Randolph B. Marcy

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Randolph Barnes Marcy
Randolph B. Marcy - Brady-Handy.jpg
Randolph B. Marcy
Born (1812-04-09)April 9, 1812
Died November 22, 1887(1887-11-22) (aged 75)
Place of birth Greenwich, Massachusetts
Place of death West Orange, New Jersey
Place of burial Riverview Cemetery, Trenton
Allegiance US flag 24 stars.svg United States of America
Service/branch Flag of the United States Army (1775).gif Union Army
Years of service 1832–1881
Rank Union army brig gen rank insignia.jpg Brigadier General
Brevet Major General
Commands held Inspector General
Battles/wars American Civil War
Other work author

Randolph Barnes Marcy (April 9, 1812 – November 22, 1887) was a career officer in the United States Army, achieving the rank of Brigadier General before retiring in 1881. Although beginning in 1861 his responsibilities were those of a brigadier general, the U.S. Senate failed to confirm President Lincoln's September 28, 1861 appointment of Marcy as a brigadier general and it expired by law on March 4, 1863. The U.S. Senate finally confirmed Marcy's appointment as a brigadier general when he was also appointed inspector general of the U.S. Army on December 12, 1878. Marcy was awarded the honorary grade of brevet major general to rank from March 13, 1865, by nomination by President Johnson on December 3, 1867, and confirmation on February 14, 1868.

In 1852 Capt. Marcy was in charge of the expedition that first reached the headwaters of both forks of the Red River, which official parties had tried to find since 1806. He was assisted by Brevet Capt. George B. McClellan,[1] later to achieve notability as a general in the American Civil War.

Marcy's 1859 book, The Prairie Traveler: A Handbook for Overland Expeditions, with Maps, Illustrations, and Itineraries of the Principal Routes between the Mississippi and the Pacific, written at the direction of the Department of State and published by the U.S. government, has been called one of the most important works in making possible the great Western overland migration of United States settlers in the last half of the 19th century.


Marcy was born at Greenwich, Massachusetts, in April 1812. After attending local public schools, he received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point and graduated in 1832. He was commissioned a lieutenant in the 5th U. S. Infantry. He married soon after receiving his commission. Marcy and his wife had several children. Marcy first saw combat while serving with the 5th in the Black Hawk War in Illinois and Wisconsin. In 1846, he was promoted to captain and fought with the 5th in the Mexican War at the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. Next Marcy was assigned to duty in Texas and Oklahoma, where he escorted emigrants, located military posts, explored the wilderness, and mapped routes. During this time, he met George B. McClellan, who later married one of his daughters, Ellen Mary ("Nellie"). In 1857, Marcy accompanied Brigadier General Albert Sidney Johnston on the expedition against the Mormons in Utah. It was during this period that Capt. Marcy led his men safely from Utah to New Mexico on a forced march through the Rocky Mountains in the dead of winter. His troops ran out of provisions the last two weeks of their journey, in extremely harsh weather, but Marcy avoided loss of life, an extraordinary accomplishment which he partially recounted in The Prairie Traveler.

Marcy's Trail sign, Big Spring, Texas IMG 1426.JPG
The Texas Historical Commission has marked Marcy's Trail at Comanche Trail Park in Big Spring, Texas.

Marcy was promoted to acting Inspector General of the Army's Department of Utah. His achievements and well-written military reports had attracted attention in Washington, and he was recalled to work for the Department of State (which at this time had responsibilities much beyond the conduct of foreign affairs). He prepared a guidebook on Western travel. Thousands of emigrants were heading west. As many were poorly informed about conditions and ill-prepared for the journey, alarming numbers were reported to be dying along the way. Marcy's Prairie Traveler quickly became an indispensable guide to thousands of American overlanders in their arduous treks to California, Oregon, Utah, and other western destinations. It was a best-selling book for the remainder of the century. Andrew J. Birtle, author of U.S. Army Counterinsurgency and Contingency Operations Doctrine 1860-1941, has described The Prairie Traveler as “perhaps the single most important work on the conduct of frontier expeditions published under the aegis of the War Department.”

Marcy provided the overland pioneer with advice on packing, choosing the best routes to California, wagon maintenance, and the selection and care of horses, which had life-or-death consequences. His advice covered food supplies, packing, and traveling: including the fording of rivers, tracking, and bivouacking on the Great Plains, finding and treating water, building a fire, and avoiding quicksand. His first-aid procedures included treating snakebites, and common injuries and risks to travelers. He also provided material "concerning the habits of Indians," including Native American tracking and hunting techniques, smoke signals and sign language, and battle tactics.

Marcy said in the Preface that his goal was to help readers escape unforeseen disasters and maintain relative comfort during the journey. He added the pilgrim "will feel himself a master spirit in the wilderness he traverses, and not the victim of every new combination of circumstances which nature affords or fate allots, as if to try his skill and prowess."[2] The book was essential to the westward traveler, and no doubt saved many lives with its practical and experienced advice.

Reflecting his wide reading and skills in observation, Marcy added references and quotes from Turkish and French accounts of colonizing North Africa and the great Sahara, as well as his personal experiences in the American West. He described the portable Indian lodges, advice from French and British medical journals, Norwegian saddling techniques, Mexican pack practices, African methods for carrying rifles while riding, and so on. The details he provided were what he considered imperative for survival out West.

After completing The Prairie Traveler, Marcy was promoted to the rank of major and posted to the Pacific Northwest, where he was assigned as paymaster. At the start of the Civil War, he returned East and served as chief of staff to his son-in-law, General George B. McClellan. Before the War ended, he was appointed as one of the four Inspectors-General of the U. S. Army. On December 3, 1867, President Andrew Johnson nominated Marcy for the award of the brevet grade of major general of volunteers to rank from March 13, 1865, and the U.S. Senate confirmed the award on February 14, 1868.[3] After the War, he continued to serve as inspector general, but the Senate failed to confirm his wartime rank of general before it expired, as positions for higher level officers were limited in the postwar Army. In 1878, Marcy was finally promoted to brigadier general as the Inspector General of the U. S. Army.

See also


  1. R.B. Marcy, Exploration of the Red River of Louisiana: in the year 1852... with Reports on the Natural History of the Country, Washington, 1853
  2. R. B. Marcy, The Prairie Traveler: A Handbook for Overland Expeditions, with Maps, Illustrations, and Itineraries of the Principal Routes between the Mississippi and the Pacific
  3. Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher, Civil War High Commands. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3. p. 708
  4. | + | {{#strreplace: & | %26 | Marcy }} }} "Author Query for 'Marcy'". International Plant Names Index.{{#strreplace: | + | {{#strreplace: & | %26 | Marcy }} }}. 
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