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 railroad.

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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