Biography of William Sully Beebe
William Sully Beebe was born at Ithaca, N. Y., in 1341, and educated with a view to his appointment to the Military Academy at West Point. He was one of the president’s appointments there in 1858, on account of the services of his uncle and adopted father, Captain John C. Casey, himself a graduate of 1829, a member of the board of visitors of 1843, chief commissary on General Taylor’s staff in Mexico, ” whose zeal, intelligence and devotion to duty to the hour of his death, gave a peculiar claim and promise of faithful service to his young relative.” He graduated in 1863, fifteenth in a class of twenty-five, was appointed a second lieutenant of ordnance and assigned to St. Louis Arsenal except during the time of Morgan’s raid, when he served as volunteer aid with the forces opposing Morgan in Kentucky and Indiana. At his urgent request he was ordered to the field in the Department of the Gulf as assistant to its chief of ordnance. He applied for detail with the Red River Expedition then starting, and was appointed its chief ordnance officer, taking part in all the battles and actions of that campaign, acting as aid to the general commanding at the battle of Sabine Cross Roads, leading the supports of Nims’ Battery in an attempt to recover it from the enemy, when his horse was killed under him inside the battery and he himself was :wounded, for which service he was reported to headquarters by the chief of staff, an eye-witness of the occurrence. In the action of the same day, when the 19th Army Corps repulsed the confederate advance, he was sent to restore the extreme right of the federal line; in which effort he was successful, taking advantage of the confederate check to drive them in turn and capturing many prisoners, thus securing the first authentic intelligence of Taylor’s reinforcement by Churchill’s Missouri Column, for which he received the thanks of the 19th Corps commander, and was again commended to army headquarters. At the battle of Pleasant Hill he was commended by the general commanding the army and 19th Corps for his promptness and energy in leading the supports into action. At the evacuation of Alexandria, and the conflagration that took place during a gale, he, at the head of a detail of picked men, attempted to stay the fire by blowing up the buildings in its path. During this time the party again and again escaped destruction by premature explosion, in some cases the flakes from burning buildings falling into the receptacles for powder when they were about to be filled. For this he was thanked by the citizens of the town, headed by a brother-in-law of General Albert Sidney Johnston, who pledged the good name of the town for the safety and release of the party in case of its capture by the confederate advance.
When the fleet under command of Admiral David D. Porter had been forced to lighten draught by landing their guns, the first intention had been to burst them, but on Lieutenant Beebe’s stating that he was confident he could move them below the falls and reload them on the vessels to which they belonged, he was given the men to make the attempt and succeeded in saving all but five old model 32s, which he had to leave through lack of time. For this service Admiral Porter wrote as follows: ” It was under Captain Beebe’s orders that that most efficient ordnance party worked so laboriously and efficiently to save the guns of the fleet from falling into the hands of the enemy, and but for Captain Beebe’s energy and perseverance the guns would have been so abandoned.”
At the battle of Cane River Crossing, while the rear guard were being pressed by the enemy, and while the head of the column was held in check by some 8,000 confederates strongly entrenched, with artillery in position, in fact, when success was vital, he was directed by the new chief of staff, General Dwight, to join the column detached to dislodge this force and “on his arrival to signal what he thought the strength of the opposing force and to unremittingly urge the necessity for speed, in which action he would be sustained by his superiors.” On his arrival, finding the confederate skirmish line on the advance instead of being pushed, he volunteered to lead the regiment in front of him in assault if suitably supported, which offer was at first declined with some asperity, but on its being renewed when the confederates showed signs of attacking in force, was promptly accepted. He led the assault, being the first man inside the confederate lines, from which they were driven in full retreat and for which their commander was relieved from his command and was tried by court martial. In this assault the attacking column lost some 200 men. On his return he was complimented by the column commander on the spot, and on arriving at headquarters was informed by the chief of staff, who sent him, that while waiting for his report by signal, he received the news that the enemy had been driven out of their works by an assault led by the staff officer he had sent. Lieutenant Beebe was brevetted captain in the U. S. Army to date from this battle as follows “For gallant and meritorious services and for intrepidity and daring and skill in handling men in the face of the enemy.”
On the run down the Mississippi, -when the headquarter boat was under fire at Tunica Bend, the battery was engaged at close quarters by a rifle placed on the boat’s upper deck with such satisfactory results that although the boat itself was riddled, no lives were lost, and the transports following passed without receiving a shot. This gun was manned by members of the general staff, Lieutenant Sargent, Doctor Homans and others, under Lieutenant Beebe’s direction.
When the expedition terminated Lieutenant Beebe received leave of absence -with a view to his acceptance of a volunteer command, for which he was recommended by the general commanding and every corps commander in the department, as follows: ” He has shown upon various occasions intrepidity and daring and skill in handling men in the face of the enemy that merit the highest applause, and should secure for him any position he may choose to seek. At Cane River Crossing he particularly distinguished himself by leading a regiment on a charge, most gallantly carrying a strong position held by the enemy.
You will find him fully competent to command a regiment or even a larger body of men.”
General W. B. Franklin, commander of the 19th Army Corps, said: ” I am sure that a regiment under his command cannot fail to distinguish itself, and I cordially endorse his application.” Owing to the appearance of smallpox on the transport on which he sailed and the consequent quarantine, Lieutenant Beebe lost the opportunity he had in view, and as he found that political influence would be required in any new direction, something he had neither time nor inclination to seek, he returned to his station at New Orleans, where he found that without his knowledge an order had been issued assigning him to duty on the staff of General Gordon Granger, then about to undertake the expedi tion for the capture of Forts Gaines and Morgan, the outer de-. fenses of Mobile bay. – Against General Granger’s friendly contention he had this order recalled, preferring the position of chief of ordnance of the expedition to even such a complimentary position as that offered him. During the siege of Fort Morgan the method of supply for the batteries by wagon along the beach being tedious, he was asked by his chief if he thought he could run a light draught steamer captured from the enemy, under cover of darkness and relying on the fire of our sharpshooters to prevent its being sunk, up to the mortar batteries, which were within a few hundred yards of the fort, with a deck load of powder and shell. This he undertook to do the next morning at daylight, and when about to land his cargo, saw in the dusk the flag of truce just sent out with a view to the surrender of the fort. He accordingly ran by the batteries and over the torpedo ground, trusting to his light draught, and tied up at the fort wharf. Owing to this circumstance and the politeness of the confederate ordnance officer, who came down to the end of the wharf and invited him to make the tour of the fort, he was the first person inside the works from the federal side, which was then on fire and was surrendered that day at noon. He was, on General Granger’s nomination, brevetted major, to date from the capture of the fort, ” for gallant and meritorious services at the siege of Fort Morgan.”
A few months later the expedition under command of General E. R. S. Canby, for the reduction of Mobile and its outlying defenses, Forts Blakely, Huger and Tracy, and Spanish Fort, was undertaken, when Major Beebe was, at his own request, ordered to duty as its chief ordnance officer, his especial charge being an ordnance and siege train that was drilled for the purpose, reviewed by the commanding general and received his written commendation. While the troops were being transferred across the bay after the outlying defenses and the city itself surrendered, Major Beebe took the yawl of one of his transports, and with her captain and mate as crew, a confederate pilot pressed into the service, and Colonel Palfrey, chief engineer, as fellow-passenger, ran across the obstructions and torpedo ground and put up the first flag in the city of ‘ Mobile, on the spire of the Episcopal church, the confederate cavalry raiding the streets while they were thus engaged, and the party only escaping capture by the confederates being so sharply pressed by our infantry as not to have time to dismount.
Major Beebe was one of a half dozen officers sent to Meridian, Miss., to receive the surrender of General Dick Taylor’s army and supplies, after which, the war being over, he was sent to command Mount Vernon Arsenal, Ala., from thereto Frankford Arsenal, Pa., where in securing the arrest of a night expedition of river thieves he, with two enlisted men, captured their whole outfit, a sloop and yawl, one of the party, and were forced to kill another who fired the first shot and died pistol in hand. The men with him were commended in post orders.
From Frankford he was ordered to Fort Monroe, and during an explosion that took place in an ammunition house in one. of the redoubts, a building some twenty feet square, in which, ” when the explosion took place there were some twenty barrels of powder ” and five men, two of whom were mortally wounded and three killed, ” the powder and wounded were safely gotten out of the way by Major W. S. Beebe and Richard Oldfield, William Hayward, James Cooney and Private Carter, Company A, Third Artillery. The conduct of Major Beebe was highly commendable in his efforts to save life and property, as he exposed himself to more than ordinary danger in doing so.”
From Fort Monroe he was ordered to Watervliet Arsenal, Troy, N. Y., and from there to Alleghany Arsenal, Pittsburgh, Pa., and finally to Rock Island, Ill., from which place he resigned, to take ” effect at the end of the year as an unusual mark of favor.” Previous to his resignation Major Beebe had gone abroad with a circular from the State Department, worded as follows: ” That the Department took peculiar pleasure in commending him as one who had conducted himself with distinguished ability and gallantry in the field, during the late Civil War,” and “that he came highly commended by General Grant, General Meade and General Dyer, Chief of his Corps.”
Before and since his resignation Major Beebe has been a close student of American mythology, especially in its relations to European and Asiatic religions, and is firmly of the opinion that common religious property is due altogether to American loans. He upholds the following theory, which in the main is his own:
I. A great philosophical culte once occupied all the Americas, originating in Peru.
II. The backbone of this culte was a theory of number founded on recurrence, which had early attracted the attention of the aborigines, and that this theory of number is founded in fact.
III. That the tablets found at Davenport, Ia., and Piqua, Ohio, are authentic, and that he not only has read them but can restore missing portions.
IV. The phonetic values of these pictographs are Shemitic, including many well-known proper names, the legends, the same as the Accadian on which the Genesis Cycle is founded, and that they had their origin here, in short, are American.
To prove these statements he has collected a mass of illustration, a very large part of which is entirely new, and now has his work well under way, doing all the labor of text, illustration, and print himself.