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#157 General Robert H. Milroy, Class of 1843, Set the Stage for Gettysburg Through Defeat

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, Leaders & Legacy

Robert Huston Milroy was born on a farm in Indiana in 1816, just three years before Captain Partridge founded his academy in Norwich, Vt. Milroy entered the recently chartered Norwich University in 1840 at the age of 24. Though the university had started evolving toward a four-year baccalaureate curriculum, it was not uncommon for students to be older or younger than today’s standard. Milroy graduated in 1843, class valedictorian and distinguished for his athletic ability. Captain Alden Partridge would resign as president amid disagreements with the Board of Trustees just months after Milroy graduated, making Milroy one of the last Norwich students to receive instruction personally from Partridge himself.

Milroy first called upon his Norwich training when he served as a captain during the Mexican War. The conflict lasted from 1846 to 1847 and famously claimed the life of second Norwich president Truman Ransom in the Battle of Chapultepec. After the war, Milroy attended law school at Indiana University—an institution nearly as old as Norwich—and practiced his profession in Indiana.

During the Civil War, Milroy led the 9th Indiana Volunteer Infantry and performed service in West Virginia under Generals McClellan and Rosecrans. In June 1863, Milroy’s men were attacked by the forces of Confederate General Richard Ewell, who were on their way to Pennsylvania as part of the Gettysburg Campaign. The Second Battle of Winchester was a painful defeat for the Union, resulting in the capture of thousands of prisoners under Milroy’s command. Milroy himself controversially retreated to Harper’s Ferry, along with his staff and a small number of troops.

Milroy never held another field command, but a court of inquiry exonerated him of any wrongdoing in retreating from Winchester. Some believed that the way the battle unfolded was a key precursor to Union victory at Gettysburg some three weeks later.

Later in life, General Milroy served as a trustee of the Wabash and Erie Canal Company, and as an Indian agent in Washington State. He had seven children with his wife, Mary Jane, whom he married in 1849. He died in 1890 and was buried in the Masonic Cemetery in Tumwater, Wash.

The Norwich University Archives is home to a small collection of General Robert Milroy’s personal papers, including notes from military lectures given by Captain Alden Partridge. Contact our staff to learn more.