The Class of 1846 West Point Bottle and the Greatest Benefit of Collecting History

The benefits of collecting historical items (or anything for that matter,) can be viewed in different ways. There is the Investment, or Financial Value Benefit: ’I have this wonderful and rare artifact, there are very few or only one known, therefore it’s quite valuable.’ Or, there is what I would call the Coveting Benefit: ‘This is so rare, very few or no one else has one, therefore it makes my Collection very special indeed.’ Then there is the Educational Benefit:  ‘This is absolutely a most amazing item, I must learn more about it.’

I can honestly admit that, as a collector, and having acquired a most rare and fascinating historical West Point Class of 1846 graduation party bottle, (see above, my example of only four known at present.) I do think in terms of all three of the above mentioned categories. But, and it’s a big ‘But’ here; I am finding the Educational Benefit leaves the other two benefits in the dust. The acquisition of this bottle stirred my mind in so many directions and caused me to learn so much about it’s connection to history in a way that no amount of money could even begin to purchase. There’s also no college course or classroom study I can imagine that would have inspired this intense need to know.

I started by reading a most amazing book, and probably the best ever written on this subject. It features an up close and inside look at the experiences of a group of classmates and their temperaments, trials, lives, loves, and battles and how they made their history ours, from their youthful beginnings at West Point Military Academy to their experiences in the Mexican American War and then throughout and to the end of our Civil War. The book is entitled: “The Class of 1846 From West Point to Appomattox: Stonewall Jackson, George McClellan and their Brothers” by John C. Waugh. I highly recommend this excellent read to anyone, whether they are interested in history, West Point, or the Civil War.

 

The Big Three of The Class of 1846

The West Point graduating class of 1846 consisted of 59 classmates which included the three biggest names known to most anyone; George McClellan, Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, and George Pickett. Historically, it was the largest at the time and now, the most famous class of West Point, as ten graduates went on to become Confederate Generals, and twelve went on to become Union Generals. A most fascinating war, with friends fighting friends.

George B. McClellan

Future General George B. McClellan, the Commander of the Army of the Potomac at the start of the Civil War graduated second in that class and I’ve read he was once referred to as ‘the only man who could strut while sitting down.’ Although shown standing below, you can get the idea.

General McClellan was fired by Lincoln in November of 1862 and replaced with Burnside, after Lincoln, (who McClellan referred to as a ’Gorilla’ in his letters to his wife Nelly,) had finally had enough of McClellan’s paranoia that the Confederate Army was too big for him to handle at any particular time Lincoln requested action to be taken. There was something I find most amusing that Lincoln stated at the time in which I paraphrase: ‘I’d like to borrow the army if you’re not using it.’ See below a photo of Lincoln meeting McClellan in his tent quarters in the months prior to his firing, just days after the furious battle of Antietam.

 

Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson

Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, hailing from Jackson’s Mill, Virginia, had faced an uphill struggle at West Point and was known to burn coal into the late night hours, trading his sleeping time for much needed study. He had a difficult time with his drawing lessons and had his own idiosyncrasies; he was known to keep his body in as straight a position as possible, fearing any bending or unnatural position could cause harm to his internal organs. He graduated 17th in the class and went on from there to be commended for his bravery and brilliance with artillery in the Mexican American War. From there he went to teach at Virginia Military Institute until the secession and Civil War. See below picture of Thomas Jackson at a young age, likely taken in the late 1840′s.

It was during a move of Union forces towards the Confederate position on Henry Hill at Manassas in July, 1861 that he acquired his famous nickname ‘Stonewall.’ Jackson’s mindset was to stand his ground and resort to bayonets if needed. Confederate General Barnard Bee, before dying shortly thereafter, is reported to have observed, “Yonder stands Jackson, like a stone wall.” It remains unclear to this day in what tone or inflection that statement was made. It’s possible General Bee was disgusted with Jackson not seeming to move froward from his viewpoint, or, it may have been said in complete admiration as to Jackson seeming impenetrable and holding his ground. Nonetheless, the name struck a chord, not only with the South, but the North as well, and henceforth Tom Jackson was ‘Stonewall’ and his Brigade, the ‘Stonewall Brigade’.

Stonewall commanded the (Shenandoah) Valley District, and there he played the Union Army like a chess master. He was known to show up very surprisingly where the Union forces would least want or expect him to be. Even the ‘Stonewall Brigade,’ themselves marched relentlessly knowing “no more than the buttons on their coats” where they were going. Jackson was very keen to fast-pace his brigade to far apart areas to keep different commands of union armies from joining together, a talent for which he was very successful. Through his keen sense of ‘knowing’ what the Union forces were going to do next, his ability to flank and rear the opposing armies was unparallelled. Having struggled with his lessons at West Point, Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson certainly proved himself a military genius during the Civil War.

 

George E. Pickett and “Pickett’s Charge” at Gettysburg.

After the first volley of cannonade and shot from Union and Confederate forces were fired at Gettysburg, which could be heard as far away as Philadelphia like distant thunder, General Pickett enters the historic scene. He is well known for leading the famous and very courageous charge at Gettysburg. Having rode up to Longstreet, (who wouldn’t look Pickett in the eye as he knew it was hopeless,) Pickett asked for the order affirming he should charge his brigade, which he did. It was hopeless as Longstreet already knew; Pickett ending up sitting on his horse in tears as he watched the slaughter. When later asked asked to rally his troops, he exclaimed: ”I have no brigade.” Robert E. Lee also wept that evening over the battle.  George E. Pickett graduated last in the West Point Class of 1846 due to demerits. See below a picture of him likely taken not long after graduating and below that a Civil War era photo.

 

The Dyottville Civil War Bottle Coincidence

One thing I have recently found that’s so unbelievably fascinating and remarkably coincidental concerning the topic of the Civil War and bottles manufactured at Dyottville Glass Works in Philadelphia is the relationship between the Class of 1846 West Point bottle, which was made by Dyottville Glass Works and another Dyottville bottle, many of which were commissioned by a businessman named Dennis O’Kane of Philadelphia. What’s most amazing here is that Colonel Dennis O’Kane was a member of the 69th Pennsylvania Volunteers and he lost his life in Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. Absolutely fascinating, the connection and coincidence here. You have General Pickett, who’s graduating class was commemorated by a bottle made by Dyottville, ordering a charge that killed Dennis O’Kane who had been ordering bottles from Dyottville for years prior to the Civil War.

See below; a ‘Hat Whimsey’ made by a Dyottville glassblower who used an O’Kane bottle for his own personal use. It was unearthed by a well digger near Dyottville. Featured below that is an 1850′s D. O’Kane Dyottville bottle.

 

In further avenues of educational research, of which there are many, I have been focused on proving the connection of the Class of 1846 bottle to West Point, as I and others are without any doubt that the Federal Shield on the bottle seal leads to no other place. (Not to mention the very prominent ‘W’ at the base of the shield.) Featured below is a detail photograph of the bottle seal showing the Federal Shield.

Observe below some of the gravestones at West Point, note the same shield, the only difference is the top pointed crest and I would suspect that either the commissioner of the West Point bottles or the seal stamp maker had their own idea of what a Federal Shield should look like. In those days of 1846, one didn’t just google an image on an ‘I-Phone’ and hand it to the company representative stating, ‘this is what I want it to look like.’ Also observe below the West Point markers, the same shield on the markers at Custer’s Last Stand at Little Big Horn. Custer graduated West Point in 1861.

And so, the educational lessons continue, all this fascinating knowledge that has opened like a door simply because I won an auction for an old Dyottville bottle for my collection. Maybe the greatest benefit of collecting history is holding in your hand a most beautiful time machine.

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