James Henry Van Alen, a New York State resident became an important person in the formation of the Third New York Cavalry Regiment in 1861. It was formed to be part of the Union Army during the Civil War. The regiment was short of equipment and there apparently was little money available from the state to equip the regiment. Van Alen as a wealthy New York merchant used his private assets to help the unit get into battle condition.
As a reward for his financial support of the unit, he was appointed as the regiment’s colonel on August 28, 1861. At that time the Cavalry Regiment was stationed in Washington, D.C. and was expected to help defend the city.
Van Alen was promoted to brigadier general on April 15, 1862, less than a year after being appointed to colonel. During the Battle of Chancellorsville, Van Alen served as aide-de-camp for General Joseph Hooker. Later he was assigned to Aquia Creek, Virginia. It is not known why, but he resigned from the Union Army on July 14, 1863, less than two years since he first joined it.
After the Civil War Van Alen travelled extensively. He apparently was quite wealthy and could afford and enjoyed the travelling. On one of his journeys, returning from Europe with three grandchildren, Van Alen either jumped or fell off the Atlantic steamer, the RMS Umbria, on July 22, 1886. His body was never found. Note that this event occurred 23 years after he left the Union Army.
Van Alen was born in Kinderhook, New York on August 17, 1819. His father was also a wealthy merchant and James was educated through private tutors. He passed away on July 22, 1886, at the rather young age of 65 as described above.
James Henry Van Alen was the father of James John Van Alen [1848-1923] who was a wealthy socialite in New York City and apparently never needed to work for a living. He was apparently well known in social circles, and also was known colloquially as the American Prince of Wales.
James Isaac Van Halen [1772-1822], the half-brother of Martin Van Buren, was also born in Kinderhook, and therefore we must wonder how he was related to James Henry Van Alen [1819-1886], the brigadier general in the Civil War. James Henry was much younger than James Isaac Van Alen as can be observed from their respective birth datefigures.
History of Kinderhook, NY (Part 1 and Part 2)
From: Columbia County At The End of the Century
Published and edited under the
auspices of the Hudson Gazette
The Record Printing and Publishing Co.
Hudson, New York 1900