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   Samuel Jennings Bransford

1LT Samuel J. Bransford (1814-1840) was a member of the 2d Regiment of Artillery, to which he was appointed upon USMA graduation on 1 July 1836, 8th in his class of 49. He served as Assistant Professor of Mathematics at USMA, 1838-40 at his death that year in that place from being thrown accidentally from his horse into a tree. He was from Lynchburg, Va. Here is information that I have: from the book, Genealogy of the Woodsons and Their Connections Lieut. Samuel Jennings Bransford, born in 1814 at Lynchburg, Virginia, graduated at West Point Military Academy in 1836, assigned to duty in the Seminole War and promoted second lieutenant Second artillery, United States army, July 1, 1836, promoted first lieutenant, December 14, 1837, detached from his regiment and made assistant professor of mathematics at West Point, September 13, 1838, killed on the parade ground November 3, 1840, by being thrown from his horse while exercising the cadets in horsemanship, buried at West Point, where a splendid monument marks the spot.

The information below was contributed by:
Mr. John A. Greenlee
Assistant General Counsel
Defense Contract Audit Agency

“S. J. B, U.S. Army”
[Copyright 1981, 2009 by John Ayres Greenlee]
In the Album of Matthias Leake Ayres (1813-1853) and his wife, Martha Rebecca Hanes Ayres (1825-1855), there appears an entry dated 18 August 1840, signed only as “S. J. B.” followed beneath by “U.S. Army.” I’ve always wondered who that might have been, since the melancholy poem looks to death and remembrance and the comment by the Album’s owner suggested a sad fulfillment of the conjecture of the poem’s author. His poem, and the undated comment upon it by M. L. Ayres is as follows:

As sweeps the bark before the breeze,
While waters coldly close around,
Till of her pathway through the seas,
The track no more is formed;
Thus, passing down oblivion’s tide,
The beauteous visions of the mind
Fleet as that ocean pageant glide,
And leave no trace behind.

But the pure page may still impart
Some dream of feeling else untold——
The silent record of a heart,
Even when that heart is cold:
Its lorn memorials here may bloom,
Perchance to gentle bosoms dear——
Like flowers that linger o’er the tomb,
Bedewed with beauty’s tear.

I ask not for the weed of fame,
The wreath around my brow to twine——
Enough for me to leave my name
Within this hallowed shrine;
To think that o’er these lines thine eye
May wander in some future year,
And memory breathe a passing sigh
For him who traced them here.

Calm sleeps the sea when storms are o’er,
With bosom silent and serene,
And but the plank upon the shore
Reveals that wrecks have been.
So some frail leaf, like this may be
Left floating o’er time’s silent tide:
The sole remaining trace of me——
To tell I lived and died.
S. J. B.
U. S. Army
August 18th 1840
[Appearing below the poem is this comment, in the hand¬ writing of M. L. Ayres.——J.A.G.]

How prophetic!——

There were two principal clues to the author’s identity—the initials, and the connection with the U.S. Army. The connection with the Army almost certainly seemed to indicate that this was an officer; even today, serving or retired officers append “U.S.A” (for U.S. Army) or “U.S.A.-R.” (same, retired) to their signatures. In those days in the South, commonplace books were signed and entries made by guests, family, and friends, so it was not much of a stretch to surmise that the author was a local friend in Buckingham County or a family member—who often visited for what we now would consider a lengthy time, weeks in many cases. After fruitlessly looking through what Buckingham County records I’ve been able to access, I found no one with the exact initials; nor did Army records reveal him with that information alone. I guessed that this poem was written by a serving Army officer of about the same age as Matthias Leake Ayres, who in 1840 was 27 years old. It’s the sort of poem I felt was written by a younger man. The relations of the Ayres/Hanes Buckingham lines represented here whose last names began with “B” seemed likely to be limited to Brown and Bransford. I pored over records of U.S. Army officers, looking for the initials S.J.B. in the period 1840-45 and didn’t come up with anything suitable. So I guessed that the B stood for Bransford, as Browns appear little among Ayres and Hanes relations’ writings. “S” I guessed was Samuel, as no other male name beginning with that letter appears so often in the families allied with the Ayres . No Samuel J. Bransford appears in Taproots. But based on the guesses, Google let me find him. After 169 years, we know who wrote that poem. “S. J. B.” was Samuel Jennings Bransford (1814-1840). He was a son of Samuel and Phoebe Walton Bransford of Lynchburg, Virginia, and was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, entering service on July 1, 1832. Classmates included Montgomery C. Meigs and George C. Thomas, each of whom gained lasting fame as Union general officers during the Civil War. Bransford was graduated in 1836, ranked 8th in a class of 49. At graduation, he was appointed by President Andrew Jackson and approved by the Senate as 2d Lieutenant on 1 July 1836 in the 2d Regiment of Artillery. He served for a period with his unit at Buffalo, New York, and he saw service in Florida in the Seminole Wars. Well educated in youth and at the USMA, he maintained a lively interest in literary matters; through his address in Lynchburg, Va., he was a paid subscriber to the Southern Literary Messenger, then the leading Southern literary publication, at least for April to June, 1837. He was promoted to 1st Lt. on 4 December 1837. He apparently took some leave around March 1838, drawing some $315 for his subsistence. On 13 September 1838, being detached from his unit, he was assigned to West Point for service as Assistant Professor of Mathematics. On Tuesday, 3 November 1840, he was on the Academy parade ground exercising cadets assembled there in horsemanship. Mounted on a “fiery” horse, Lt. Bransford was accidentally thrown into a tree and killed, aged 26 years. He is buried at West Point. It is said that an impressive monument to him stands, or once stood, there. Apart from service records, the single recollection I have found was set down just 18 years after his death, and recorded only this: Samuel Bransford, Jr., was a young man of great promise, graduating at West Point, with high honors. After his graduation, he was honored with the position of Assistant Professor of Mathematics, at West Point, and met his death, while exercising a fiery horse on the parade ground. He is buried at West Point. His memory is kindly cherished by friends and classmates in Lynchburg. With the name Bransford, and a guest at the family home, I was almost certain he was a kinsman of Matthias Leake Ayres, whose parents were Rev. John (“Parson Jack”) Ayres and Elizabeth (Betty) Bransford. So he was. Samuel Jennings Bransford was Elizabeth’s nephew; his father Samuel was brother to Elizabeth. So he visited Edge Hill, the Ayres home of both John Ayres and his son Matthias, as a nephew and first cousin. Probably writing as he took his leave, he penned his poem on that August Tuesday in 1840, wondering whether that solitary trace of him written there might be all he left to posterity: So some frail leaf, like this may be Left floating o’er time’s silent tide: The sole remaining trace of me—— To tell I lived and died. And so it came to pass. Lt. Bransford wrote his memento poem for his cousin and family 2 months and 21 days before he met his sure but untimely death. It well may be that the poem is, as he conjectured, indeed the only trace of the man and his heart left outside official records and a single but impersonal recollection. Sources: Margaret Cabell, William F. Holcombe, Louise A. Blunt, Sketches and Recollections of Lynchburg (Richmond: C. H. Wynne, 1858); Maj. Henry C. Dane, West Point Centennial, Historic Oration May 30, 1878 (New York: G. W. Carleton & Co., 1878) at 27 (referencing Bransford’s service in Florida); Peter Force, The National Calendar and Annals of the United States for MDCCCXXVI, Vol. XIV [1836; Vol. 14] (Washington: Fishey Thompson and Franck Taylor, 1836) at 406; George W. Collum and Wirt Robinson, ed., Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the United States Military Academy, Supplement, Vol. VI-A 1919-1920 (Association of Graduates, U. S. Military Academy, 1920.) at 36; Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America from March 4, 1829 to March 3, 1837, Inclusive, Vol. IV (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1887) at 574; Niles Weekly Register, Fourth Series, No. 22, Vol. XIV (Baltimore: H. Niles, July 30, 1836) at 373; Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. III (Richmond: Thomas W. White, 1837) at 335; Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903) at 241; Henry Morton Woodson, Historical Genealogy of the Woodsons and their Connections, Vol. 1 (Memphis: 1915), supplement 1990 by Grace Woodson Curd (Roanoke; 1991); Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America from March 4, 1829 to March 3, 1837, Inclusive, Vol. IV (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1887) at 574. Additional information provided by V. Frederick Rickey, Ph. D., Professor, USMA, who maintains a file on individuals connected to the USMA Dept. of Mathematics and is currently (July 2009) producing a history of mathematics at USMA.

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