Mahan: The Life and Work of Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, U.S.N.

By W. D. Puleston | Go to book overview

MAHAN


Chapter I The Mahans

ON July 4, 1820, an undersized young man, hungry, thirsty, and tired, landed from the steamer at West Point. He stood for a moment, not knowing where to go or to whom to report, then with his heavy bag he struggled up the hill to the plain. Catching sight of a banquet in progress under the trees, he stopped a waiter and asked for a glass of water. The waiter, eying the young man scornfully, exclaimed, "Water! This is the Fourth of July. Today no one here drinks anything but champagne!" The young man was Dennis Hart Mahan from Norfolk, Virginia, a candidate for the Military Academy. It was a happy omen for Dennis to enter the academy, on the Nation's birthday and it was true old army hospitality that served champagne to a timid lad asking for water.

In the library at West Point, next to an old painting of Alexander Hamilton, and but once removed from a Gilbert Stuart Washington, hangs a portrait of Professor Dennis Hart Mahan. The family scrapbook contains an enlarged snapshot of his son, Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, taken in his old age, that could easily be mistaken for the painting. A casual observer will note the features common to father and son, and a closer scrutiny will reveal a look of conscious intellectual superiority in both faces.

The first member of this branch of the Mahan family to settle in the United States was John, who shortly before leaving Ireland married Mary Cleary. Probably to escape the turmoil that accompanied the suppression of the Irish Rebellion he brought his young bride to New York early in the year 1800. There was a small Catholic congregation centered around St. Peter's Church on Barclay Street, and the

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