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The text that follows is reproduced from (the report of the) Ninth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 13th, 1878.

 p50  John D. Kurtz
No. 1114 — Class of 1842.
Died Oct. 16, 1877, at Georgetown, D. C., aged 58.

Brevet Colonel John D. Kurtz, the subject of this memoir, was born October, 1819, in the District of Columbia, was appointed a Cadet of the U. S. Military Academy, and served in that capacity from July 1, 1838, to July 1, 1842, when he was graduated and promoted in the army to be Second Lieutenant of the Corps of Engineers; in which Department of the Army he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and served continuously until his lamented death at Georgetown, D. C., Oct. 16, 1877.

His professional services were various and important, and were first applied to the construction of permanent fortifications in Charleston Harbor, S. C., of repairs to Forts Macon and Caswell, N. C., and the preservation of their sites, and as member of a Commission upon the project for the improvement of Charleston Harbor. A continuous residence in that section of the country from 1842 to 1851, in attention to the duties of his profession, sapped the vigor of his constitution, and it may be said that he never recovered from the effects of protracted exposure to climatic influences.

He was next transferred to the office of the Chief of Engineers, in Washington, serving from 1852 to 1856, where his services were highly appreciated by the Department.

From 1856 to 1860, he was engaged upon the fortifications at Portsmouth, N. H.; Fort Knox, Penobscot river; Fort Gorges, Portland; and Fort Popham, Kennebec river, Maine; also upon duties under the Light House Department on Lake Champlain, and upon Civil works in Maine.

 p51  He served during the Civil war as Chief Engineer of the Department of Annapolis, and of the Shenandoah, during a critical period of the war; but his health precluding continuous participation in the active duties of a campaign, he was again detailed for duty in the office of the Chief of Engineers, where his experience and judgment were proved to be very valuable. These duties did not, however, prevent his taking the field when the Confederate forces threatened the national Capital.

After the war, upon being relieved from duty with the Chief of Engineers, he was assigned to the fortifications of Baltimore and Washington, and afterwards to the same service at Philadelphia, where his duties were increased by the charge of civil improvements — the Delaware river and bay including works at Philadelphia and Newcastle, the Delaware breakwater, and screwpile pier at Lewes, Delaware. In addition he was charged with the improvement of the Schuylkill river and various rivers in New Jersey.

During his professional career, he was frequently detailed as member of important Commissions and of Boards of Engineers. This brief sketch gives, it is true, a very inadequate idea of the valuable services rendered to the country by this modest and capable officer; but it is more profitable to pass from this branch of the subject, to the important one of the effect of his life and character upon the army and upon his surviving comrades.

Certainly nothing can be more in place here, than an inquiry, for a brief space, into the origin of the reputation enjoyed by the army for honor and integrity, and the causes thereof. It may be confidently said, that the humiliating legacies which every war has left to the army — of envies and rivalries contracted in the push for promotion — of reputations slaughtered to clear the way for the more unscrupulous — of a mean truckling to the passing politics of the day, in order to gain a step over a comrade's head — have had no other effect than to diminish the incentives to an honorable pursuit of the profession of arms, by showing that ability, education and services in the presence of the enemy, were far from ensuring promotion against a competitor who enjoyed political, newspaper, or other extraneous influence.

Sectarianism has even been drawn into the army to promote favored ones. It is not surprising, therefore, that promotions suspected to be made under such influences, have not the confidence of the better part  p52 of the army, which they misrepresent; though unfortunately the public at large, ignorant of this, underrate accordingly the ability, integrity and character of the Army; mistakes which have undoubtedly had much to do with the success of recent assaults upon the Army.

In contrast with this picture, let us turn to the life of such men as Colonel Kurtz, who although in a position at Washington which a self-seeking ambitious man would have utilized, was never guilty of the least attempt to raise himself or to supplant a comrade.

To men of the stamp of Col. Kurtz, of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Thomas, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Reynolds and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Sedgwick, and of others whose names are familiar, the army may look back with grateful pride, as the instruments by which it has gained whatever reputation it may now enjoy for honor, integrity and all manly virtues.

Colonel Kurtz was an intelligent, educated officer, of large experience in men and in his profession, of a sound judgment, conscientious and impartial in decisions, of irreproachable character, kind and courteous in social intercourse. The extent of the loss experienced in his death by the service, it would be difficult to estimate.

(Brevet Major-General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.John Newton.)


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