The Class of 1846: From West Point to Appomattox — Stonewall Jackson, George McClellan and Their Brothers

By John C. Waugh
Forward by James M. McPherson

Warner Books, 1994
Ballantine Books, 1999

635 pages

A Main Selection of the History Book Club and winner of the New York Civil War Round Table’s Fletcher Pratt Award for the best nonfiction book of the Civil War published in 1994.

No single class of West Pointers is so indelibly prominent in American history as the antebellum class of 1846. Their names are legendary: Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson, George Brinton McClellan, Ambrose Powell Hill, Darius Nash Couch, George Edward Pickett, Cadmus Marcellus Wilcox, George Stoneman — just a few of the 59 men of this illustrious class. They fought in three wars, produced twenty generals and left the nation a lasting legacy of bravery, brilliance, and bloodshed.This award-winning book is an intimate chronicle that traces the lives of these unforgettable men — their training as cadets, their personalities, and the wars in which they fought, met their fates, and made their names immortal. Drawing heavily on the rich reservoir of letters, diaries, and personal accounts, it is a collective biography of masterful proportions, as vivid and engrossing as fiction in its recreation of these brilliant figures and their pivotal roles in the turbulent America of the 19th century.

What Historians Think

“If asked to list my dozen favorite Civil War books, The Class of 1846 would be included…. John C. Waugh, a distinguished journalist, gives to his story of the class a special and very human dimension that is missing from their standard biographies and autobiographies.” 
— Edwin C. Bearss, Chief Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service

“A splendid idea carried through with grace, style, and insight. Altogether a wonderful read.” — Stephen Ambrose, author of Undaunted Courage

“A fresh and fascinating look at an extraordinary group of men who were literally in a “class by itself.” A rich, rewarding biography, Waugh’s astounding narrative brings history to life. I read it in one sitting.” — Jeff Shaara, author of Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure

“John C. Waugh does a splendid job…. His narrative illuminates the strong connection among the men, as well as the power of political events to place them opposite one another on bloody Civil War battlefields, and in doing so captures much of the tragedy of that great American Conflict.” 
— Gary W. Gallagher, John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War, University of Virginia, author of Fighting for the Confederacy, The Confederate War, and Lee and his Generals in War and Memory

“Waugh skillfully traces the transformation of 1842’s callow plebes into some of the most important Civil War leaders on either side — Stonewall Jackson, George B. McClellan, McClellan’s roommate A. P. Hill, George E. Pickett, and many other familiar names. The result is a riveting book, certain to appeal to students of the Civil War and of American history in general. 
— Robert K. Krick, author of Stonewall at Cedar Mountain

“A compelling work which entertains as well as informs the general reader…. Waugh breathes life into the people he writes about…the men of ’46 are well worth knowing, and John Waugh is to be commended for affording the opportunity to make their acquaintance.” 
— James L. Morrison, Jr., author of The Best School in the World: West Point, the Pre-Civil War Years, 1833–1860

What Reviewers Say

“First rate and moving…. A grand account…. Waugh has vividly reconstructed the stirring, and often tragic, account of perhaps the most illustrious class ever to emerge from the military academy…. Thanks to Waugh, the legacy of that class — its sense of duty and honor — rings as clearly now as then…. This is history, but in the form of drama based on a broad array of background materials, including letters and memoirs…. Waugh’s account of the West Point class of 1846 seems likely to become a minor classic.” 
— The Christian Science Monitor

“First class work….Waugh has catapulted himself into the first circle of those writers who concentrate on the Civil War. His first foray into the field is poignant and exciting, top notch in every way. Scrupulous in its research, enormous in breadth and scope, this is a highly readable history on the same level as the best of Catton or Foote. This is history as it should be told, powerful and sweeping, evocative to the very core.” 
 The Tampa Tribune and Times

“[A] wonderful saga…. Of epic proportions equal to that of Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels….With wit and anecdote John C. Waugh has masterfully written this story of ‘a brothers war.’ ” 
— Book Page

“A collective biography of epic proportions…. Masterfully chronicled…. With meticulous research, deft organization and graceful prose, Waugh has produced a vivid and engrossing book that will appeal to everyone interested in American history. The book’s approach is original, and its impact is as resounding as a battery of Parrot fieldguns…. The author skillfully interweaves human and historical detail, anecdotes, and humor, in a stunning chronicle of young men learning to become warriors…. All in all, the class of 1846 was as star-studded — and star-crossed — a class as ever marched through the hallowed halls of West Point, and author Waugh has told their story well.” 
— America’s Civil War

“This marvelous book is like a sweeping symphony of four stirring movements…. Like a symphony, The Class of 1846 rises and falls, carrying the reader intellectually and emotionally. Waugh’s pacing is wonderful, as wonderful as the story he tells so deftly. This is the finest book about a West Point class since Rick Atkinson’s The Long Gray Line…. This human symphony should be heard and enjoyed, not just by those who know and love the Academy, but by any who appreciate a good story told well. Waugh has achieved that and has created an enduring and important work.” 
— West Point Assembly

“Finally and tragically, brothers became enemies in America’s bloodiest conflict, a progression vividly traced in The Class of 1846…. [Waugh] has done his homework well, and has deftly translated his findings into a…compelling narrative.” 
— The New York Times Book Review

“Penetrating…. [A] fine book…. There are as many ways to tell the story of the Civil War as there are writers to tell it, but some are more imaginative than others. John C. Waugh must be given high points for originality.” 
— The Washington Post Book World

 “[Waugh] writes with a fine sense of irony and understated humor, yet misses none of the emotional drama of friends facing one another on the battlefield.” 
— The Seattle Times

“A page-turner… If you can keep a dry eye reading of the reunion of these classmates in Appomattox Court House, you are of sterner stuff than I.” 
 Greenwich Times

“No one can fully understand the military actions of the Civil War without understanding the influence of West Point on the officers of both sides. This book, excellently researched and written, will help.” 
— Orlando Sentinel

“While written accounts of most of these soldiers already exist, Waugh presents his sketches in a way that makes them fresh again…. In some works, historical figures are as cold and lifeless as the statues that commemorate their victories: this is definitely not true of John C. Waugh and The Class of 1846. Waugh’s writing style breathes life into his subjects and gives his readers a view of Jackson, McClellan, and their classmates as they have rarely been seen before. This touching story would be an attractive addition to many personal and scholarly libraries.” 
— The Journal of Southern History

“Waugh’s description of [Jackson’s] death is splendidly done, as is Waugh’s retelling of Gettysburg, particularly of Pickett’s charge, and of Lee’s surrender…. Despite its massive subject, it is filled with the kind of incidents, quotations and anecdotes that make the Civil War book endlessly fascinating. It’s a first-rate book that is highly recommended.” 
— Gazette-Mail Sunday Life (Charleston, West Virginia)

“Every year, dozens of new books are published, many by first-rate scholar-writers. Only a handful of those touch our hearts and minds. John C. Waugh’s book does more than that — it will haunt you. After reading it, a visit to a Civil War battlefield will take on a whole new meaning. Bring lots of tissues.”
— Martinsburg (West Virginia) Journal

“Boasting a vigorous narrative that appeals to lay readers, The Class of 1846 also merits the attention of scholars…. Better than any previous author, Waugh fleshes out these generalizations and conveys how profoundly the West Point experience influenced the lives of graduates…. Waugh captures the rhythms and traditions of life at the Academy, explores the bonding effect of service in Mexico and on the United States frontier, and touches on other factors that forged a close fraternity among the officers.”
— Reviews in American HistoryAn exceedingly well-written narrative…. Wonderful, poignant stories, often alluded to but rarely told, and even more rarely told well.” 
— Kirkus Reviews