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Bill Thayer

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 [decorative delimiter] Class of 1823

Vol. I

(Born N. C.)

Alfred Mordecai​a

(Ap'd N. C.)


Born Jan. 3, 1804, Warrenton, NC.

Military History. — Cadet at the Military Academy, June 24, 1819, to July 1, 1823, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to

Bvt. Second Lieut., Corps of Engineers, July 1, 1823.

Second Lieut., Corps of Engineers, July 1, 1823.

Served: at the Military Academy, 1823‑25, as Asst. Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy, July 1, 1823, to Sep. 1, 1824, — and Principal Asst. Professor of Engineering, Sep. 1, 1824, to July 12, 1825; as Asst. Engineer in the construction of Fts. Monroe and Calhoun, for the defense of Hampton Roads, Va., 1825‑28; as Assistant to the Chief Engineer at Washington, D. C., 1828‑32; on Special duty with the Secretary of War, 1832; as Asst. Ordnance Officer at Washington Arsenal,

(Captain, Ordnance, May 30, 1832)

 p300  D. C., 1832‑33, and in command, 1833; on leave of absence in Europe, 1833‑34; in command of Frankford Arsenal, Pa., 1835‑38; as Assistant to the Chief of Ordnance, Washington, D. C., 1838‑42; as Member of the Ordnance Board, May 28, 1839, to Dec. 28, 1860; as Asst. Inspector of Arsenals, 1842; in constructing Ballistic Pendulums and on Foundry duty, 1842‑44; as Member of the Board of Visitors to the Military Academy, 1843; in command of Washington Arsenal, D. C., 1844‑47; in preparing descriptions and drawings of the Artillery, for the United States Land Service, 1847‑48; in command of Washington Arsenal, D. C., 1848‑55; as Member of a "Military Commission to the Crimea and

(Bvt. Major, May 30, 1848, for Meritorious Conduct, particularly in the Performance of his Duties in the Prosecution of the War with Mexico)

(Major, Ordnance, Dec. 31, 1854)

theatre of war in Europe," 1855‑57, his observations, particularly on Military Organization and Ordnance, having been published by order of Congress in 1860; in command of Watervliet Arsenal, N. Y., 1857‑61; and Member of the Board "to Revise the Programme of Instruction of the Military Academy," Jan. 12 to Apr. 24, 1860.

Resigned, May 5, 1861.

Civil History. — Author of "A Digest of Military Laws," 1833; of "Reports of Experiments on Gunpowder," 1845 and 1849; of "Artillery for the United States Land Service, as devised and arranged by the Ordnance Board, with Plates," 1849; and of the "Ordnance Manual, for the use of the Officers of the United States Army," 1841, and Second Edition, 1850. Asst. Engineer of the Mexico and Pacific Railroad, from Vera Cruz, through the city of Mexico, to the Pacific Ocean, 1863‑66. Treasurer and Secretary of Canal and Coal Companies controlled by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, 1867‑87.

Died, Oct. 23, 1887, at Philadelphia, Pa.: Aged 85.

Buried, Mikveh Israel Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA.

Biographical Sketch.

Major Alfred Mordecai was born, Jan. 3, 1804, at Warrenton, N. C. With an excellent preliminary education, he entered the Military Academy, June 24, 1819, and was graduated therefrom, at the head of his class, July 1, 1823, and promoted to the Corps of Engineers. After graduation he was retained at the Academy for two years, as an Assistant Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy and of Engineering; from 1825 to 1828 was engaged in the construction of the defenses of Hampton Roads, Va.; then, for four years, was the Assistant to the Chief Engineer at Washington, D. C.; and May 30, 1932, was promoted to be a Captain in the newly organized Ordnance Corps.

Upon entering his new field of usefulness he was stationed at Washington Arsenal, D. C., at the same time being placed in the Secretary of War's office to prepare "A Digest of Military Laws," which was published in 1833. He then visited Europe, and upon his return was placed in command of Frankford Arsenal, Pa., till 1838, when he became Assistant to the Chief of Ordnance, and soon after a member of the Ordnance Board. In the latter capacity he went to Europe to study foreign systems of artillery. An elaborate report of the Board's proceedings was made to the Secretary of War, Mar. 2, 1841, and in 1849 was issued, as the result of its labors, the great work entitled "Artillery for the United States Land Service," chiefly the work of Mordecai. While engaged in this great labor, he was charged with other important and responsible duties: as Assistant Inspector of Arsenals, 1842; in constructing Ballistic Pendulums, experimenting on gunpowder and gun-cotton, and on foundry  p301 duties, 1842‑45; as member of the Board of Visitors to the Military Academy, 1843; and, at such intervals as his other duties permitted, was assiduously engaged in the preparation of the Ordnance Manual, published in 1841, and second edition in 1850. For these and other valuable services connected with the Mexican War, he was brevetted Major, May 30, 1848.

In 1853 Mordecai was directed by the Secretary of War to visit Mexico and investigate the "Gardiner Claim," which he found to be fraudulent.​b

This important duty being completed, his talents and efficiency were again called into re­quisition as a member of a "Military Commission to the Crimea and Theatre of War in Europe," 1855‑57, and his observations, particularly on military organization and ordnance, were published, in a quarto volume, by order of Congress, in 1860.

Upon Mordecai's return from Europe, he took command of Watervliet Arsenal, N. Y.; and was detailed in 1860 as a member of the Board "to Revise the Programme of Instruction at the Military Academy."

In the Civil War Mordecai, being of Southern birth, felt that he could not draw his sword against the companions of his boyhood, nor would honor and duty permit rebellion against the flag of his country, under which he had been educated and has passed his manhood; he consequently resigned his commission, May 5, 1861, and retired to his home in Philadelphia, Pa., to support his family by teaching mathematics to a few pupils. Subsequently he became an Assistant Engineer on the Mexico and Pacific Railroad, 1863‑66; and Treasurer and Secretary of the Canal and Coal Companies controlled by the Pennsylvania Railroad, from 1867 till his death, Oct. 23, 1887.

His intimate friend and fellow-cadet, John H. B. Latrobe,​c gives the following summary of his character: "An accomplished scholar before he was a soldier, he brought to the performance of the duties of the latter the refinement that classical education often gives, whether manifested in mathematical investigation, in the routine of professional occupation, in acute observation, or in the narration of personal experience. He was endowed, too, with a memory that was equaled only by its accuracy, and with an industry which was exhibited in everything to which a broad intelligence addressed itself.

"Of a kindly nature, he had the faculty of making friends of all with whom he came in contact, and none were more attached to him than the soldiers who served under him, and the poor and needy whom he sought to assist. To do right was of the essence of his existence; and it was this, to use the language of another, that 'made his life as pure as crystal.'

"Of the graduates of the Military Academy, while there were others whom circumstances and opportunity placed in more prominent positions and gave a wider fame, there has not been one who had done more honor to West Point than this noble gentleman, of whom it may be truly said that he never lost a friend or made an enemy."

Thayer's Notes:

a Not to be confused with his son, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Alfred Mordecai, Class of 1861.

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b A man named George A. Gardiner filed a claim against the government of Mexico under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, stating that he had been operating a silver mine at La Huasteca in the State of San Luis Potosí when he was forcibly expelled from it by the governor of the State in October 1846. He had been working as a dentist in fact and a "pedlar in small wares", nowhere near the mine in question, but managed thru forgery, perjury, and influence peddling to have himself awarded $428,747 out of a U. S. Government fund for claims against Mexico: a very large sum in those days. The high-profile case eventually wended its way thru several investigations and court proceedings; Gardiner was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to ten years imprisonment, and ultimately committed suicide. The Army was involved in part because Gardiner had worked as surgeon to our troops in Tampico in 1847.

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c John Latrobe, ex‑1822, is not found in Cullum's Register, because he did not graduate. He played an important rôle, however, in graduate affairs and we owe him an interesting booklet on life at the Point under Sylvanus Thayer, West Point Reminiscences.

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