When they put the old Confederate fire-eater Dan Ruggles in the ground in June of 1897 he was near 90. A couple of his obituaries referred to the fact that he was a member of the "Carroll class," the name taken by West Point's graduating class of 1833.
We have been at it trying to discover why this particular military academy class acquired the same name as one of Maryland's most famous families. Although aided mightily by some expert sleuths at the West Point library, the search remains incomplete.
The young men who collected their diplomas in June of 1833 might have had one of this country's founding fathers in mind when they established what appeared to be a post-graduate fraternity. The previous November, Maryland's Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the oldest living signer of the Declaration of Independence, had expired at 95. Had not the West Pointers, as they bid farewell to cadet gray and donned the Army blue, paid a tribute to Maryland's best-known (and richest) Colonial-era figure?
West Point is not sure. Library researchers stop short of linking jTC the Carroll class to Maryland's wealthiest revolutionary.
But there's no question that the graduating class formed a fraternal group named Carroll. They all signed a scroll setting up the "United Carroll Club with the object of perpetuating and increasing the attachment and harmony existing amongst them" while cadets.
What sort of future did the 43 members of the Carroll class face? A grim one, if the record of two wars is any judge.
The class smarties, who were siphoned into the engineer's corps, tended to survive the rigors of both the Mexican and Civil wars. Their job was building bridges and harbor defenses.
It was a different story with the bunch who earned only gentlemen's C's. About 25 percent of the class seemed to have a penchant for dying at an early age in obscure frontier skirmishes with Indians. Two were left dead on the battlefield of Churubusco, Mexico. About eight others died young in scattered locales. At least two grads drifted off into jobs with railroads.
The destiny of those who lived into old age is fascinating.
Abraham C. Myers, one-time resident of the Lake Roland area, became commissary general of the Confederacy. John G. Barnard was loyal and built the magnificent defenses of Washington, D.C., during the Civil War. George Washington Cullum had a ringside seat for the great conflict as aide to Generals Halleck, McClellan and Scott. Both Cullum and Barnard served as West Point superintendents. Another loyalist was Ben Alvord, who was instrumental in keeping Oregon in the Union. John Howard Allen ran the Maryland Military Academy for a decade beginning in 1847.
Wealthiest of the grads were Henry DuPont (he would cut off Virginia's powder shipments when civil war loomed) and Rufus King, a boozer and railroad official with an undistinguished performance as a Civil War general.
Francis Henney Smith, one-time president of West Point's board of visitors, became a legend as an early superintendent of Virginia Military Institute. Bill Sidell, who ranked fourth in the class, became one of the Union Army's finest recruiters, operating during the Civil War from Louisville, Ky. *
Back Tracks will offer a print of Mexican War action to the person 1/2 furnishing the best explanation of the Carroll class mystery and/or new light on the relationship of the Charles Carroll family to the 1833 fraternal group. Address responses to Backtracks, The Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21202.