West Point’s Class of 1846 is its most famous of the pre-Civil War era. Perhaps a close second could be the Class of 1854, which included 46 graduates. Of those 46, 37 fought in the Civil War: 23 for the United States and 14 for the Confederacy. Some of the better-known members of the class include Benjamin F. Davis, George Washington Custis Lee, Stephen D. Lee, John Pegram, William Dorsey Pender, J.E.B. Stuart, and Stephen Weed. No other prewar West Point class lost more members in the Civil War than the 1854 class—12 were killed or mortally wounded.
Ironic then that the class graduates selected as their motto, “When Our Country Calls.” The phrase adorned their class rings alongside a hand wielding a sword. At the time of their graduation, fractures were visible between the northern and southern sections of the country, but a civil war was not yet a foregone conclusion. Less than seven years after their graduation and commission into the United States Army, the graduates of the Class of 1854 had to decide which country was calling. Many found one another on opposite sides of many Civil War battlefields.