Born in Peru, Massachusetts, on 8 November 1817 to Dr. Thomas Sears and Sophia Sears, Claudius Wistar Sears became a noted educator and soldier. Sears graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point in 1841 and was commissioned into the 8th US Infantry, seeing action against the Seminoles in Florida. After only one year of service, however, Sears resigned on 10 October 1842 to take a teaching position at an Episcopal military school in Mississippi. In 1844 Sears became a mathematics instructor at St. Thomas’s Hall in Holly Springs, and the following year he became professor of mathematics and civil engineering at the University of Louisiana (now Tulane University). In New Orleans he met and married Susan Alice Gray. In 1859 Sears moved back to St. Thomas’s Hall, ultimately becoming president of the school and commandant of cadets.
Sears remained at Holly Springs during the sectional crisis that led to the Civil War. A staunch Democrat and secessionist, Sears left the classroom for the battlefield. His training and experience at West Point and in the Regular Army was at a premium in early war Mississippi. He entered Confederate service as a private in the 17th Mississippi Infantry but was elected captain of Company G on 5 June 1861. Sears rose through the ranks, becoming colonel of the 46th Mississippi Infantry. He saw action at Port Gibson and surrendered in Vicksburg. Reentering Confederate service after his exchange, Sears became a brigadier general on 1 March 1864 after his brigade commander fell from his horse and died.
Despite frequent illnesses, Sears led his Mississippi brigade through the Atlanta and Tennessee Campaigns. While holding the salient point of the line on the first day at Nashville (15 December 1864), Sears’s brigade was overrun in the massive Federal attack. Sears was sitting atop his horse and watching the enemy through his binoculars when a cannonball slammed into his leg, taking it off and killing his horse. Sears recovered and for the remainder of his life wore a wooden leg that squeaked loudly on wooden floors.
After the war, Sears refused to let defeat or his wound stop him from continuing to serve the public. He returned to Mississippi and took a position as professor of mathematics at the newly reopened University of Mississippi. The old general also served as the faculty commander of a military company of students. The board of trustees fired him in 1889, and he lived in Oxford until his death on 15 February 1891.
- Karlem Riess, Journal of Mississippi History (April 1949)
- Claudius Wistar Sears Diaries, Mississippi Department of Archives and History