John Walbach

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Brevet Brigadier General John Baptiste de Barth Walbach, Baron de Walbach (1766 - 1857) was a career officer in the United States Army who served for over 57 years until his death at the age of 90. He was one of the few foreign born senior officers in the US Army prior to the Civil War.


Early years in Europe[edit]

Walbach was born on October 3, 1766 in Münster, Prussia as the third son of Count Joseph de Barth. His birth name was Jean Baptiste de Barth, Baron de Walbach but it was Anglicized after he moved to the United States.

He received his military education at Strasbourg in the Alsace region of France. He was a lieutenant in the Lauzun hussars in the French Royal Army from 1786 to 1792.

After the French Revolution, he returned to Prussia to join the army of the Comte d'Artois, brother of Louis XVI. He was present during the campaign of 1792 in Champagne in the advance of the Prussian army until it was disbanded at Maastricht, on 6 January 1793, participated in the attack on Frankfurt, and subsequently served during the campaign of 1793 in attacks on the French lines at Germersheim, Langenkandel, and Weissenburg. In October 1793, he accepted a captaincy in the Hussars de Rohan in the German service, and took part in covering the retreat of the Duke of York upon the Netherlands and Germany.

Early United States military career[edit]

In 1798 he obtained a six months' leave of absence, with a view of visiting his father, who had come to the United States at the opening of the French Revolution. But the father had died in Philadelphia, and his estate had been sold by the sheriff. Walbach resigned his commission in the Hussars de Rohan in April 1798, and was appointed aide-de-camp to Brigadier General William MacPherson.

He became 1st lieutenant of the U. S. Regiment of Light Dragoons and regimental adjutant on January 8, 1799. He was aide-de-camp to Major General Alexander Hamilton in May, assistant adjutant-general to Brigadier General William North in September, and in December was assigned to the staff of Major General Charles C. Pinckney, whom he assisted in preparing regulations for the cavalry. He was honorably discharged, along with most other officers who had served during the Quasi War with France, on June 15, 1800.

In February 1801, he was commissioned a 1st lieutenant in the regiment of artillerists and engineers, and, on October 25 of the same year, he was appointed aide-de-camp to Brigadier General James Wilkinson, then the commanding general of the Army.

Walbach was retained in the Army in April 1802 as 1st lieutenant of artillery, and became regimental adjutant on December 1, 1804. He was a first lieutenant at Fort Jay, New York as of January 1, 1805. He was promoted to captain January 31, 1806.

Walbach was in command at Fort Constitution near Portsmouth, New Hampshire when, on July 4, 1809 there was an explosion of over 100 pounds of gunpowder resulting in the loss of seven lives. In reaction to the explosion Walbach said, "I have faced death in its most dreadful form -- I have witnessed the desolations of war, and have mingled in all the hazards and havoc of battles, but never before did I feel a pang so terrible and intolerable as this."

He was appointed assistant deputy quartermaster general in March 1812, assistant adjutant general, with the rank of major, in June 1813, and on August 6, 1813 adjutant general of the Army with the rank of colonel.

He took part in the Battle of Crysler's Farm, Canada, 11 November 1813. General George W. Cullum, in his Campaigns and Engineers of the War of 1812-1815 says that the enemy, “discovering our disorder and slackened fire, pushed vigorously forward and endeavored by a flank movement to capture our cannon, when Adjutant-General Walbach, a German veteran in our army who had seen much foreign service, gave the order to 'charge mit de dragoons,' and thus saved the pieces.” Walbach received a brevet (honorary promotion) to major for his performance in this battle.

In 1814, Walbach, was again in command at Fort Constitution and oversaw construction of a Martello Tower to cover the land approaches to the fort. This structure, commonly called the Walbach Tower, was allowed to deteriorate over years of disuse and neglect but its ruins can be seen to this day.

On 1 May 1815, he was breveted as a lieutenant-colonel “for meritorious service.”

Later career[edit]

He spent much of his later career in command of coastal fortifications including Fort Constitution near Portsmouth, New Hampshire (before 1809 to July 1821), Fort Trumbull in New London, Connecticut (December 1823 to as of February 1827), Fort Severn in Annapolis, Maryland (as of January 1, 1828 to as of October 1828, June to November 1834), Commandant, Artillery School of Practice at Fortress Monroe (as of January 1, 1830), Frankford Arsenal in Pennsylvania (as of January 1, 1831 to as of January 1st, 1832) and Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland (November 1832 to March 1834), and Fort Severn in Annapolis, Maryland (April 1836 to December 1839). Fort Monroe (as of January 1st, 1840 to September 1848), Fort Pickens (November 1848 to April 1849). (Source - Official Army Registers 1825 to 1840. Returns of Army Posts.)

He was promoted to colonel and placed in command of the 4th Artillery Regiment on March, 15 1842. He remained as colonel of the 4th Artillery until he died.

He was not sent to Mexico during the Mexican War due to his age at the time (80 years).

In May 1850 he received a brevet (honorary promotion) to the rank of brigadier general retroactive to 1823.

Walbach possessed mental and physical vigor until an advanced age. As there was no mandatory retirement age prior to the Civil War, he remained on active duty until he died, at the age of 90, in Baltimore, Maryland on June 10, 1857.

The official announcement of General Walbach's death contained this eulogy - His long life and military career were characterized by some of the best traits of a gentleman and as soldier - unwavering integrity, truth and honor, strict attention to duty and zeal for service; and he tempered the administration of an exact discipline by the most elevated courtesies. [1]

General Walbach holds the record for being the oldest officer to serve on active duty with the U.S. Army.


He married in Philadelphia in 1807, and had two sons and a daughter:

John de Barth Walbach (1811-1892), who entered the United States Naval Academy in 1827, graduated in 1834 and resigned as a lieutenant in 1861 to join the Confederacy. He served as a 1st lieutenant in the 10th Battalion of Virginia Artillery which was part of the Stonewall Brigade.

Louis Augustus de Barth Walbach, who was graduated at West Point Military Academy in 1834, and died a captain of ordnance, 26 June 1853.

His daughter, Adelphine de Barth Walbach, born in 1815, married in 1841 Thomas Elzear Gardiner, a prominent Maryland tobacco planter, and died in 1904.[2]


Walbach Street near Fort Trumbull in New London, Connecticut is named after him as is Walbach Street in New Castle, New Hampshire near Fort Constitution.

The Walbach Tower near Fort Constitution was built under his supervision and is named for him.

Battery Walbach at Fort Wetherill in Jamestown, Rhode Island was named after him.

Dates of rank[edit]

  • 2nd lieutenant, Light Dragoons – 8 January 1799
  • Discharged - 15 June 1800
  • Lieutenant, 2nd Regiment of Artillerists and Engineers - 16 February 1801
  • Captain, Artillerists - 31 January 1806
  • Major, assistant adjutant general - 27 June 1813
  • Colonel, Adjutant General - 6 August 1813
  • Brevet major "for gallant conduct in the Battle of Chrystler's Field, Upper Canada" - 11 November 1813
  • Brevet lieutenant colonel “for meritorious service” - 1 May 1815
  • Relieved as Adjutant General and retained as Captain, Corps of Artillery - 15 June 1815
  • Major, Corps of Artillery - 25 April 1818
  • Brevet colonel “for ten years faithful service in one grade” - 1 May 1825
  • Lieutenant colonel, 1st Artillery - 30 May 1832
  • Colonel, 4th Artillery - 19 March 1842
  • Brevet brigadier general "for meritorious service" - May 1850 (to date from 11 November 1823)


  1. ^ General Order No. 9. Headquarters of the Army. New York. June 13, 1857.
  2. ^ database online (, entry for Adelphine de Barth Walbach Gardiner, St. Mary's Catholic Church Cemetery, Bryantown, Charles County, Maryland.


  • Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, 1789-1903. Francis B. Heitman. Washington. 1903. Volume 1. pg. 994.