Tom Castor: A Newly Minted 2d Lieutenant
1st Lieut. Thomas Castor
Benny Havens ran a tavern that was located about a mile and one-half from the cadet barracks at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. The saloon quickly became a favorite haunt for generations of cadets. Cadet Edgar Allan Poe wrote that Benny was “the sole congenial soul in the entire God forsaken place.” In 1838, a couple of appreciative young officers, borrowing the Irish tune known as the Wearing of the Green (also known as The Rising of the Moon), composed some verse to honor Benny Havens. The first verse went as follows:
“Come fill your glasses, fellows, and stand up in a row,
To singing sentimentally we’re going for to go;
In the army there’s sobriety, promotion’s very slow;
So we’ll sing our reminiscences of Benny Havens, Oh!
Oh! Benny havens, Oh! Oh! Benny Havens, Oh!
We’ll sing our reminiscences of Benny Havens, Oh!”
The song soon became quite popular among officers. During the ensuing years, many a new verse was added as cadets carried the song with them from the dismal Everglades to Buena Vista’s barren plain and then out to the foothills of California’s Motherlode.
Thomas Foster Castor entered West Point in 1841. His classmates, a rather notable group, included the likes of George McClelland, Thomas Jackson, A.P. Hill, George Crook and George Pickett. The latter cadet seems to have become “addicted to Benny’s enticements.” During the years of Cadet Castor’s stay at the Academy it is likely that he also frequently slipped out of the barracks to partake in a glass of hard cider and join in the good cheer at Benny Haven’s public house.
“Let us toast our foster-father, the Republic, as you know,
Who in the paths of science taught us upward for to go;
And the maidens of our native land, whose cheeks like roses glow,
They’re oft remembered in our cups at Benny Havens, Oh!”
Upon graduation in 1846, Castor was posted to Fort Columbus in New York Harbor. Here is a copy of letter that a freshly minted brevet 2d Lieutenant Castor wrote to the folks back home in Pennsylvania.
Fort Columbus, 3 Sept. 1846
To Mrs. George Castor, Frankford, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:
Well here I am snugly fixed on the Island. I arrived in N. York on Tuesday about 2 o'clock and reported myself for duty about 5 on the same day. I was attached to the dragoon recruits now here under the command of Lieut. Sibley. I have nothing to do but to superintend the drills and roll-calls, inspect their rations and keep them in order generally. I suppose that it will afford you a great deal of pleasure to hear that we will probably not sail for a month yet and very likely not that soon. Mr. Sibley told me that he would propose to the Captain when he arrived to take the company from here to Carlisle, mount it there and after drilling it for some time take it down to Mexico by land. if this obtains I would not be surprised if we did not leave this part of the country until November. And if the reports which have just been received prove true (viz. that private advices have been received that the war is over) we will very likely not go to Texas at all. Aunt Eliza I know will clap her hands at this news notwithstanding it cuts me out of all chance of distinguishing myself. I have been so lucky as to get quarters with one of my classmates who has been here for some time and we have to rooms carpeted with tables, sofa, beds, looking glasses and everything complete. To day I am Officer of the Day and it would make you laugh to see me strutting around with my sash and sabre followed all day by an orderly at a respectful distance and having Captains and old Lieuts. asking permission to have boats etc. The Officer of the Day being you know second in command for the time being. I am very well pleased with the post so much as I know of it. The officers are very clever and the society I am told is very good.
I had the blues going up the river and indeed the whole day after I left home. I waved my handkerchief as I passed our house but I suppose it was so foggy you did not see it as I could see none waved in return. Please tell me in your answer how Aunt Eliza and [Bud?] got home and particularly how Josephine is. I was afraid when I left that she would have a spell of sickness. How did she get through wit her teeth, how much did they cost and every thing. you must tell me all. I hope you have gotten over your troubles on account of my departure and if you have not I say you must!!
Yesterday about 700 troops sailed from here for Pt. Isabel. Poor fellows they were glad to get off but many a soldiers wife who was left behind went sorrowing to her home. If there are any letters at home for me please send them on directed to Ft. Columbus, Governors Island, N.Y. I am getting over my home sickness and am in good health. Please write very soon and tell all that has occurred since I left home, and everything that would be of any interest to me. Give my love to Aunts Liz and Buts [?] and take it yourself. I am going to write to all in succession? as I promised and I hope that nobody will fail to write me a long long answer. You dear grandmother must get Buts [?] to write for you. It is near 11 o'clock so good night dear Grandmother and I hope that you will not forget.
Your affectionate grandson
On 6 December 1846, Castor gained a permanent commission as 2d Lt. with the 1st Dragoons and campaigned in Mexico with the regiment, from the siege of Vera Cruz into the Valley of Mexico through the capture of Mexico City. While in Mexico he became quite ill and began to drink heavily. There may not have been much sobriety, but promotion came slow: Castor did not become a First Lieutenant until 1851. Following the war Castor was posted to Forts Snelling and Ripley, Minnesota. On 9 October 1851. While stationed at Fort Lane in Oregon he participated in a skirmish on the Illinois River on 24 October 1853. The next year Lt. Castor was sent to Fort Miller in California with Company A. Later that year he was ordered to start construction on what became Fort Tejon. Castor's drinking and ill health continued to rack his body. In August of 1854, Castor led the first troops to the proposed site of Fort Tejon. The rigors of years of hard campaigning, and the effects of hard drinking, had taken their toll on the Lieutenant. Castor had a bout with tuberculosis and was seriously ill during his posting at Fort Tejon. On September 8, 1855, he died.
“To our kind old Alma Mater, our rock-bound Highland home,
We’ll cast back many a fond regret as o’er life’s sea we roam;
Until on our last battlefield, the lights of heaven shall glow,
We’ll never fail to drink to her and Benny Havens, Oh!”
His remains were ceremoniously buried under the spreading oaks that dot the landscape behind the Lebeck Oak. Fellow officers bought a marble headstone and an iron fence to honor their fallen comrade. Some years later, the fence and marble grave stone were moved to the site of the old post cemetery. As a consequence, no memorial marks final resting place of Lt. Castor.
“To our comrades who have fallen, one cup before we go,
They poured their life-blood freely our pro bono publico.
No marble points the stranger to where they rest below;
They lie neglected far away from Benny Havens, Oh!”