Civil War General, Alfred Thomas Archimedes Torbert, is born in Georgetown, Delaware, on July 1, 1833 to Jonathan and Catherine Milby Torbert. He began an Army career, graduating from West Point in 1855 and then being assigned to frontier duty out west. When the Civil War broke out, Torbert was offered commissions in both the Union and Confederate armies but sided with the Union and went on to command both infantry and cavalry forces. He served as a Colonel of the First New Jersey Volunteer Infantry and then as commander of the First New Jersey Brigade after its leader, General George Taylor, was killed at the Second Battle of Bull Run. Promoted to Brigadier General in November 1862, Torbert and his regiment fought at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. In April 1864, he was given command of the First Division of the Cavalry Corps under General Philip Sheridan and was part of the Shenandoah Valley and Overland Campaigns. Torbert ended the war as a brevet Major General but resigned from the Army in 1866 to pursue a diplomatic and business career.
After the war, Torbert married Mary E. Currey and made his home in Milford, Delaware. He held several diplomatic posts as U.S. Consul to El Salvador (1869) and U.S. Consul General in Havana (1871) and Paris (1873). He drowned in the shipwreck of the steamer City of Vera Cruz off the coast of Florida on August 29, 1880 while on a business trip from New York to Mexico. He is buried in the Methodist Episcopal Cemetery in Milford.
In this his birthday month, we celebrate with a memento of his Civil War glory days that came to us in 1895 from the estate of his widow, Mary. This large-scale, oil on canvas painting (measuring 58 ¾” long x 46 ½” high) depicts Torbert during his time as a cavalry commander and features him front and center mounted upon a prancing white horse, coolly assessing the situation amid the smoke and drama of battle. Although we don’t know which battle this is meant to be, it’s quite fun to imagine that it’s the Battle of Tom’s Brook (October 9, 1864), Torbert’s most decisive victory and the battle before which Sheridan is supposed to have told him to “whip or be whipped.” This painting was done in 1867 by noted New Jersey portrait artist, John Hagny (1833-1876).