Emerging Civil War is pleased to welcome guest author Frank Jastrzembski
Nestled in the Shockoe Hill Cemetery of Richmond, Virginia, is a discolored marker with a heartfelt epitaph that reads:
Sacred to the memory of
Lieut. Archibald B. Botts
of the 4th U. S. Infantry,
who died at Camargo, Mexico
Jan. 1, 1847
He graduated at the U. S. Military Academy
in June 1846.
His classmates have erected this monument,
to evince their lively appreciation of his character
in which shone preeminent a high sense of honor,
an excellent intellect and a generous heart.
His body is here assimilating with earth;
his virtues displayed through his life
shall live forever.
The life of Archibald “Archie” Botts was cut short at the ripe age of 20 years old while serving as a lieutenant in the U.S.-Mexican War. Those classmates who thought so highly of Botts and contributed to his memorial are lost to time. Dig a little deeper into his past, and one will discover that this officer was not much different than many of the other United States Military Academy graduates who earned renown during the American Civil War.
Archibald Botts was the son of John Minor Botts, a Whig congressman from Virginia, who opposed the war with Mexico. He was admitted to the United States Military Academy in 1842, and graduated in the famed class of 1846. He had almost as many demerits as George Pickett, who ranked dead last in his class. He only outranked Samuel B. Maxey and George Pickett, and sat 55 spots below George B. McClellan. Despite his poor academic performance, Botts was well liked by his fellow cadets and praised for his ‘excellent intellect.’
Four companions of the Class of 1846 – Clarendon “Dominie” Wilson, Thomas “Old Jack” Jackson, Cadmus Marcellus Wilcox and Archibald “Archie” Botts – rented a room on the top floor of the Brown Hotel in New York before heading their separate ways. The news of Zachary Taylor’s victories at Palo Alto and of Resaca de la Palma were hot off the press. All four were anxious to reach their new army assignments before missing out on a chance to distinguish themselves in the war.
As can be expected with any congregation of adolescent youths on the eve of a great adventure, the gathering got a little out of control. Wilcox left and returned back to the room by 1:00 a.m. to the ‘sounds of boisterous revelry,’ discovering all three of his companions happily drunk – Botts was passed out in his crisp new uniform sound asleep on a bed. Jackson and Wilson were stripped down to their undergarments ‘executing a barefooted back-step,’ while blurting out the chorus of Benny Havens, Oh. Wilcox afterward later claimed, ‘this was Old Jack’s first and last frolic’ explaining that ‘he was too fond of liquor to trust himself to drink it.’
All four proceeded their separate ways soon after the celebration to their assignments. Wilcox would go on to become a successful Confederate major general during the American Civil War, and Jackson would earn legendary status. Unlike Jackson who shied away from drinking, “Dominie” Wilson embraced it. Richard S. Ewell complained of Wilson’s alcoholism during the U.S.-Mexican War that would derailed his illustrious career: ‘My 1st Lt. Wilson, from near Leesburg, or at least from that part of the country, is when sober an excellent officer, but unfortunately is a confirmed Sot & sets such an example to my men that my trouble is doubled when he is present. At the same time he has performed no duty since joining, [being] either drunk or sick.’ Wilson died at the age of 28 on February of 1853, killed by his addiction.
Botts was assigned to the 4th Infantry in July of 1846, and was dead by January of 1847. He did not die fighting gloriously in battle; instead he died bedridden in Camargo, Mexico, either from yellow fever, typhoid fever, or dysentery. The Richmond Enquirer reported on February 5, 1847, that it had received the news of Archie’s death from his father. The newspaper stated that, ‘It appears like a few days only since we saw him, in full health, walking the streets of Richmond. His death, we understand, was brought on by the climate of that country, which, we fear, will make sad havoc among our little though gallant army.’ Botts’s career was extinguished before he even had an opportunity to distinguish himself, and his tombstone remains as the only testament to his character.
Patterson, Gerard A. From Blue to Gray: The Life of Confederate General Cadmus M. Wilcox. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2001.
Pfanz, Donald C., ed. The Letters of General Richard S. Ewell: Stonewall’s Successor. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2012.
Richmond Enquirer, February 5, 1847.
Waugh, John C. The Class of 1846: From West Point to Appomattox – Stonewall Jackson, George McClellan and Their Brothers. New York: Warner Books, 1994.
Wilcox, Cadmus M. History of the Mexican War. Washington, DC: Church News Publishing, 1892.