A Civil War Biography
James Henry Van Alen
Van Alen was born into a wealthy New York family on 17 August 1819
in Kinderhook New York. Prior to the war he managed his extensive
business interests. When the war came he helped organize and
equipped at his expense the 3rd New York (Van Alen) Cavalry and was
named the regimental colonel on 28 August 1861.
The 3rd was initially posted to the Washington defenses. Van Alen
was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on 15 April 1862 and
shortly thereafter the 3rd was sent to the coast of North Carolina.
After the fall of Yorktown and Gloucester Point in Virginia, Van
Alen was assigned to command the two positions and remained in
command of what became rear areas until October 1862. The following
month he was assigned to the court of inquiry investigating Irwin
McDowell's role in the Union defeat at Second Bull Run. The court
duty lasted until early 1863 then Van Alen was assigned as Joseph
Hooker's aide at Chancellorsville. Shortly after Chancellorsville,
Van Alen was sent to the rear to direct operations at the Aquia
Creek supply base and along the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac
After resigning from the army on 14 July 1863, he traveled
extensively until he fell, or jumped, off the Cunard ocean liner
Umbria en route back to the US on 22 July 1866.
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