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Burns, Otway, Jr. (1775–25 October 1850), privateer, shipbuilder, and state legislator, was born on Queen’s Creek, Onslow County, North Carolina, the son of Otway Burns and Lisanah (maiden name unknown), farmers. Little is known of Burns’s education or youth. Apparently he went to sea at an early age and became a skilled seaman. In 1806 the Onslow County Court apprenticed an orphan lad to Burns to learn navigation. Prior to the War of 1812, Burns was master of a merchantman engaged in the coastwise trade between North Carolina and New England....

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Ambrose E. Burnside Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-B8172-1625).

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Burnside, Ambrose Everett (23 May 1824–13 September 1881), soldier and businessman, was born in Liberty, Indiana, the son of Pamelia Brown and Edghill Burnside, a law clerk and farmer. The Burnsides had nine children and only a modest income, so Ambrose received no more than a rudimentary education before starting work as an apprentice tailor in 1840. His father took advantage of a term in the state legislature to have the boy appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, which he entered on 1 July 1843. He graduated eighteenth out of thirty-eight cadets in the class of 1847 and was commissioned second lieutenant in the Third U.S. Artillery. His battery was serving in the Mexican War, and he joined it in Mexico City, too late to see action. Bored, he gambled away six months’ pay. Further embarrassment was prevented by a posting, in spring 1848, to Fort Adams, Rhode Island....

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Drake, Francis Marion (30 December 1830–20 November 1903), army officer, railroad promoter and executive, and governor of Iowa, was born in the western Illinois hamlet of Rushville, the son of John Adams Drake, a merchant and small-time capitalist, and Harriet Jane O’Neal. Drake grew up in a family of modest means. In 1837 his father relocated the family to the raw frontier settlement of Fort Madison, Iowa, then part of Wisconsin Territory. The Drakes stayed in this Mississippi River community until March 1846, when they moved to inland Davis County. There Francis’s father founded the town of Drakesville and pursued agricultural and banking interests. Like his thirteen brothers and sisters Francis received rudimentary formal education. He attended public schools in Fort Madison, although he never graduated from high school. But Drake expanded his knowledge through his own initiative; he read widely and enthusiastically and associated with “learned” people....

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Donald D. Engen. Photograph by Carolyn Russo. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution (#99-15320).

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Engen, Donald Davenport (28 May 1924–13 July 1999), naval officer, test pilot, public servant, was born in Pomona, California, the son of Sydney M. Engen, a stockbroker and later an Internal Revenue Service employee, and Dorothy Davenport Engen. Engen spent his childhood years in southern California, principally in Pasadena. When he was in fourth grade, he decided that he wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and become a naval officer....

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Gadsden, James (15 May 1788–26 December 1858), soldier, politician, and railroad executive, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Philip Gadsden, and Catherine Edwards. He was the grandson of Christopher Gadsden, a merchant and revolutionary leader. Like his older brothers, he attended Yale, from which he was graduated in 1806. After leaving Yale he returned to Charleston and became a merchant. Gadsden married Susanne Gibbs Hort; the couple had no children....

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King, William (09 February 1768–17 June 1852), merchant shipper, army officer, and governor of Maine, was born in Scarborough, Maine, the son of Richard King, a merchant and shipowner, and Mary Black. He was educated at home, but he spent one term at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts....

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Mahone, William (01 December 1826–08 October 1895), soldier, railroad executive, and politician, was born in Monroe, Virginia, the son of Fielding Mahone, a merchant, and Martha Drew. After studies at Littletown Academy, William entered the Virginia Military Institute in 1844. He graduated in 1847 and afterward taught at the Rappahannock Academy. At the end of the 1848–1849 academic year, he was appointed surveyor of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. He remained in this post until 1852, when he was appointed chief engineer of the Fredericksburg and Valley Plank Road. He left that company one year later to accept the post of chief engineer of the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad; in April 1860 he was elected president of the company. In 1855 he married Otelia Butler. Only three of the couple’s thirteen children reached maturity....

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Ogden, Aaron (03 December 1756–19 April 1839), soldier, public official, and entrepreneur, was born in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, the son of Robert Ogden II, a lawyer, and Phebe Hatfield. He attended the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) and graduated with the class of 1773. Over the next three years he taught school, first in Princeton, then in Elizabethtown, but with the outbreak of hostilities between Great Britain and its American colonies, he was quickly drawn into the revolutionary confrontation....

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Horace Porter. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-104938).

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Porter, Horace (15 April 1837–29 May 1921), soldier, businessman, and diplomat, was born in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, the son of David Rittenhouse Porter, a businessman, politician, and governor, and Josephine McDermott. Educated at Lawrenceville Academy and the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard (1854–1855), he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (1855), graduating third in the class of 1860. Commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the Ordnance Branch, he remained at the academy as an artillery instructor before being assigned to the Watervliet Arsenal at Troy, New York....