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Born in Gloucester, Massachusetts, Calef attended the United States Military Academy, where he graduated 22nd in the Class of 1862. He was commissioned in to the 5th U.S. Artillery upon graduation, and fought with it in the Peninsula Campaign and at Antietam. He transferred to Battery A, 2nd U.S. Artillery and the U.S. Horse Artillery Brigade in October 1862.
While in command of Battery A during the early summer of 1863, his three-inch ordnance rifles were attributed with firing the opening shots in the three-day Battle of Gettysburg. For his bravery at Gettysburg and for his exemplary service during the war, Lieutenant Calef was awarded brevet promotions to captain and major. Promoted to permanent first lieutenant on November 3, 1863, Calef also acted as the regimental adjutant of the 2nd U.S. Artillery from November 1864 through March 1865.
After the war, Calef remained in the Regular Army. He turned down an offer at a promotion to captain that would have required him to transfer branches to the 10th U.S. Cavalry. The 10th CAV was (along with the 9th) a regiment formed of African-American troopers. Though Calef's reasons for turning down the promotion can only be speculated, it was considered by many officers at the time to be a career-ending move to accept command of black troops. Regardless of motivation, Calef remained with the Artillery branch, and earned his captaincy with the 2nd U.S. Artillery, and worked for a while as an instructor at the Artillery School of Practice at Fort Monroe, in Hampton, Virginia. He was promoted successively to command the 1st U.S. Artillery as colonel of the regiment. Calef retired in 1900.
Upon Calef's death in St. Louis, Missouri, on January 14, 1912, he was laid to rest at the Post Cemetery at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York.
- Heitman, Francis B. Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, From its Organization, September 29, 1789 to March 2, 1903. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1903.
- Petruzzi, J. David. "Faded Thunder". Hoofbeats and Cold Steel February 23, 2007.
- Register of Graduates and Former Cadets of the United States Military Academy. West Point, NY: West Point Alumni Foundation, Inc., 1970.
- U.S. War Department. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1894.