Samuel Perry

The Samuel Perry character combines elements of two real-life stories—a photograph of Confederate soldier Jonathan Fitzhugh Lay and the fascinating story of George W. McNeel.

Jonathan Fitzhugh Lay, 1826-1900 (National Portrait Gallery)

Jonathan Fitzhugh Lay, 1826-1900 (National Portrait Gallery)

George W. McNeel, 1837-1864 

George W. McNeel, 1837-1864


Jonathan Fitzhugh Lay was a Confederate army officer. He was born in 1826 and survived the war, living until 1900.

In the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History there are thousands of artifacts that represent what curator Shannon Perich calls “the intersection of private and public history.” Some of them were private possessions of public figures: a buckskin coat worn by George Armstrong Custer, for example, or a trumpet played by Dizzy Gillespie. Others were the possessions of people not recognized by history, which take on their meaning precisely because they were part of the everyday world. Jonathan Fitzhugh Lay's photograph falls into this category.

Class of '60

Also falling in this category is a book of “autographs and photographs” commissioned by the graduating class of 1860 at Rutgers College in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It was owned by student George Washington McNeel of Texas, a southerner at a northern college, and the inspiration for the story of the Samuel Perry character in Ripped Apart.

Samuel McNeel's Rutgers College Year Book 
Samuel McNeel's Rutgers College Year Book


The Rutgers commencement ceremony on June 20, 1860, included addresses from all twenty-eight graduates, along with musical interludes. The New York Times, which covered graduations at area colleges, singled out four of the young men for addresses that were “short, sensible” and “quite eloquent.” One of these was George W. McNeel of Texas. After a performance of “Lone Star Twostep,” he gave an address titled “Success, the Offspring of Effort.”

Choosing Loyalties

After graduation from Rutgers, George W. McNeel married Maria Pell Brower of Brooklyn, New York, and continued his studies at Princeton. The nature of those studies is not known, and the farewell notes in the yearbook contain only a few hints of his undergraduate interests. Two notes tell us that he was an editor of a school magazine. Another gives strong indication of a high esteem among fellow scholars: the classmate wishes him no less than that he “become one of the brightest beacon lights upon the intellectual heights of the nineteenth century.”

Four of the photographs from the character Samuel Perry’s album in Ripped Apart are from this Rutgers yearbook. You can see the selections below along with the note these classmates left George McNeel.

Wm. Brownlee VoorheesReadington, N.J.

Wm. Brownlee Voorhees

Readington, N.J.

"My Southern Friend,

When we have finished our College course, and you have gone to your Southern home, remember that you are a citizen of a great republic. As such, be loyal, and countenance no schemes of personal or sectional aggrandizement. Tell your friends and neighbors that from your certain knowledge there is a great, conservative, Union-loving people at the North; that they look upon our country as one country, and never will consent to its dissolution. Tell them how a Frelinghuysen [the president of Rutgers] pleads their rights, and teaches his students to uphold the Constitution and the laws.

Natus March 10, 1838

Your classmate,

Wm. Brownlee Voorhees"

David A. Williamson, Union Army. Private, 7th New York Infantry. Enlisted 1842. Died 1862. 

David A. Williamson, Union Army. Private, 7th New York Infantry. Enlisted 1842. Died 1862.




"Friend McNeel,

That you may live to see all abolitionists turned to dust and the "Union" saved, is the wish of your friend and classmate

Natus September 20, 1840

D. Abeel Williamson 60

Plandome, N.Y."

Y.A. Williams

Y.A. Williams

"To McNeel. Fellow 'Knight of the quill.'

As you cast your eye above, and it rests on the emblem of our editorial office, may the fond associations which linger about it, enable you to cherish more your co-operator in the editorial department. May it bring to your memory the old sanctuary, the dear old sanctum where "midnight oil" and incessant labors were sacrificed to the interests of our Mag. But I mush speak a farewell; for we shall soon return to our respective homes and states which are probably more widely separated than those of any students here, yet I fondly indulge in the hope that you will none the less cherish the memory of one who as the honor to subscribe himself your friend and classmate.

Y.A. Williams, Class of '60"

Egbert WinterHolland, Michigan. 

Egbert Winter

Holland, Michigan.


"Dear Sir-- "Life is what you make it." --

May your life be a blessing to the world and an ornament to the church! Allow me as co-editor and classmate to express my thanks to you for your kind friendship. When you shall have returned to you home in Texas, remember your friend from Michigan--whose best wishes go with you. In after years, memory will call up many sweet associations of our College days--our editorial anxieties and burdens, but also its enjoyments.

Bidding you a friendly adieu--I remain as your friend & Classmate

Natus January 5, 1836

Egbert Winter

Holland, Mich."

Dupuytren VermilyeFishkill, Dutchess Co., N.Y.

Dupuytren Vermilye

Fishkill, Dutchess Co., N.Y.

[True friendship is divine.]

"I have known thee but to love thee, and our intercourse has but cemented that affection. Time hurries on with its resist less sweet, and the duties of our several spheres call upon us to say "Farewell." May the smile of Heaven attend you, and may tyou through a long life be blessed, and dispensing blessings. And, when you return to your pleasant home, in the "Sunny South", forget not your "Alma Mater", the "Class of 60", and your friend.

Natus September 16, 1833

Depuytren Vermilye.

Fishkill, Dutchess Co., N.Y."

The Cost of War 

In 1861 McNeel returned home and joined the Confederate 8th Texas Cavalry, which became better known in Lone Star lore as Terry’s Texas Rangers. When it was formed, a Galveston newspaper wrote: “If this regiment does not make its mark on the Lincolnites, there is no virtue in strength, courage, patriotism and thorough knowledge of the use of horses and arms.” McNeel was elected first lieutenant and rose to the rank of major. Records indicate that he was at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee in April 1862, a victory for Union commander Ulysses S. Grant that cost a total of 23,746 casualties.

In the spring of 1864, he was fighting closer to home, in a counteroffensive against the Union’s Red River Campaign, a failed attempt to divide Texas from the already fractured Confederacy. A correspondent for a Houston newspaper was with Texas troops as they met the Union force in northwestern Louisiana. The reporting mentions McNeel by name: he had two horses shot from under him in the Battle of Pleasant Hill, but survived to carry a flag of truce to the enemy, who wished to send medical supplies to their captured wounded. A month later, on May 7, with the Union in retreat and the Confederates advancing to a victory that would do it little good, he was shot and killed by a picket while reconnoitering the lines. His stepmother, a northerner like his young wife, marked his death in the family Bible: “Aged 26 years, 7 months and 10 days. His life has been given in noble sacrifice in his country’s service.”

While the Museum does not have additional objects owned by George McNeel, objects were selected that could tell history and provide clues to his identity. In the image gallery below, you can explore and learn more about each of these objects.

Text drawn from "Final Farewells: Signing a Yearbook on the Eve of the Civil War." Created by the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access. Writer, Stephen Binns. Click here to find this resource and learn more about George W. McNeel and his Rutgers College year book.