Biography of Gen. Emory Upton


GEN. EMORY UPTON was born in the town of Batavia, five miles west of the village, August 27, 1839. In 1856, at the age of seventeen, through the instrumentality of Hon. Benjamin Pringle, then representative in Congress, young Upton entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, from which he was graduated May 6, 1861. On the day of his graduation he was appointed second lieutenant, and eight days later was promoted to first lieutenant. Proceeding at once to Washington, within a few days he was engaged in active military service. It will thus be seen that this young officer, at the age of twenty-one years, found himself on the very threshold of active life thrown at once into the seething vortex of the great Civil war. The transition from theory to practice was with him an immediate one, and whatever dreams he may have had of the uneventful life of the average military man of that day were quickly and effectually dispelled by the thunder of real artillery, loaded and shotted.

July 18, 1861, Lieutenant Upton aimed the first gun in the contest which terminated three days later in the battle of Bull Run. At this battle he was wounded in the side, and though considerably hurt, remained on the field throughout the day. Gen. Upton's military career during the period of the Rebellion was a most active and successful one. He was wounded three times, the last very severely. Though a noted scholar and tactician, he was none the less a practical, everyday soldier in the field. He saw a vast deal of hard fighting, led many a valiant charge, and was exposed to almost endless danger. He was promoted successively from lieutenant to captain, to major, lieutenantcolonel, colonel, brigadier general and brevet major-general, in every instance for gallant and meritorious conduct. It will thus be seen that he enjoyed the unusual distinction of being a major-general at the age of twenty-five years.

April 16, 1865, General Upton being then in command of a cavalry corps, made a night assault unon the rebel works at Columbus, Ga., capturing a large amount of arms, ammunition, stores and 1,500 prisoners. This occurred a week after the surrender of Lee's army, and was the last engagement of importance during the war. His service therefore spanned the entire period of the war of the Rebellion. A few weeks later, in May, 1865, he was ordered to arrest Alexander H. Stephens, the vice-president of the confederacy, and a little later Jefferson Davis, the arch chief of the Rebellion, was placed in his custody and escorted by him to the steamer- at Savannah, Ga.

At the close of the Rebellion General Upton was placed in command of the Department of Tennessee, and later in the same year was transferred to the command of the Department of Colorado, with headquarters at Denver. While there he wrote his work on infantry tactics, which almost immediately was adopted by the board of distinguished officers, among whom were Generals Grant, Meade and Canby. In 1870 General Upton, then thirty years of age, was appointed commandant of the United States Military Academy at West Point, which position he held about five years. In 1875 he was relieved of this duty and ordered to make an extended tour of Europe and Asia to inspect the armies of all the leading powers, and to make a thorough investigation of the military systems of all these countries. The result of this expedition was a most admirable and comprehensive work entitled "The Armies of Asia and Europe." In many respects General Upton was the most distinguished character that Genesee county has produced.

In 1885 the Life and Letters of Emery Upton was published. An introductory article was written by Major-General James Harrison Wilson, one of the most accomplished military critics of the country, and in the estimation of Grant one of his ablest lieutenants. Gen. Wilson paid this extraordinary tribute: "I have constantly maintained since the close of the war, that at that time Upton was as good an artillery officer as could be found in any country, the equal of any cavalry commander of his day, and, all things considered, was the best commander of a division of infantry in either the Union or the rebel army. He was the equal of Custer or Kilpatrick in dash and enterprise, and vastly the superior of either in discipline and administration, whether on the march or in the camp. He was incontestably the best tactitian of either army, and this is true whether tested by battle or by the evolutions of the drill field and parade. In view of his success of all arms of the service, it is not too much to add that he could scarcely have failed as a corps or army commander had it. been his good fortune to be called to such rank. And nothing is more certain than that he would have had a corps of cavalry had the war lasted - six y days longer, or that, with the continuation of the struggle, he would have been in due time put at the head of an army. No one can read the story of his brilliant career without concluding that he had a real genius for war, together with all the theoretical and practical knowledge which any one could acquire in regard to it. Up to the time when he was disabled by the disease which caused his death he was, all things considered, the most accomplished soldier in our service. His life was pure and upright, his bearing chivalric and commanding, his conduct modest and unassuming, and his character absolutely without blemish. History cannot furnish a brighter example of unselfish patriotism, or ambition unsullied by an ignoble thought or an unworthy deed. He was a credit to the State and family which gave him birth, to the military academy which educated him, and to the army in which he served. So long as the Union has such soldiers as he to defend it, it will be perpetual."

No attempt is made in this sketch to give a detailed account of Uptm's brilliant achievements as a soldier upon many battle fields. The histories which have been written of the War of the Rebellion abound in proofs of his genius as a strategist and of his abounding skill and valor in action.

His public deeds are in a large sense the common property of all his countrymen. It was in his quiet, inner life that General Upton is best remembered and most sincerely deplored. It may be said of him briefly and simply that he was a true, loyal man, a most devout Christian, a most companionable friend. He was the very soul of honor. Those who know him best loved and honored him most.

General Upton died in San Francisco, March 15, 1881.

Our County and it's people
A descriptive work on Genesee County, New York
Edited by: F. W. Beers
J.W. Vose & Co., Publishers, Syracuse, N. Y. 1890



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