2011-05-25 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets
This Memorial Day we also mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. A pet column may not seem a likely place to read about a Civil War general. Yet, in 1880, General Alexander S. Webb, first president of the Westminster Kennel Club (WKC), was in Babylon at the Grand Opening of the newly leased Westminster Kennel Club grounds near Southards Pond. Eleven years later he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery at Gettysburg.
Born in NYC in 1835, General Alexander Stewart Webb came from a prominent family. His grandfather was wounded at the Battle of Bunker Hill and he served on Washington’s staff during the American Revolution. The younger Webb graduated from West Point in 1855, fought in the Seminole War before returning to the Academy to teach mathematics.
Webb’s military record reads like a Civil War guidebook. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Webb was at the First Battle of Bull Run, the Battles of Seven Days and Malvern Hill, then Antietam. He served as chief of staff to General George Mead and was rushed into emergency service during Chancellorsville, but he is remembered most for Gettysburg where he led the Philadelphia Brigade in defending Pickett’s charge.
Despite a serious leg wound, Webb stirred his troops to Pickett’s defeat and retreat. His contribution to the Union victory became known as the “bloody angle.” (He received the Medal of Honor on September 28, 1891, for “distinguished personal gallantry in leading his men forward at a critical period in the contest” at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863.)
Later at the Battle of Spotsylvania, General Webb was hit by a bullet that passed through the corner of his eye and came out his ear, but did not impair his mental abilities. He left active duty in 1866 and returned to West Point to teach geography. Though wounded twice, Webb was denied military retirement when the board informed him he had to “prove” his service-related injuries. He re-entered civilian life due to this dispute.
In 1869 Webb was elected the first president of the City College of New York, a position he held until 1902. During his 33 year tenure, he retained high academic standards and added practical subjects like physics and chemistry to the Latin/Greek classics curriculum. He even took on the president of Harvard, opposing his liberal “free elective system.” When Webb died in 1911, a replica of his statue at Gettysburg was dedicated at City College.
How do dogs, Westminster, and Babylon fit into the Webb bio? Two of Webb’s half brothers were Westminster charter members. The younger, H. Walter Webb, was able to bring the General’s talents to the new dog endeavor, although there is no evidence he participated in dog shows or field trials. General Webb did have a Pointer named “Fritz” listed in an 1876 registry. Webb became Westminster’s first president for ten years, stepping down because of responsibilities at the college.
An article in The Chicago Field 3 Apr 1880 written by CD Wagstaff, the WKC member from West Islip who located the Babylon acres and later designed a new clubhouse, describes the celebration in honor of Westminster’s recently obtained clubhouse and kennels in Babylon. Wagstaff wrote: “The lunch served at one o’clock was of a most substantial kind, and was done ample justice to. Every man tried to do double duty, for himself and absent friends, but notwithstanding, the table at the close of the ceremonies looked like an immense cribbage board, with all the holes filled with bottles instead of pegs. Still there were enough fluids left to make Rome howl on another occasion.”
At first, WKC refurbished an 18th C. farmhouse as their clubhouse and its barns as the kennels. This farmhouse, the party place, was once near Southards Pond, but now sits on Livingston Avenue. Both General Webb and his brother Walter attended the lunch, as did Robert Cornell who took care of the famous Pointer “Sensation” after he was retired, and William Tileston, WKC show manager . For a full festivities account, see online “Pets” Beacon 10/15/09. A month later, days before the dog show, Tileston was killed and Walter Webb, show chairman, seriously injured when construction at Madison Square Garden collapsed.
On Memorial Day 1909, exactly 45 years after Gettysburg, General Webb wrote a survivor’s account of the fierce struggle in the New York Times. He begins with: “This is a tribute to a portion of the old Second Corps of the Army of the Potomac. It is not written with any desire or claim that these veterans did anything other than their duty as Union soldiers and patriots, nor does it claim for them any superiority over the many detachments of the army who were called upon to suffer exactly as this brigade of whose endurance we write; but it serves to bring before the reader war and its suffering, and may serve to direct the thoughts of our citizens at this memorial season to the character of the men we commemorate.” A century later, the words of Alexander S. Webb, Brevet Major General, U. S. A. still caption the essence of our most solemn holiday. Consider this the next time you visit Southards Pond.
Reminder- Westminster in Babylon Slide Show: On Sat. June 18th at 1 p.m., I will be doing a presentation at the Town of Babylon History Museum, 47 E. Main St. of findings so far in the search for Sensation’s grave and Westminster Kennel Club in Babylon from 1880 to 1904. Anyone interested is invited. For more info, call 631-587-3750.
For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643- 9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Owen” is a sign of more compassionate times. Not long ago, a cat entering with his injuries would not stand a chance in an industrial area or at a town shelter. This sweet fellow showed up with a mangled leg at a nearby business. The kind proprietor noticed he wasn’t part of the feral colony he cares for. The shelter paid for extensive surgery to amputate “Owen’s” front leg, and neuter him at the same time. “Owen” # 20695 now needs a home of his own where he can be pampered. (My 3 legged cat is 13; he still zooms aroundthehouse.)“Chazz”#94088isa4yearoldPuggle, super-sized.
Female: “Holly” #20707- lovable tortie, “Honey” #94048-Husky; Boxer #94038; long timers- “Lydia, Trixie, Mona Lisa, Polly”.
Male: “Maverick” #94050- yellow Lab; “Corran”-great orange semi-longhair cat; “Pluto”- playful Pit.