DePeyster, John Watts
John Watts de Peyster, Sr. (March 9, 1821 – May 4, 1907) was an author on the art of war, philanthropist, and early Adjutant General of the New York National Guard. He served in the New York State Militia during the Mexican–American War and American Civil War. He was one of the first military critics and noted for his histories of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and also published works of drama, poetry, military history, military biography and military criticism.
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"John Watts de Peyster, Sr. (March 9, 1821 - May 4, 1907) was an author on the art of war, philanthropist, and early Adjutant General of the New York National Guard. He served in the New York State Militia during the Mexican-American War and American Civil War. He was one of the first military critics and noted for his histories of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and also published works of drama, poetry, military history, military biography and military criticism.
De Peyster was born in New York City, the son of a wealthy old Dutchess County family, and a first cousin of Maj. Gen. Philip Kearny. great great grandfather was Abraham de Peyster, an early Mayor of New York City, whose brother was Johannes de Peyster, also Mayor. His grandfather was a nephew of Arent DePeyster. His father was Frederic de Peyster, a wealthy New York City lawyer, investor and philanthropist. He spent his entire career in the New York State Militia, being promoted to brigadier general in 1851. He served as state Judge Advocate General and eventually Adjutant General, before resigning over a conflict with Governor Myron Clark in 1855. He traveled through Europe extensively as a military observer, and implemented many reforms that modernized the militia for the upcoming conflict.
Already a brigadier general of the state militia at the onset of the Civil War, he met with what he perceived (and declared) to be prejudiced resistance from Abraham Lincoln when he attempted to raise regiments for the Union Army. In 1861, de Peyster traveled to Washington, D.C., to solicit a commission as a brigadier general of the Regular Army and offered to raise two regiments of artillery, which he felt best suited his expertise and physical condition. The was met with little interest after New York had already filled its national recruitment quota of 75,000 men. Each of his three sons served in the conflict in the Union Army. The eldest, John Watts de Peyster, Jr., performed duty as an aide-de-camp and artillery commander with the Army of the Potomac and mustered out as a brevet brigadier general; Frederic de Peyster III, was a Colonel and surgeon; while the youngest, Johnston de Peyster , was a second lieutenant in charge of a battery of artillery credited with hoisting the first Union flag over the Confederate capitol of Richmond, Virginia, after its fall.
His treatise New American Tactics was a series of articles published in The Army and Navy Journal that advocated making the skirmish line the new line of battle, which was considered revolutionary at the time. These contributions were translated and copied into foreign military journals, including Correard's renowned Biographie des celebrites militaires des armees de terre et de mer. Such tactics were put into practice by generals including John Buford and were later adopted world wide. He was appointed a brevet major general in 1866 by a special act of the state legislature. His elevation to major general was the first such honor bestowed by the State of New York, or any other State in the Union.
General de Peyster was known as the largest developer in the village of Tivoli, New York, where he resided at his family home. In 1892 he replaced a wooden Methodist church with a brick structure that stands today. He also refurbished an old school into an industrial school for girls. An authority on fire fighting, in 1895 de Peyster erected a huge state-of-the-art brick building for the local department. A portrait of him resides there in present day, and it was used as a firehouse until 1986.
The high Victorian structure also contained a courtroom, a jail and a large meeting room for the local government. The General eventually had a conflict with the village Mayor (his own son, Johnston de Peyster), and de Peyster barred him from entering the building. The village government was forced to move to another building and remained there until the Firehouse was restored in 1994, returning the local government to de Peyster's building.
In 1901, he donated several thousand books and maps to the Smithsonian Institution, along with a Moorish Yataghan he collected on his travels in 1851. De Peyster's biographer devotes six chapters to his benefactions, but does not mention his ethnological collections.30 Another philanthropic contribution included building the first library at Franklin & Marshall College, and donating one of the largest and most distinct rare book collections about European military history, the 1,890 volume Watts de Peyster: Napoleon Buonaparte. He collected many of the monographs while traveling in Europe conducting research for his own biography of Napoleon, entitled Napoleone di Buonaparte (1896)."