Army Officer/University President
Full Name Alexander Stewart Webb
Born 15 February 1835 in New York (Manhattan), New York
Died 12 February 1911 in New York (Bronx), New York
Buried United States Military Academy Post Cemetery, West Point, New York
Elected 2 April 1870 at age thirty-five
Archivist’s Note: He resigned in 1897 and was reinstated in October 1902 with a new set of proposers, Beverly Chew and Edgar W. Bass.
We have still a soldier to commemorate, and then a dear friend of many here. The name of Alexander Stewart Webb brings to us thoughts of Yorktown, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spottsylvania [sic] Court House. In those, and how many other battles of the Civil War, General Webb did duty among the bravest of the brave. He came rightly by his courage and fighting energy. His father was a doughty editor, and his grandfather, Gen. Samuel Webb, fought through the Revolution as Putnam’s and then as Washington’s aid, and at last commanded the light infantry of the army. Farther back among his ancestors was Col. Jeremiah Hogeboom, patroon and Indian fighter.
Webb himself graduated at West Point in 1855, and soon was listening to the bullets in the campaign against the Seminoles of Florida; when that was over he taught mathematics at the Military Academy. The Rebellion at once brought him into action. From the time of its first sinister rumblings, and that disciplinary experience of Bull Run, Webb fought through the war. In the Army of the Potomac he was Assistant Chief of Artillery and afterwards Chief of Staff of the Fifth Army Corps, appointed on Gen. McClellan’s special recommendation. It was in June, 1863, that he was commissioned Brigadier-General of Volunteers, and appointed to command his unforgettable brigade—the Second Brigade of the Second Division of the Second Army Corps. Twice this brigade unbroken was destined to lose nearly one-half its men. First at Gettysburg, at that stonewall corner which endured; the brunt of Pickett’s charge, where the Grays burst through but only to be overcome, and where General Armistead, their leader, fell but a few yards away from his old classmate, Webb, who there held the day against him; and a second time that same brigade on the Plank Road in the Wilderness, under the same commander, “could not be forced back,” as the Confederate general reported. But from its numbers, incredibily scant in view of its resistance, it lost 975 men, one-half of its efficient strength.
Badly wounded at Gettysburg, and again at Spottsylvania [sic], Webb returned to the front as soon as able. From grade to grade he rose, constantly brevetted for gallant service, till at the last he was brevetted Major-General of the United States Army. After the war, he returned to West Point, and in 1869 was made President of the College of the City of New York. His administration increased the efficiency and diminished the expenses of that institution; and his exertions contributed to procuring the appropriations by means of which the present buildings were built and equipped. In 1902 he retired from his position to the timely rest of his last years. He had already written a valuable book on the Peninsula Campaign, where his had been so full a part. Its composition must have been but as a crystallization of memories of those days which well might dwarf to anti-climax all of life that followed. Whenever urged to it, he would talk of the war, but never overmuch; and we, listening to him, often let our minds turn back from the genial old friend sitting beside us, to that young man who held his men to heroism at bloody angles, and steadied them against death on the Plank Road in the Wilderness. If we were moved to revery, what very fullness of life re-trodden in thought must have been those far-off, ever-present deeds, constantly taking form in daydreams, and in the still night-hours of wakefulness through those latter years of the old soldier when life had quieted from action to contemplation.
Henry Osborn Taylor
1912 Century Association Yearbook