John Bankhead Magruder (1807-1871)
John Bankhead Magruder (May 1, 1807 - February 19, 1871) was a U.S. Army officer in the Mexican War, and a Confederate general in the American Civil War.
Prince John Magruder, as he was known to army friends, was born in Port Royal, Virginia. He first attended the University of Virginia, where as a student, he had the opportunity to dine with President Thomas Jefferson. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1830 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 7th U.S. Infantry regiment and then the 1st Artillery.
Magruder served in Florida against the Seminole and under Winfield Scott in Mexico. He was brevetted to major for "gallant and meritorious conduct" at the battle of Cerro Gordo and to lieutenant colonel for his bravery in the storming of Chapultepec. He served on frontier duty in California and at Fort Leavenworth.
Prince John was tall and flamboyantly handsome. He spoke with a lisp, except when singing tenor, which he did frequently. His avocation was composing songs and staging concerts and amateur theater productions, something to relieve the tedium of peacetime garrison duty. This theatrical bent would come in handy in the war.
At the start of the Civil War, Magruder was assigned to the artillery in the garrison forces of Washington, D.C., but he resigned from the U.S. Army when Virginia seceded and he was commissioned a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army; he was quickly promoted to major general. He commanded the small Army of the Peninsula defending Richmond, Virginia against George B. McClellan's invasion of the Virginia Peninsula in the Union's Peninsula Campaign. This separate army was incorporated as a division in the Army of Northern Virginia on April 12, 1862.
During the Battle of Yorktown, Magruder completely deceived McClellan as to his strength by ostentatiously marching small numbers of troops past the same position multiple times, appearing to be a larger force. He moved his artillery around frequently and fired liberally when Union troops were sighted. This subterfuge caused McClellan's Army of the Potomac weeks of needless delay. Magruder performed poorly and unaggressively in the subsequent Seven Days Battles, however. Some blame heavy drinking for his erratic performance. At the Battle of Malvern Hill, Magruder received orders from Lee after a long delay and his execution of those orders as if they were current caused considerable losses during the bloody assault.
General Robert E. Lee significantly reorganized his army after the Seven Days, replacing whom he thought were ineffective commanders, and Magruder fell victim. He was soon reassigned to command the District of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.
On January 1, 1863, Magruder's forces won the (mostly naval) Battle of Galveston, recapturing the city and port for the Confederacy. The Confederate Congress published its official Thanks: "The bold, intrepid, and gallant conduct of Maj. Gen. J. Bankhead Magruder, Col. Thomas Green, Maj. Leon Smith, and other officers, and of the Texan Rangers and soldiers engaged in the attack on, and victory achieved over, the land and naval forces of the enemy at Galveston, on the 1st of January, 1863, eminently entitle them to the thanks of Congress and the country. . . . This brilliant achievement, resulting, under the providence of God, in the capture of the war steamer Harriet Lane and the defeat and ignominious flight of the hostile fleet from the harbor, the recapture of the city and the raising of the blockade of the port of Galveston, signally evinces that superior force may be overcome by skillful conception and daring courage."
From August, 1864, to March, 1865, Magruder commanded the Department of Arkansas, but then returned to command the District of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Unfortunately, it was only a matter of months before the entire Trans-Mississippi region was surrendered to the Union by General Kirby Smith.
After the war, Magruder fled to Mexico and entered the service of Emperor Maximilian as a major general in the Imperial Mexican Army, but by May, 1867, the emperor's forces had succumbed to a siege and the emperor himself was executed.
According to John N. Edwards, with whom he traveled Mexico, "Magruder was a born soldier . . . He would fight all day and dance all night. He wrote love songs and sang them, and won an heiress rich beyond comparison." Magruder spoke with a lisp. He was six feet tall and "in full regimentals," and was said to have been "the handsomest soldier in the Confederacy." He married Esther Henrietta von Kapff on May 18, 1831. For the first nineteen years he saw his family in Baltimore only on occasional furloughs. After 1850 his wife visited him only twice, 1854-55 and 1856. Many thought he was single
Magruder returned to Houston, Texas, where he died in 1871. He is buried in Galveston, the scene of his greatest military success, in Episcopal Cemetery.