When the casket with the general’s body arrived in Milford, having traveled through Jacksonville, Fla., New York and Philadelphia, with solemn ceremonies and high-ranking officials in attendance at each location, members of the Philadelphia City Troop carried it through the streets lined with crowds to his home on Walnut Street.
Sen. Willard Saulsbury, judges Wales and Wooten, Col. Henry A. DuPont and Kent County businessman Manlove Hayes served as pallbearers for military hero Alfred T.A. Torbert, who had died at sea. A band played a dirge, and church bells tolled.
Georgetown native George Alfred Townsend, renowned journalist, novelist and syndicated political columnist with the quaint signature “Gath,” memorialized his contemporary and fellow native of Georgetown. Townsend published “Major General Alfred Thomas Archimedes Torbert: Delaware’s Most Famous Civil War Hero” in the Army and Navy Journal in 1880, the year of Torbert’s tragic death aboard a ship that went down in a hurricane off Florida (republished by Heritage Books in 1993).
A funeral service at the Methodist church included addresses and orations in remembrance. Saulsbury praised Torbert, whom he knew from boyhood as “a dutiful son, a warm friend, a kind brother, a faithful husband, a good citizen, a brave soldier and a noble man.” Saulsbury closed with, “He sleeps his last sleep; he has fought his last battle. No sound shall awake him in glory again.”
The Rev. Jonathan Willis offered a prayer: “May those stalwart companions who endured with him the midnight bivouac, the winter’s storm and the fierce battle feel in this hour that the hand of God, who is the soldier’s friend and the citizen’s friend, as well as the widow’s friend, is laid upon their hearts.”
Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles recalled, “Gen. Torbert was a true friend. He was the type of a gentleman — frank, urbane, courtly; and in his social relations hospitable, ever agreeable.” He added, “His Army associates, his friends from many places, come here to unite with his neighbors in this last homage to his name.”
In a lengthy oration that outlined his military service and the subsequent life that ended when his ship came apart in a storm, Torbert’s close friend Gen. Robert F. Stockton concluded solemnly: “Let his requiem be sung in the sighs and tears of many sincere friends. Let his epitaph be written in the future prosperity of a happy and united people.”
Others eulogized the general. Hon. John W. Houston said, “But grand as his character as a hero had been proved to be, there was a noble character that underlay it, and that was his private character, exhibited in the most remarkable instance and manner I have ever known of in the last moments of his noble, heroic life … thinking not of himself, but only of those around him … [which indicates a] humanity, a kindness of heart, a gentleness of spirit…”
Gen. E. Burd Grubb acknowledged, “He was our friend, our comrade, our commander and our hero.” Hon. James R. Lofland said, “The nation has lost a hero, the State a man, and I a friend.” Former U.S. Rep. George P. Fisher of Delaware thought it “a fearful mystery that one so strong, in robust health, so good, so brave, so universally beloved, should be so suddenly snatched from our midst in the very prime of a noble and useful manhood.”
Col. A. Louden Snowden, a Pennsylvanian, noted “men of both sections have cordially united — the Blue and the Gray; the friend and the foe, enemies in the late war and his companions in arms have vied with each other in paying melancholy tribute to the memory of … a soldier and a gentleman.” George V. Massey lamented, “No more in soldier fashion will he greet with lifted hand his comrades.”
In the final prayer and benediction, the Rev. J. B. Quigg reminded the assembled mourners of “the brevity of time and the uncertainty of life … and the unsatisfactory nature of earthly things.”
In addition to a biographical sketch of Alfred Torbert, Townsend included in his memorial the recollections of those who knew the general and admired him greatly. It is a fitting tribute to a man who strived to live in an exemplary manner, and maintained good character and grace when faced with certain death.
Bethany Beach resident Thomas J. Ryan is the author of “Essays on Delaware during the Civil War” (available at Bethany Beach Books). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.