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Antebellum Warriors

An Early West Point Graduate

Daniel D. Tompkins arrived at the U.S. Military Academy in 1814 with an aptitude for learning and a well-known namesake—his uncle, the governor of New York, who would soon serve as vice president in James Monroe’s administration.

Young Tompkins, only 14, began his academic career during a tumultuous time at the Academy, which had struggled to find its place since its establishment a dozen years earlier. But by the time he graduated in 1820, the institution had settled into many of the familiar routines in evidence today. He ranked 10th of 30 classmates. The cadet who ranked 11th, John H. Winder of Maryland, went on to become a Confederate brigadier in charge of Union prison camps during the Civil War.

In this circa 1858-60 ambrotype, Tompkins is wearing a Model 1840 pattern sword. While typically made for Medical Staff, Tompkins service suggests the sword could be the exceedingly rare Store Keepers variation. Quarter-plate ambrotype by an anonymous photographer. Dan Binder Collection.
In this circa 1858-60 ambrotype, Tompkins is wearing a Model 1840 pattern sword. While typically made for Medical Staff, Tompkins service suggests the sword could be the exceedingly rare Store Keepers variation. Quarter-plate ambrotype by an anonymous photographer. Dan Binder Collection.

Tompkins remained Union loyal. His long army career was relatively peaceful considering the numerous military entanglements in which the fledgling republic involved itself during the first half of the 19th century. His only recorded combat occurred in actions against warriors of the Seminole tribe of Florida as a result of the 1830 Indian Removal Act. The then Capt. Tompkins was awarded the brevet rank of major for gallant and meritorious conduct.

Tompkins spent the bulk of his army service as a quartermaster, and steadily rose in rank to colonel. In 1858, he became assistant quartermaster general in charge of the Department of New York. When civil war divided the country a few years later, he commanded the Depot at New York City, and managed its rapid expansion to a vast supply empire. Tompkins died on active duty in February 1863. He was 64.

According to his death notice, Tompkins was remembered for his “unswerving integrity and ability in the administration of the business of the Quartermaster’s Department.”

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