Robert Plunket Maclay


Robert Plunket Maclay was born at Armagh in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, on February 19, 1820, the son of Samuel Plunket and Elizabeth (Johnston) Maclay. Of a prominent Pennsylvania family, his grandfather and granduncle were U.S. senators; an uncle was a U.S. congressman. After early education at Lewiston Academy, he entered West Point in 1836. At graduation in 1840 he ranked thirty-second in a class of forty-two. Maclay joined the 8th Infantry as a second lieutenant and fought in the Seminole War. During the Mexican War he was an officer in General Zachary Taylor's army and was wounded in the Battle of Resaca de la Palma. Sent home to organize new recruits, Maclay rejoined Academy Library the army in time to participate in the defense of Puebla.

In 1849 he was promoted to captain. For the next eleven years he was stationed at various army posts in Texas, including a stint as commandant of Fort Inge. In 1853 he married Virginia Medora Nutt (she died in 1856), whose family had large land holdings in both Louisiana and Mississippi. Maclay resigned from the army, effective December 31, 1860, in order to manage his newly acquired Louisiana plantations.

Although he was born in the North and had numerous relatives in the Union army Maclay's sympathies were with the South, with his Louisiana neighbors and in-laws. Like many of his neighbors, he accepted an officer's commission in the state militia. On December 16, 1861, he was appointed captain of Company C of the Pointe Coupee Militia Regiment. On March 1, 1862, he was appointed major and inspector general of the 6th Militia Brigade, a unit commanded by Pointe Coupee planter Charles N. Rowley. It was not until October 21, 1862, when Union naval forces began to raid Pointe Coupee Parish, that Maclay applied for service with the Confederate army. On October 31, 1862, he was appointed major of artillery and ordered to report to Lieutenant General Theophilus H. Holmes, new head of the Trans-Mississippi Department. On January 2, 1863, Holmes assigned Maclay to the staff of Major General John G. Walker, who had just taken command of a division of Texas infantry encamped in Arkansas. Maclay became Walker's assistant adjutant general and inspector general, and eventually chief of staff of the division. Throughout 1863 and 1864 the division fought in Louisiana and Arkansas, including the 1863 attack on Milliken's Bend and the 1864 Red River campaign. At the April 30, 1864, Battle of Jenkins' Ferry, Arkansas, all three brigade commanders of Walker's division were wounded, two mortally. On May 13, 1864, General Edmund Kirby Smith, who had succeeded Holmes as commander of the TransMississippi Department, assigned Major Maclay to duty as brigadier general (to rank from April 30, 1864) and put him in command of the 1st (Waul's) Brigade of Walker's division. In a later reorganization Maclay was assigned to command Brigadier General Horace Randal's old brigade. The appointments caused "very great dissatisfaction" within the division. The problem was not Maclay's lack of competence. A surgeon in Randal's brigade recorded in his letters that Maclay was "a very nice gentleman," and that he "has so far given great satisfaction to the officers and men in his brigade." But it was unusual and controversial for a divisional staff major to be promoted over the heads of colonels to command a brigade. In addition, the legality of Kirby Smith's assignment to duty was open to question. By October, 1864, Smith was considering transferring another general to replace Maclay. In order to have time to sort things out, on January 31, 1865, Kirby Smith gave Maclay a sixty-day leave of absence. Maclay does not appear to have ever rejoined his brigade.

After the war he was a planter in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana, and in Mississippi. His home was near New Roads, Louisiana, where he farmed and was active in the local Episcopal church. General Maclay, "a noble Christian gentleman," died on May 20, 1903, at Levy Plantation, Pointe Coupee Parish, in the home of his daughter.' He is buried near Fordoche, Louisiana.

SHSP, Heitman, Wright, CV, and Cullum all list Maclay as a general.

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Reference:  More Generals in Gray.  Bruce S. Allardice.  A companion volume to Generals in Gray.  Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge. LA.