefferson Barracks, creating the greatest interest in military exercises and duties, and producing between the Third and Fourth Infantry, there in garrison, a spirit of generous rivalry in all that pertained to the career of arms. Under Hitchcock's influence this post was, in fact, a school of application for officers in their higher duties, who became proud of belonging to the military profession.

With his fine regiment, Hitchcock went, in 1844, to Fort Jesup on the Louisiana frontier, pending the negotiation which resulted in the annexation of Texas; and in 1845 joined the army of Occupation under General Taylor, taking post at Corpus Christi. Even here Hitchcock never relaxed his studies and devotion to his regiment, and found time to write his masterly paper on "Brevet and Staff Rank and Command," sent with the signatures of many officers as a petition to Congress. From Corpus Christi his regiment proceeded to the Rio Grande, but at the close of the march Hitchcock's failing health compelled him to ask for a sick leave of absence.​c

In January, 1847, having somewhat recovered his strength, Hitchcock repaired to the mouth of the Rio Grande to assume command of his  p171 regiment, which was to join in the coming campaign for which General Scott was organizing at Brazos Santiago preparatory to a descent on Vera Cruz. At this time a bitter feud existed between Scott and Hitchcock, the incipiency of which has been noted. This had been increased by transactions growing out of the latter's service under Colonel Worth when Major of the Eighth Infantry, and was still more intensified by the part taken by him in connection with the "Buell Court-martial," when, though not of the court, he wrote for its members a severe protest denying General Scott's right to revive a dissolved tribunal to try Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Buell a second time. Between ordinary men this long-nursed wrath would have continued to rankle and gather strength, but fortunately both these excellent officers had the magnanimity to sacrifice self to country, and contend, not with each other, but against the common enemy. This reconciliation was effected in the following manner: On his way to join his regiment, Hitchcock, being near the headquarters of General Scott, was invited to call upon the latter. He was cordially received, the hatchet buried, patriotism became paramount, and with resumed harmony he was tendered the important appointment of Inspector-General, in which Scott stated "he could be of greater service to the Army and his country than in any other position." Many worthy officers have denounced Hitchcock for giving up the command of his splendid regiment for a staff office, forgetting that it was for his commanding general to decide the field of his subordinate's greatest usefulness in the pending struggle. For his cheerful and prompt obedience to Scott's virtual order, Hitchcock is, under the circumstances, entitled to the highest meed of praise, instead of bearing the stigma of unmerited reproach.

In the great campaign which eventuated in the occupation of the Halls of the Montezumas, a large acquisition of valuable territory, and an honorable peace, Hitchcock maintained the most cordial relations with his commanding general, and performed with consummate ability the delicate and important duties, both civil and military, which devolved upon him. Though his staff position did not attract outside attention and glitter, with all the pomp and circumstance of glorious war, it certainly was highly honorable, of manifold usefulness, and largely contributed to the attainment of the great objects of the campaign, manifestly more largely than had he remained at the head of his regiment. In his well-written letters, published at the time, he triumphantly vindicated himself, both as a soldier and a patriot, and conclusively proved that, while his regiment was successfully led by a captain, he had performed much more difficult and valuable service. At all events, it was not his to choose his functions, to the performance of which his commanding general could not have invited him to the compromise of his honor; nor could his chief be derelict to any demands of the Army, whose achievements were to be his own greatest glory, and destined to illume one of the brightest pages of our wondrous history. Scott's high consideration and warm friendship, manifested ever after for Hitchcock, are sufficient proofs of his appreciation of the wise counsels, zealous co‑operation, and efficient efforts of his distinguished Inspector-General, who for his services received the brevets of Colonel and Brigadier-General.

After the Mexican War, his health being much impaired by incessant labor, Hitchcock sought rest and recreation in an extended journey in Europe and the East, returning home in 1850, replete with mystic lore, the bright memories of scenic and artistic beauty, and much intellectual wealth gained from every treasure-trove which could not be veiled from his scrutinizing search.

After his return he was placed on detached service at Washington, promoted Colonel of the Second Infantry, Apr. 15, 1851, and then ordered to San Francisco, Cal., where he established his headquarters from July 9,  p172 1851, to May 21, 1854, while in command of Military Division of the Pacific. Here, in our newly-acquired possessions, he managed Army affairs with consummate skill, protected the numerous Indian tribes from plundering politicians and reckless adventurers, and promptly broke up Walker's filibustering expedition by the seizure of the brig Arrow, prepared to transport a considerable force with arms to Guaymas for the purpose of inducing the inhabitants of Sonora to declare their independence and set up a new government; the government contemplated being in fact already organized in San Francisco. Prominent plotters in California, who subsequently proved disloyal to the United States, not only advocated this outrage upon a sister State, but publicly denounced all interference with their unprincipled schemes. Destitute of patriotism and regardless of consequences, these greedy vultures, who had already fattened upon every government appropriation, designed to seize Sonora, make war upon Mexico, and finally secure sufficient territory for the establishment of a Southern slavery republic. The conspirators had even ventured to boldly ventilate their views at a public dinner in San Francisco, and had made efforts to have a law enacted authorizing the organization of a regiment to protect the southern border of California from raids, to which it was about as much exposed as to an inroad from the Fejee Islanders. The real design was, of course, to make the state authority play the wolf part to the Sonora lamb. That this foul disgrace was not consummated is mainly due to Hitchcock's quick perceptions, sound judgment, firm attitude, and honest purposes. But though the blow was warded off, he, who had kept the nation's escutcheon untarnished, became himself the victim of those whose wicked purpose he had so boldly thwarted. The plotters of treachery, who had failed in their design, soon wreaked their vengeance through the then secessionist Secretary of War, by ostracizing this loyal soldier from his high command to a nominal one at Carlisle Barracks, Pa.

Hitchcock, having for several years been threatened with paralysis, from which he had sought relief at Wiesbaden, Germany, and at the Arkansas Hot Springs, and with nothing to do in his new place of banishment, asked and obtained a leave of four months from the General-in‑Chief. Secretary Davis, who disliked Hitchcock for reasons which it is unnecessary here to specify, demanded, July 12, 1855, of General Scott why he had granted this indulgence, which led to an angry controversy between these high officials, subsequently published in a Senate document. This eventuated in a peremptory order from the Secretary of War directing Hitchcock to go to Ft. Pierre, some distance from the scene of hostilities of Harney's Indian expedition of 1855, in which his regiment was engaged. Knowing that the order was not dictated by any necessity for his services, but for the gratification of personal spite, Hitchcock asked for an extension of his leave of absence, and, in the event of its not being granted, tendered his resignation, expressly stating, however, that if his services were deemed indispensable he, though still a decided invalid, would go to Ft. Pierre at all hazards, "as nothing could be further from his purpose than to jeopardize a reputation which had continued unblemished during a period of nearly forty years in the Army." The Secretary accepted Hitchcock's resignation, Oct. 18, 1855, having already refused his extension of leave of absence. Thus, as stated by General Scott, was a most meritorious officer forced out of service by the Secretary's oppressive orders in denying a simple indulgence at a time when there was no urgent reason for his presence at a remote post.

After his resignation Hitchcock made St. Louis his home, where he devoted himself to general literature and the peculiar philosophical investigations which had for years occupied his thoughts. All his life he had been a student, whether revelling in fine libraries at West Point and  p173 Washington, or delving among his own choice volumes, ever his companions, whether among the everglades of Florida or the wilds of the Western frontier. Of books he never had enough, and would spend his last penny to possess them. With Spinoza, Plato, and the Neo-Platonists he first became familiar, then was much interested in Swedenborg's works and Rossetti's "Anti-Papal Spirit," and finally went into an elaborate course of reading of Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Chaucer, Spenser, etc. In many of these writings he discovered a double sense, — one for the general reader, and the other for the members of a society, possessed of the key of interpretation, which ramified all over Europe, and had an existence as far back at least as A.D. 1000. This society was composed of the most learned and scientific men, whose intelligence was in advance of the world, enabling them to see the errors of the Roman Church, which, however, by its power, controlled and restrained these men from the free expression of their inspirations. In consequence of this the literary men of those ages avoided persecution, imprisonment, and death by the use of a conventional language, the exoteric or outward import of which appeared friendly to the party in power, while its esoteric or secret meaning was in direct hostility to the Church, and clearly understood to be so by the initiated. To point out to his friends the extraordinary evidence of this symbolism gave Hitchcock the greatest gratification, and many fragments which he then wrote on these curious and interesting discoveries were subsequently developed in his after-published works. From these favorite themes he was diverted for a time by the war with Mexico. There, however, on subjects pertaining to his civil and military duties, his active mind and restless pen were ever at work, and those who suffered from the shafts of his keen invective will not soon forget some of his masterly papers growing out of the controversies of that period. Even amid the intense excitements of California, when gold and speculation absorbed all thought, Hitchcock pursued his peculiar studies and acute investigations with unabated activity and relish, never, however, abstracting a moment from the efficient administration of his important military command. His fondness for original researches and metaphysical subtleties was very great, but his high sense of official obligation was still greater — in him the scholar never deteriorated the soldier.

The result of his studies of the "Problem of Life" is given in his eight published volumes, which, though not much read by this busy, money-making world, have made their lodgement in the ethical mind of the age, and are yet destined to be more fully appreciated by coming philosophical thinkers. Of these works only a synopsis showing their general scope can be here given.

"The Doctrines of Spinoza and Swedenborg Identified, in so far as they claim a Scientific Ground," published in 1846. Hitchcock had been a careful student of Spinoza, and was well versed in the writings of Swedenborg, neither of whom he assails or defends while pointing out some very remarkable resemblances between them. He quotes largely from both, showing almost an identity in their doctrines and principles, especially of God, of knowledge, and of salvation: yet, strange to say, the Swedish philosopher, who borrows without credit much of his ethics from the anathematized Jew, has been held up by many good men as expressly illuminated for the teaching of the true Christian religion and for founding the Church of the New Jerusalem, while his theological proto­type has been reviled as the veriest atheist the world has produced. In a private letter to Hitchcock of Dec. 25, 1846, Theodore Parker says of this parallel: "I have long been aware of a certain union in their ideas of God, and of his immanency in matter and spirit; only I thought Spinoza perhaps the more rational of the two in that matter, though I think both make the world a sort of Dutch clock. I never  p174 thought the similarity extended as far as you have shown it does. Henry Heine, the wittiest and wickedest of modern writers, says that many a philosopher when walking in a deep forest of thought has fancied he was treading new ground, original and all alone, when suddenly he has found himself confronted face to face with the awful features of Benedict Spinoza. I think you have shown that Swedenborg must have had Spinoza upon his mind when he wrote. It is impossible that Emanuel should have omitted to read Benedict, for he read everything and reveled in the mystics, old, middle-aged, and modern. I like your view of Swedenborg. He was a great man, and is made ridiculous when men worship him and stop not at his limitation. I reverence his genius most profoundly, as I do that of Spinoza, though I worship neither. . . . I hope justice will be done at length to both Spinoza and Swedenborg, and I thank you for writing this little tract to show this agreement in their Scientificals."

Hitchcock's "Remarks upon Alchemy and the Alchemists" was published in 1857. The object of this work was not to describe gray-bearded, shriveled-up necromancers in sooty cells with retorts and musty manuscripts seeking the phantom of gold in transmuting crucibles, nor to trace from their Arabic paternity the wonder­ful developments of chemistry and medicine. In the deep study of this cabalistic literature he found, though many had devoted the energies of a life to the passionate pursuit of a chimera, other noble men had discovered a precious jewel in the head of this ugly monster, — the real Philosopher's Stone, which was Spiritual Truth; that these latter were sincere moral reformers, not seeking an elixir to convert the baser into purer metals, but that purifying influence converting the earthly dross of mortal existence into immortal wisdom; and that in an age of persecution were veiled under the paraphernalia of this jugglery the occult symbols of things they dared not utter in common speech. Among hundreds of truth Hermetic writers he had studied, he found that Know Thyself was the real object of Alchemy, Man's transformation from a state of nature to a state of grace being symbolized under the figure of the transmutation of metals; that astrolabes and alembics, elixirs and essences, lilies and lions, were but the infinitely varied expressions of the sublimer verities of the soul of man made in the image of God; and that the true nature of Hermetic was Moral Philosophy, and the real Philosopher's Stone was Truth; hence his attempt to rescue from undeserved opprobrium the reputation of a class of extraordinary thinkers in past ages.

"Swedenborg a Hermetic Philosopher," published in 1858, was the natural sequence of "Alchemy and the Alchemists." Hitchcock had pondered much upon the writings of one of Sweden's profoundest thinkers and distinguished scholars. He truly appreciated the harmonious mind and devotional spirit of one whose maxims of life were so like his own, — often to read and meditate on the Word of God; to submit everything to the will of Divine Providence; to observe a propriety of behavior, and always to keep the conscience clear; and to discharge with fidelity the functions of his employments and the duties of his office, and to render himself in all things useful to society. In Emanuel Swedenborg he soon discovered, not a modern Midas, avaricious of that earthly dross that "solder'th impossibilities and maketh them kiss," but of that spiritual treasure richer than rubies or than fine gold; not a seeker of ephemeral pleasure good for a day, but that permanent beatitude enduring for all time; and one in whose symbolical utterances, embalmed in mysterious wrappings, were celestial thoughts upon the human soul and its capacity for knowledge, for happiness, and for immortality. With Hitchcock's habit of looking beyond the letter in the interpretation of occult and mystical writings he was quick to detect in the perusal of Swedenborg's  p175 "Heavenly Arcana" many remarkable coincidences with the allegorical language of the alchemists, and formed a decided opinion, fortified by abundant quotations and arguments, that the writings of the learned Swedish moralist were to be judged and interpreted from the standpoint of Hermetic Philosophy.

"Christ the Spirit: being an Attempt to state the Primitive View of Christianity," was first published in 1860 and enlarged in 1861. The object of the work is to show that the Gospels are not biographies of a living person, but symbolical books written before the beginning of our era by members of a secret society of Jews, the Essenes, who lived in the wilderness bordering the Dead Sea, whose ethical principles and religious observances had the essential features of the New Testament teachings, — love of God, love of Virtue, love of Man. That Christ is the personified spirit of the Hebrew Sacred Law; He is the heart of the Bible in a figure which in after time assumed a carnal existence; He is the interior Word, represented under various phases as moving among men, but who were not his historic disciples. This is perhaps the most profound of all Hitchcock's writings, but, as its views are not in accord with generally received doctrines, the work has been subject to much intolerant criticism, and its author misrepresented as an infidel because he assumes the mythical character of the miraculous portions of the New Testament in saying that, "If we accept the miracles as historic realities, we must refuse the idea of law altogether, and must admit that there is no truth in the doctrine which affirms an order in the course of nature; we must then deny the possibility of science in all its branches; and this must be extended to logic and reasoning, for these depend upon the permanent operation of our faculties; and then we must hold our hands and receive everything as equally possible in both nature and intellect." Then again in conscious rectitude he adds: "Man loves truth instinctively and hates falsehood. Give him truth, indeed, and if he understands it, he will drink it as the water of life. Error is only acceptable when it wears the face of truth. A reputed infidelity turns out almost always to be a protest against a real or apparent falsehood. For truth is an eternal virgin, and the first love of all mankind, the first-born among many brethren. To wander from it is to love, that is, to worship some mistaken image or shadow of it; and this it is that leads man into the wilderness, through and out of which, however, every man carries with him a Moses, a Joshua, a Jesus, — a word in the heart, an angel, a prophet, — through whom the pure wine of truth may be brought to that soul which hungers and thirsts after righteousness." Hitchcock's book portrays, not a Christ of flesh and blood, but that Spirit Christ dwelling in all men who are true sons of God; the Spirit of Virtue seeking all goodness and purity; the Spirit of Conscience acting justly and doing no evil; the Spirit of the Heart imbued with faith, hope, and charity; and the Spirit of the Soul communing with the Infinite and obedient to his will. This hypothesis may strip off the historic robe of Christ the Son of Mary, yet there remains the heavenly halo of the Spirit Christ which has dwelt in humanity from the foundation of the world. In the words of an eminent divine we can say: "The book is remarkable for the spiritual, we may almost say the mystical, character of its thought, for the serenity of its view, the purity of its speculation, the unceasing boldness and unaffected loftiness which we are apt to regard as the solitary student's peculiarity, which we find it difficult to associate with the military habit of mind. It is remarkable again, and still more remarkable, for the lovely temper in which it is written. A sweeter moral atmosphere we never breathed than pervades every paragraph of the two volumes. There is no harshness, there is no intolerance, there is no aggression, there is no disagreeable dogmatism, no assumption of superior wisdom. Its charity is perfect, for there is no air of  p176 charitableness about it; it is the goodwill of an honest, believing, and gentle mind. We can scarcely think of a theologian, living or dead, who might not with profit sit at the feet of this brave soldier, and listen to him as he talks about religion."

"The Red Book of Appin," published in 1863, is a Story of the Middle Ages, to which Hitchcock subsequently added other Fairy Tales, with his explanation of their Hermetic Mysticism. These stories he maintains are not mere fantastic fictions addressed to the capacity of childhood, but, interpreted with the key of truth, will be found to be mediaeval writings covered with the dust of allegory, beneath which are hidden treasures, concealed wisdom, and precious verities; that these seeming products of an unregulated imagination have, like parables, a most rich and valuable meaning; and that we should bear in mind the declaration of Solomon: "A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels," so as "to understand a proverb and the interpretation, — the words of the wise and their dark sayings."

"Remarks on the Sonnets of Shakespeare," published in 1865, and enlarged in 1867. These exquisitely beautiful and most wonder­ful sonnets, Hitchcock maintains, belong to the class of Hermetic writings, carrying one sense to the eye and ear, but another for the head and for the heart; that they were not addressed to a person — "the muddy vesture of decay," — but that "Beauty's Rose" was a synonym of Religion, — the Divine Beauty existing in the soul of Humanity; and that Nature, as double Spirit and Matter, was the "master-mistress" of the poet's passion. He regards the sonnets as containing the abstract doctrines and higher spirit of Shakespeare, developed under the most intense contemplations of life; and that, in symbolic form, the poet has inclosed in them what were to him eternal principles, — "the true sources of artistic births." And he holds that the object of the sonnets was to show that the Spirit of Man was one with the Spirit of Nature, and that a sense of this unity was the secret joy of the poet taking the name of Love, though the "deep substance of the flesh," at times, would "steal sweet hours from love's delight."

"Colin Clouts Explained," published in 1865. Hitchcock affirms that Spenser's object was not, as generally supposed, to give an account of his return to England and the poet's presentation to Queen Elizabeth and her court. That the poem had a higher purport. First, as signifying a mental journey by the poet himself, religiously illuminated, visiting the spiritual world, — the Arcadia of the ancient poets debarred to ordinary mortals, — where he meets the mystic Queen of the ideal realm (not the vixen Queen of England) for whom he entertains that passionate devotion to some figurative beauty and perfection, cloaked under the name of love by a long succession of spiritual poets, but which in reality is the Divine Love. Secondly, that by "Colin Clouts come Home Againe" is to be understood his coming down to ordinary life to give us a poet's description of what he saw in the spiritual world, using this expression metaphorically: for the eye hath not seen nor hath the ear heard what is done in the Arcadian Land, where "men immemorially live, following all delights and pleasures," and which is governed by a Queen so beautiful that all the country round is rendered shining "with one single beam of her great beauty." Finally, that Spenser in this Hermetic poem has presented his view of a Christian Life, — the life of a man under the guidance of the Gospel Spirit of Truth, the rewards of which are the glowing pictures in the poet's land of Cynthia and its Queen.

Hitchcock considers Spenser's Sonnets, and the minor poems of Drayton, Sidney, Chaucer, Carew, etc., as Hermetic writings inclosing the speculative opinions of their authors upon deeply-meditated studies of nature and the profoundest problems of life.

"Notes on the Vita Nuova and Minor Poems of Dante," published in  p177 1866. This is a curious work of no small learning, but we have dwelt so much upon the preceding volumes that, in this already too extended notice, we must briefly pass it over. Hitchcock considers it also as one of the mysterious books thrown out upon the world in a mystic style of writing, so obscure that many of Dante's most intimate friends were unable to penetrate his meaning. To explain the Commedia, and this its manifest introduction, the poet himself was induced to furnish a commentary in a mystical volume, entitled the "Convito, or Banquet," which, however, only lifts the veil. Hitchcock in his Notes endeavors to show the spiritual character of the Vita Nuova, and that Beatrice, the bright central figure of the poem, was not an earthly mistress thrilling his heart and guiding his soul, but was a celestial vision of a radiant angel, — Heavenly Wisdom personified.

Our space will not permit even an enumeration of Hitchcock's many fugitive articles, controversial papers, critical notices, biographical sketches, official reports, and well-digested letters, which do credit alike to his head and heart.

At the outbreak of the Rebellion, Hitchcock was a resident of St. Louis, and, though much absorbed in mystic studies, saw clearly the march of passing events. Missouri, then a Slave State, was intensely agitated, and many of her prominent citizens had espoused secession sentiments; Governor Jackson had refused compliance with the Government's re­quisition for his State's quota of troops, characterizing it as "illegal, unconstitutional, revolutionary, and diabolical;" and the seizure of Camp Jackson was followed by the immediate passage by the Legislature of the "Military Bill." Hitchcock, born in the loyal atmosphere of the Green Mountains, educated as a soldier of the Republic, and who, for half a century, had seen the stars and stripes protecting our frontiers, guarding our coasts, leading us to victory, and commanding the respect of the world, quickly decided upon his course. Come what might, he would not forsake that revered emblem of nationality which had floated over the Alma Mater of his youth, which had proudly streamed from the capital of the Montezumas in his manhood, and which had shielded his authority on the far-off Pacific in his later years. With him the doctrine of secession was destructive of all government, and led to universal anarchy; therefore did he firmly resolve to devote himself to the maintenance of the Union, and the perpetuation of its countless blessings to posterity.

Imbued with these noble sentiments he repaired to Washington to tender his services to the Government, though his health was so feeble that hemorrhage prevented his leaving his room for several days after his arrival. At once General Scott urged the bestowal of a high commission upon this meritorious soldier, but the request was refused by the Secretary of War, and Hitchcock returned to St. Louis. Here he promptly gave his talents to the Union cause, particularly as the adviser of General Harney, who resumed command of the Military Department of theº Missouri, Sep. 15, 1861, and, on the same day, issued a stirring proclamation, of which Hitchcock was the author. This proclamation denounced the Legislature's "Military Bill" as "an indirect secession ordinance," which, being in its material provisions manifestly in conflict with the Constitution and laws of the United States, could not and ought not to be upheld or regarded by the good people of Missouri, who were warned that the whole power of the Government would be exerted, if necessary, to retain the State, which "must share the destiny of the Union."

When General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Halleck assumed command, Nov. 18, 1861, of the Department of Missouri, he appreciated the importance of securing the more active services of Hitchcock; hence he and prominent members of his staff renewed the request for the bestowal of a high commission.  p178 This met a hearty response from General Scott, who says in a letter of Feb. 18, 1862: "I early wrote to Mr. Stanton to recall Hitchcock's merits and to say that personal hostility had prevented his re-appointment to the Army, as it had been the personal hostility of another Secretary of War that drove him from the service in 1855." The result of these efforts, unknown to Hitchcock, was his appointment and confirmation as Major-General U. S. Volunteers, Feb. 10, 1862. This deserved compliment he, in an admirable letter, declined on account of impaired health, which would not permit him to perform the responsible duties of a Major-General, and concludes with the utterance of strong Union sentiments, an ardent desire for the speedy overthrow of the Rebellion, and an early re-establishment of the Federal authority. Subsequently he was induced to retain his commission and go on duty in the War Department, where he rendered those signal services for which, from his culture, zeal, and firmness, he was admirably fitted. He soon won by his sagacity and talents the confidence of the Secretary of War, and by his purity of character the affections of the President, with both of whom he was in constant consultation upon the policy and movements of the war. To his confidential position of military adviser were added, Nov. 15, 1862, the delicate duties of Commissioner for the Exchange of Prisoners of War, which required consummate tact, unerring judgment, and prompt decision. How these rare qualities were exhibited is best attested by his extensive and masterly correspondence with the rebel authorities. In addition to these onerous duties, those of Commissary-General of Prisoners devolved upon him Nov. 3, 1865, which materially increased his labors in closing up the voluminous records of the office and the adjustment of complicated claims. Such was the high value of his assistance to the War Department in the performance of his multiplied vocations that he was retained till Oct. 1, 1867, when he was among the very last mustered out of service.

Late in life he had married, and for the benefit of his health sought with his wife a more congenial clime in the sunny South, where he died full of years, after a well-spent life, rich in honors, and crowned with an amaranthine wreath entwined with the flowers of Fidelity, Justice, and Truth.

Hitchcock, while inheriting much of the personal appearance and military determination of his noted grandfather, possessed many of those sterling attributes so becoming the ermine of his father's judicial robes. As a soldier of the Republic for near half a century, he was noted as an accomplished officer, professionally well informed, a skillful tactician, able in administration, a rigid disciplinarian, just as a commander, kind and genial to his comrades, and persistent in usefulness manifested in his high sphere of duty during two great wars. Whatever his position, he conscientiously discharged the functions of his office, whether instructing and governing Cadets at West Point; giving attention to the drill and discipline of his regiment in the barrens of Florida; teaching system and grand tactics at Jefferson Barracks; protecting the wild savage on the frontier; crushing lawlessness in his Pacific command; or winning by zeal and intelligence the confidence of his chiefs, beneath in Mexico and at the Capital. As a scholar, without being classically educated, he became eminent for his erudition in ancient, mediaeval and modern literature. He reveled in choice libraries, possessed a curious collection of rare volumes, and never was satiated with books. Though his mind had a strong legal bias and exhibited considerable mathematical power, his passionate fondness for metaphysical researches and philosophical disquisitions led him into many original and strange investigations. When he had made of them a careful study, his conclusions were clear and precise; but such was the integrity of his mind that he was ever open to conviction,  p179 never obstinately dogmatic, and always sought for further light till his judgment became so fixed that it could not be shaken except by irresistible logic or an overwhelming array of facts. His love of study infused its influence in his whole command, his young officers being as noted for scholar­ly culture as for soldierly superiority. As a writer his style was remarkable for its clearness, force, and precision; his pen adorned all it touched, and against an adversary's sophistry was sharper than a two-edged sword; and his remarkable versatility, eloquence of reason, skill in dialectics, philosophical analysis, subtlety of spiritual perception, and vigor of thought, challenged our highest admiration. With playful grace he unaffectedly discourses of fairy tales; with metaphysical subtlety probes the occult for its hidden significance; with glowing fervor interprets the sublimest productions of poetic genius; and with humble reverence searches the secrets of the soul of man and his relations to God. He was no sectarian, nor could he be shackled with Procrustean articles of faith. Though he may have doubted the history of Jesus the Nazarene of tribal lineage, a human being localized in Judea with temporal connections, and an existence embalmed in gospel biographies and imprisoned in creeds and liturgies, he devoutly acknowledged the Spirit Christ, the living Emanuel born in us, the speaking witness of the Divine in our hearts, and the distilled essence of all those pure desires, earnest purposes, noble resolutions, holy aspirations, and moral obligations symbolized by Christianity. His own guileless life, following the guidance of the Gospel Spirit of Truth, is the best interpreter of his doctrines. As a man his modest impressive manners inspired confidence and respect. In contrast to his almost childlike simplicity and womanly tenderness was a Roman's resolution and the martyr's devotion to principle; and interwoven with the quick intelligence, mental dignity, and love of the ideal and spiritual pertaining to his student life, were refined tastes, a delicate susceptibility of beauty, and a passionate fondness for the concord of sweet harmonies, being himself an excellent musician. With these rare traits of character were combined the finest impulses, and his heart abounding with generous emotion, would, while denying all luxuries to himself, lavishly bestow of his means to the needy, saving by his frugality what was secretly spent for the maintenance of the poor and education of the young. His sympathy with the interests and regard for the feelings and welfare of those around him were equal to his charity; hence he was almost idolized by those who were the recipients of his bounty and knew the purity and beauty of his nature. He was also the centre of a wide circle, embracing the good, the cultivated, and the eminent, upon whom his death fell with the solemn pathos of a deep calamity.

" 'Cause he was wise, and gallant things designed,

And pondered noble projects in his mind."

The Author's Notes:

1 General Hitchcock was a grandson of General Ethan Allen, the hero of Ticonderoga and Crown Point.

[decorative delimiter]

2a 2b These works are designed to show that the genuine Alchemists were religious philosophers, writing in Symbolism, — that the Philosopher's Stone was a Symbol of Truth; and that Swedenborg was properly a Hermetic philosopher, — that is, a Moral and Spiritual philosopher, who wrote in Symbolism.

[decorative delimiter]

3 The object of this work is to show that the Gospels are Symbolical books, written by members of a secret society, of the Jews (the Essenes), who recognized a certain Spiritual sense underlying the letter of the Hebrew Sacred law: Christ is the Law personified: the Law, in its spirit, is the Son of God; and, as a writing, the son of man. (See Philo on the Contemplative Life.)

[decorative delimiter]

4 The object of this work is to show that the Sonnets were not addressed to a person, but to Nature, as double Spirit and Matter, called the Master-Mistress, or Love of the Poet (vide Sonet 20).

[decorative delimiter]

5 The object of this work is to show that Colin Clouts is a poetic and figurative description of the progress of a Life under the Guidance of the Gospel Spirit of Truth, represented by the figure of a "Strange Shepherd," etc.

Thayer's Notes:

a A correspondent much more knowledgeable than I am in American history fills in the blandly mysterious "Special duty":

That "Special duty" was the basis of A Traveler in Indian Territory: The Journal of Ethan Allen Hitchcock, late Major-General in the United States Army (Grant Foreman, ed., The Torch Press, Cedar Rapids, IA 1930). Hitchcock was charged with the mission of investigating contractor malfeasance in support of the government relocation of the Southern Tribes to the Indian Territory. Hitchcock's style of writing, as reflected in Foreman's edited version of his Journal, is certainly that of the "Modern Man." He would have made a Class A Operational Auditor or Business Systems Analyst/Consultant.

[decorative delimiter]

b Printed many times by various authors; as in Mudge, pp388‑389.

[decorative delimiter]

c See DeVoto, The Year of Decision: 1846, p107.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 30 Apr 21