A Friendship Lost

Postwar Letters of George W. Cullum and Francis H. Smith

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"War sometimes separates those who were once friends--
Civil War always does..."


 George Cullum photoA few months after the end of the Civil War, two old friends and West Point classmates--one a southerner and the other from the north--exchanged letters. The correspondents were General Francis H. Smith, Superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute, and General George W. Cullum, Superintendent of the United States Military Academy. Both were members of the USMA Class of 1833. Once close friends, the war had made them enemies. In November 1865, Smith contacted Cullum, hoping to visit West Point and renew the ties that had been broken by war.

Smith to Cullum.
New York. November 13, 1865

War sometimes separates those who were once friends--Civil War always does. But peace has its Francis H. Smith, circa 1862healing and restoring qualities. I am now here on business connected with the Institution to which 26 years of my life have been devoted, and my purpose is, in this connection, to visit West Point. I have deemed it proper to advise you of this intention and a reply will reach me at our mutual friend D. Van Nostrand, 191 Broadway, New York. I remain, General, very truly, F. H. S."

Cullum to Smith. November 14, 1865.

"We were once attached friends, and now I have no unkind feeling towards you; but as the Superintendent of the U. S. Military Academy, I cannot at present, with a proper sense of the responsibilities of my position, receive one who is at the head of an institution which has done so much for the injury of my country."

Smith to Cullum. November 16, 1865. 

"My proposed visit to West Point was in connection with the interests of scientific education in Virginia. As the Superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute, I am now engaged in an effort to restore the ruin which war has brought upon it. This has involved the total destruction of our Library, Philosophical and Chemical apparatus. I had hoped that the restored relations of my state, and its Institutions, to the government of the United States, would have removed every barrier to a free communication with the U. S. Military Academy, and thus have afforded me some facilities in aid of my work. The courtesy extended to me by scientific gentlemen in Washington City, justified the belief, aside from other considerations, that the National School of the Army, at which I had been educated with you as a classmate, would have extended to me a like reception.

I regret that your view of your public duty closes the door of the Academy to me. I shall return to Virginia, with no unkind feeling towards you, but pained that I have to add your letter to the record of losses, which war has brought upon our common country....Again we have a common country, not the same -- but another -- and this truth finds a painful illustration in the fact, that occupying as I do, such personal and official relations towards you, the privilege is denied me by you, of visiting an Institution, in whose history and operations I have a common interest with yourself."