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Alfred Thomas Archimedes Torbert (July 1, 1833 – August 29, 1880) was a career United States Army officer, a Union Army General commanding both infantry and cavalry forces in the American Civil War, and a U.S. diplomat.

Alfred Thomas Archimedes Torbert
A T A Torbert.jpg
General Alfred Thomas Torbert
Born(1833-07-01)July 1, 1833
Georgetown, Delaware
DiedAugust 29, 1880(1880-08-29) (aged 47)
Atlantic Ocean (off Cape Canaveral, Florida)
Place of burial
Avenue Methodist Episcopal Cemetery, Milford, Delaware
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchUnited States Army
Union Army
Years of service1855–1866
RankUnion Army major general rank insignia.svg Brevet Major General
Commands held1st New Jersey Volunteer Infantry
First New Jersey Brigade
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War


Early lifeEdit

Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan and his generals in front of Sheridan's tent, 1864. Left to right: Henry E. Davies, David McM. Gregg, Sheridan, Wesley Merritt, Alfred Torbert, and James H. Wilson.
Union cavalry general Alfred T. A. Torbert (seated center holding saber in front of him) and staff at their headquarters during the Shenandoah Valley campaign under Sheridan in 1864.
Torbert in Autumn 1864 in the Shenandoah Valley

Torbert was born in Georgetown, Delaware. He graduated 21st in a class of 34[1] from the United States Military Academy in 1855 and was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Infantry Regiment. His West Point roommate was William B. Hazen.[2]

Civil WarEdit

Just before the start of the Civil War, Torbert was appointed a first lieutenant in the Confederate States Army on March 16, 1861, but he refused the appointment and remained a lieutenant in the U.S. Army. By September 16, he was appointed colonel of the 1st New Jersey Infantry and, by August 29, 1862, he was a brigade commander in the VI Corps of the Army of the Potomac. In the Maryland Campaign of 1862, he was wounded at Crampton's Gap in the Battle of South Mountain. He was promoted to brigadier general on November 29, 1862. Torbert commanded his New Jersey brigade in the campaigns leading to the Battle of Fredericksburg, the Battle of Chancellorsville, and the Battle of Gettysburg.

On April 10, 1864, Torbert was given command the 1st Division of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac, following the death of Maj. Gen. John Buford. Torbert commanded during the Overland Campaign, except when ill following the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt commanded in his place for a time. During Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan's Valley Campaigns of 1864, Torbert commanded the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Shenandoah and was promoted to brevet major general on September 9, 1864. Sheridan was unhappy with the performance of the cavalry at the time of the Battle of Fisher's Hill. He is said to have told Torbert to go out and "whip or be whipped."[3] The result was a defeat for the Confederate cavalry in the Battle of Tom's Brook.

Torbert commanded the vestigial Army of the Shenandoah from April 22 to June 27, 1865. Merritt commanded Torbert's former corps under Sheridan in the last campaigns of the Civil War in Virginia. Torbert received brevet promotions in the regular army for his service at Gettysburg, Haw's Shop, Third Winchester, and Cedar Creek.

He later commanded the district of South Eastern Virginia, with his headquarters at Norfolk, Virginia. He was mustered out of the volunteer service in December 1865 and placed on a leave of absence until November 1866, when he resigned from the Army.[2]

Postbellum careerEdit

After the war, Torbert served in a number of diplomatic posts: as U.S. Consul to El Salvador in 1869, U.S. Consul General in Havana in 1871, and U.S. Consul General in Paris in 1873.

On August 29, 1880, while en route to Mexico aboard the steamship Vera Cruz, Torbert was washed off the deck during a violent hurricane off the coast of Florida near Cape Canaveral. Accounts of his death indicate he had made it to shore alive, over 20 hours after the ship sank, but drowned in the surf shortly thereafter. His body was recovered August 31, 1880 and buried in Daytona the next day. By September 23, he was disinterred and taken first to New York City, then to Philadelphia and then to his final resting place in the Avenue Methodist Episcopal Cemetery, Milford, Delaware, escorted by military units along the way. Memorial services were held in each of those three cities where, with hundreds attending, he was honored by officials from the U.S. government, military, and dignitaries from foreign countries.[2][4]

In memoriamEdit

In 2008, a statue honoring General Torbert was erected in Milford.[4][5]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Swank, p. 48.
  2. ^ a b c Townsend, George Alfred (November 13, 1883). "The General Torbert Memorial". Army and Navy Journal. 18 (15): 287–298.
  3. ^ Longacre, p. 29.
  4. ^ a b "Torbert Memorial Statue". The Historical Marker database. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
  5. ^ Milford Beacon article, July 4, 2008.


  • Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher. Civil War High Commands. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Longacre, Edward G. The Cavalry at Appomattox: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations During the Civil War's Climactic Campaign, March 27 – April 9, 1865. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2003. ISBN 978-0-8117-0051-1.
  • Swank, Walbrook Davis. Battle of Trevilian Station: The Civil War's Greatest and Bloodiest All Cavalry Battle, with Eyewitness Memoirs. Shippensburg, PA: W. D. Swank, 1994, ISBN 0-942597-68-0.
  • "The Wrecked Steamship: City of Vera Cruz". New York Times. September 5, 1880.

Further readingEdit

  • Wittenberg, Eric J. Glory Enough For All: Sheridan's Second Raid and the Battle of Trevilian Station. Washington, DC: Brassey's, Inc., 2001. ISBN 1-57488-468-9.
  • Memoirs of General P. H. Sheridan Project Gutenberg Etext of Memoirs of General P. H. Sheridan

External linksEdit

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Alpheus S. Williams
United States Minister Resident to El Salvador
October 27, 1869–May 10, 1871
Succeeded by
Thomas Biddle