Alexander Stewart Webb (1835-1911) and Anna Elizabeth Remsen (1837-1912) are our fourth-great grandparents. Alexander, sometimes called “Andy” by his father (according to an interview with his third-great grandson, who knew Alexander’s daughters), was born on 15 February 1835 in New York City.
Alexander attended West Point Military Academy and graduated 13th in his class in 1855, along with future generals on both sides of the impending Civil War. He focused on mathematics while a student, but also enjoyed sketching – a skill that would prove very useful during his military career. He studied under the Hudson River School artist Robert Walter Weir, and socialized with the artist James Whistler, who was thrown out of the 1855 class for mocking a chemistry teacher in a sketch. Alexander’s third-great grandson has the fading Whistler sketch.
Alexander married Anna Elizabeth Remsen (1837-1912), daughter of Hendrick “Henry” Rutgers Remsen (1809-1874) and Elizabeth W. Phoenix (1807-1890), on 28 November 1855, about the time of his graduation from West Point. Anna was further descended from Henry Rutgers Remsen, Sr. (1762-1843), an early financier and bank executive in New York City, who also served as private secretary to Thomas Jefferson during Jefferson’s presidency, according to her 16 November 1912 New York Tribune obituary and the Henry Remsen papers in the New York Public Library.
Henry Rutgers Remsen, Sr., did an extraordinary job of documenting Anna’s family’s history in detail. In one 9-page record he titled “Family Register: Henry R. Remsen’s book,” he described his own marriage and children, and when Henry Rutgers Remsen died, his son continued to enter information. In another book called “Family Record of Henry R. Remsen and Elizabeth W. Phoenix 1834,” Hendrick “Henry” Rutgers Remsen provides 47 pages of births, marriages, vaccinations, accidents, deaths and more. Both records offer incredible depth of description of the family and surrounding events, and are offered here for posterity.
Alexander and Anna would have eight children:
- Henry Remsen Webb, 1857-1858.
- Helen Lispenard Webb, 1859-1929; married John Ernest Alexandre (1830-1910). Helen and John are our direct ancestors.
- Elizabeth Remsen Webb, 1861-1926; married George Burrington Parsons (1863-1939) in 1891.
- Anne Remsen Webb, 1868-1943; unmarried.
- Alexander Stewart Webb, Jr., 1870-1940; married Florence L. Sands (1872-1941). Became the president of the Lincoln Trust Company in 1908.
- Caroline LeRoy Webb, 1868-1950; unmarried.
- William Remsen Webb, 1872-1899. Commissioned as an Army Lieutenant; died at Huntsville, Alabama in the service of the 16th US Infantry.
- Louise DePeyster Webb, 1874-1910; married John Wadsworth.
Shortly after his graduation from West Point, Alexander was sent to Florida to participate in the Third Seminole War. Among other tasks, he conducted balloon-borne reconnaissance missions, using his sketching skills to capture enemy positions and terrain features. The Huxley family plans to transfer some of his Seminole War sketches to the Smithsonian. After his service in Florida, Alexander returned to West Point to teach math.
With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Alexander Webb launched a heroic wartime career, participating in many of the war’s worst fights. A terse biography offers some highlights:
“At the beginning of the war, he took part in the defense of Fort Pickens, was present at First Manassas, was assistant to General William F. Barry, Chief of Artillery for the Army of the Potomac from July 1861 to April 1862, and during the Peninsula Campaign was Barry’s acting inspector general. He was Chief of Staff for General Fitz-John Porter’s V Corps during the Maryland Campaign in 1862.
“In January 1863 he became Assistant Inspector General of the V Corps and a few days prior to the Battle of Gettysburg took command of the famous Philadelphia Brigade of the II Corps, being promoted to Brigadier General, US Volunteers on the same day (June 23rd). During Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd his four regiments were posted at the Clump of Trees at the Union center, the focal point of the Confederate attack. He lost 451 men killed and wounded during the assault. He was wounded as well.
“He was again wounded, this time severely, at the Battle of Spotsylvania in May 1864 and did not return back to duty until January 1865. At this time he assumed the duties of Chief of Staff for Gen. George G. Meade, a position he held until the end of the war. He was breveted Major General, US Volunteers in both the regular and volunteer armies at the end of the war, and appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the 44th United States Regular Infantry.”
That Alexander made it out of the war alive is astonishing. At Gettysburg, he was seen in the open, leaning on his sword and puffing on a cigar, during a terrifying artillery bombardment that sent other officers and soldiers running for cover. The next day, his unit took the brunt of the brutal Pickett’s Charge. He was shot through the leg during the ensuing close combat, and after the battle sent a telegram (now in the possession of the Huxley family) to his wife saying, “Am well. Not wounded. Only scratched.” During the Battle of Spotsylvania the next year, a bullet entered his right eye socket and exited by his ear, but he rejoined the fight later in the year. For his “distinguished personal gallantry” at Gettysburg, he was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1891.
In an existing letter, Anna was urged by Julia Grant, the wife of General Ulysses S. Grant, to get as close as possible to the fight. From photographs in the Huxley family’s possession it appears that Anna took Julia’s advice by making trips to the rear of the Union force to accompany her husband.
Alexander returned to great acclaim in New York after the war, and remained at West Point as a professor of mathematics until 1870. He served as the second president of the City College of New York until 1902, where he attempted to maintain a classical curriculum. He also served as the first president of the Westminster Kennel Club. In 1881 he wrote the book, The Peninsula: McClellan’s Campaign of 1862. General Alexander Webb is honored with statues at Gettysburg and at the City College of New York, and is the subject of an installment at the Gettysburg museum.
Alexander and Anna lived out their days in a large house overlooking the Hudson River in the Riverdale suburb of New York City, just south of Westchester County. Their grandchildren adored them, and lovingly called them Cuckoo and Grandmoo. They were buried together at Section M, Site 22, of the West Point cemetery.