James Henry Van Alen

James Henry Van Alen, son of a wealthy New York merchant, was born on August 17, 1819, at Kinderhook, New York. He was educated by private tutors and never devoted himself to any particular business other than managing his affairs. At the outbreak of the Civil War he was residing in New York City and, at his own expense, recruited and completely equipped the 3rd New York Cavalry. He was mustered into service as its colonel on August 28, 1861. This regiment was on duty in the defenses of Washington during the first winter of the war; on April 15, 1862, Van Alen was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers. During the Peninsular campaign George B. McClellan placed him in command of Yorktown and Gloucester, where he remained until relieved in October. From November, 1862, until February, 1863, he was one of the members of the court of inquiry investigating General Irvin McDowell's conduct at Second Manassas. In the battle of Chancellorsville, Van Alen was assigned to duty as General Joseph Hooker's aide-de-camp, but on May 7, 1863, was placed in command of the defenses of Aquia Creek and vicinity, including the adjacent Richmond, Fredericksburg, & Potomac Railroad. He resigned his commission on July 14, 1863, and returned to civilian life. From then until his death General Van Alen traveled extensively, meantime making his home at residences which he maintained in Newport and London. His only son, who at the age of sixteen had run away to war to join his father and who was subsequently wounded, married a daughter of William Astor. General Van Alen was returning from a visit to England with his three grandchildren when he either fell or jumped overboard from the Cunard liner Umbria in the early morning of July 22, 1886. His body was never recovered.

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Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.