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Bill Thayer

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 [decorative delimiter] Class of 1842

Vol. II

(Born Ky.)

Barton S. Alexander​a

(Ap'd Ky.)


Barton Stone Alexander: Born Sep. 4, 1819, Nicholas Co., KY.

Military History. — Cadet at the Military Academy, July 1, 1838, to July 1, 1842, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to

Bvt. Second Lieut., Corps of Engineers, July 1, 1842.

Served: as Asst. Engineer in building Ft. Pulaski, and repairing Ft. Jackson, for the Defense of the Savannah River, Ga., 1842‑47, — of the construction

(Second Lieut., Corps of Engineers, Sep. 30, 1843)

and Repairs of the Fortifications of New York harbor, 1847‑48, — and in the War with Mexico, 1848; as Treasurer of the Military Academy, July 28, 1848, to Jan. 24, 1852; and as Superintending Engineer of the construction of Cadets' Barrack and Mess Hall, and Engineer Equipment Shed at West Point, N. Y., 1848‑52, — of the building of the Military Asylum (Soldiers' Home), near Washington, D. C., Jan. 24, 1852, to Dec. 1, 1855, — of the alterations and repairs of the Smithsonian Institution,

(First Lieut., Corps of Engineers, Mar. 3, 1853)

Washington, D. C., 1854, — of the construction of Chelsea Marine Hospital, Mas., May 25, 1855, to Aug. 31, 1859, — and of the erection of

 p118  (Captain, Corps of Engineers, July 1, 1856, for Fourteen Years' Continuous Service)

Minot's Ledge Light-house, near Cohasset, Mas., 1855‑61.

Served during the Rebellion of the Seceding States, 1861‑66: as Asst. Engineer in constructing the Defenses of Washington, D. C., May 1 to July 8, 1861; in the Manassas Campaign of July, 1861, as Engineer of General Tyler's Division, being engaged in the Action of Blackburn's Ford, July 18, 1861, — and Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861; as

(Bvt. Major, July 21, 1861,
for Gallant and Meritorious Services at the Battle of Bull Run, Va.)

Asst. Engineer in constructing the Defenses of Washington, D. C., July 23 to Oct. 2, 1861, — and charged with the preparation of bridge

(Lieut.‑Col., Staff — Additional Aide-de‑Camp, Sep. 28, 1861, to May 31, 1866)

equipage, and the organization and instruction of Engineer troops for the Army of the Potomac, Oct. 2, 1861, to Apr. 1, 1862; in the Virginia Peninsular Campaign (Army of the Potomac), Apr. to Aug., 1862, being engaged in the Siege of Yorktown, Apr. 8‑20, 1862, — landing Gen. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Franklin's Division at, and Combat of, West Point, May 6‑7, 1862, —

(Bvt. Lieut.‑Col., May 4, 1862,
for Gallant and Meritorious Services at the Siege of Yorktown, Va.)

conducting Reconnoissances of Pamunky River to Cumberland and White House, May 10‑11, 1862, to Old Church, May 20, 1862, and to Mechanicsville, May 22, 1862, — Operations on the Chickahominy, May, 62, — Battle of Fair Oaks, May 31, 1862, — Battle of Gaines's Mill, June 27, 1862, — Action at Golding's Farm, June 28, 1862, — Reconnoissance from the Chickahominy to the James River, June 29‑30, 1862, — and in charge of the construction of the defensive works at Harrison's Landing, July 3, 1862, to its Evacuation, Aug. 15, 1862; as Assistant Engineer on the Defenses of Washington, D. C., Sep. 1, 1862, to Apr. 7,

(Major, Corps of Engineers, Mar. 3, 1863)

1863; as Engineer to locate and devise defensive works for the Harbors of Bridgeport, New Haven, and Saybrook, Ct., and for Plymouth, Salem, Marblehead, Gloucester, and Newburyport, Mas., Apr. 7 to June 19, 1863; as Asst. Engineer, June 19, 1863, to May 23, 1864, and Chief Engineer, June 1, 1864, to June 8, 1865, of the Defenses of Washington, D. C.; as Member of Ponton Board to examine all Designs for Military Bridges presented to the War Department, Jan. 22, 1863, to Sep. 5, 1864, — of Board for the Armament of the Defenses of Washington, D. C., Nov. 10 to Dec. 3, 1863, — and of the Board of Engineers to Reorganize our System of Seacoast Fortifications, Jan. 27, 1864, to May 31, 1864; as Consulting Engineer to the Army of Major-General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Sheridan, in the Shenandoah Valley, Oct. 17‑24, 1864, being present at the Battle of Cedar Creek, Oct. 19, 1864; as Superintending Engineer of Repairs of

(Bvt. Colonel, and Bvt. Brig.‑General, U. S. Army,
Mar. 13, 1865, for Meritorious Services during the Rebellion)

Ft. Washington, Md., June 20, 1865, to June 12, 1866; as Member of Board of Engineers, June 20, 1865, to Oct. 29, 1866, to carry out in detail the Modifications of the Defenses in the vicinity of Boston, Mas., as proposed by the Board of Jan. 27, 1864, — and of joint Board of Army and Navy Officers on Harbor Defenses, Torpedoes, etc., Feb. 9, 1866, to June 12, 1866; and as Superintending Engineer of the construction of the Defenses of Portland harbor, Me. (except Ft. Gorges), June 25 to Nov. 8, 1866, — of Survey of Kennebec River and Improvements of Kennebec, Penobscot, and Saco Rivers, and Portland Breakwater, July 20 to Nov. 8, 1866.

 p119  Served: as Senior Engineer, charged with the general supervision and inspection of all engineer operations of the Government within the Pacific Territory, and as Member of the permanent Pacific Board of Engineers for Fortifications, etc., Jan. 7, 1867, to Dec. 15, 1878; as Member

(Lieut.‑Colonel, Corps of Engineers, Mar. 7, 1867)

of Special Board on Improvement of entrance to Humboldt Bay and Eureka Harbor, Cal., Aug. to Sep., 1871, — for examination of Officers of Engineers for promotion, June, 1872, — on Improvement of San Antonio Creek, Cal., Mar., 1873, to Feb. 16, 1874, — on a system of irrigation in the San Joaquin, Tulare, and Sacramento valleys, Cal., Apr. 9, 1873, to Dec. 15, 1878, — upon the best method of obtaining and maintaining a depth of water sufficient for the purposes of commerce at the entrance of the Mississippi River, July 2, 1874, to Jan. 13, 1875, being absent in Europe examining Delta Improvements, Aug. 10 to Dec. 4, 1874, — on Improvement of the South Pass of the Mississippi River, Nov., 1876.

Died, Dec. 15, 1878, at San Francisco, Cal.: Aged 59.

Buried, San Francisco National Cemetery, San Francisco, CA.

Biographical Sketch.

Bvt. Brigadier-General Barton S. Alexander was born, Sep. 4, 1819, in Nicholas County, Ky., and was descended from the later settlers of the "dark and bloody ground." When nearly nineteen, the rough farmer-boy entered the Military Academy, from which he was graduated seventh in the excellent class of 1842. Upon his promotion to the Corps of Engineers, he was ordered as assistant to Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Mansfield, then building Ft. Pulaski, Ga. Here, in Savannah society, Alexander became a great favorite, despite his brusque and uncultivated manners.

In 1847, after the Capture of the City of Mexico, by Scott's army, he was sent there to replace some of the engineer officers who had fallen or been disabled by wounds; but hostilities having terminated, he returned to the United States, and was assigned to duty as the Treasurer of the Military Academy, and soon after in completing the Cadets' Barracks and building the Mess Hall and Engineer Equipment Shed at West Point. In these duties he so satisfactorily acquitted himself that he was placed in charge of the erection of the Military Asylum near Washington city, and making extensive modifications of the Smithsonian Institution. While thus engaged, Alexander was called upon to erect the most difficult structure projected in the United States, — the Minot Ledge Light-house, to replace the iron one carried away in the terrific storm of April, 1851. The difficulties of putting up a solid stone tower in this very exposed position were greater than had ever been encountered for the Eddystone, Bell Rock, Skerryvore, and other famous light-houses, but fortunately we had engineers equal to the daring task, — Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Totten to plan, and Alexander to build. The first difficulty encountered was to cut the rock for the foundation stone, which could be done only in a perfectly smooth sea, and at the lowest spring tides. Though the work was prosecuted with all possible diligence, it was more than three years before the ledge could be cut to receive the first stone. This accomplished, the building went on more rapidly, but it required six years before it was completed. Since, it has safely defied the fiercest storms, and will endure for ages, a fitting monument to its designer and constructor.

Hardly had this great work, and the Chelsea Hospital, then also in Alexander's charge, been completed, before he was summoned to Washington to aid in the construction of the fortifications for the defense of the capital, on which he was engaged to the end of the Rebellion, except when detached for duty in the field, — in the Manassas, Virginia Peninsular, and Shenandoah Campaigns. In all of these he performed arduous service  p120 and participated in numerous battles, enumerated in the foregoing military record, besides being a member of several important boards. For his great boldness, large engineering skill, and high administrative abilities in these varied duties, Alexander was justly rewarded with four brevets from Major to Brigadier-General.

Upon termination of hostilities, for two years he took charge in Maine of its river and harbor improvements, surveys, and fortifications. In 1867 he was assigned as Senior Engineer, charged with the general supervision and inspection of all engineer operations of the Government within the Pacific territory, and as President of the permanent Pacific Board of Engineers for fortifications and other public works. In this latter capacity Alexander took a prominent part in devising projects and preparing able memoirs, which displayed a broad comprehension and masterly grasp of whatever was essential for this distant but important part of our territory.

Besides these responsible and arduous Government duties, for which he proved to be the right man in the right place, his abilities as an engineer were constantly called into re­quisition to devise plans for the irrigation of river valleys, for the reclamation of their overflowed deltas, for supplying water to San Francisco, and for other improvements. In working out these difficult problems, requiring professional skill, sound judgment, decisive action, and adaptation of means to the end, Alexander acquitted himself to the satisfaction of his employers, and has left a great name in that wide Pacific region.

In 1874 he was detailed upon the Board for devising the best method of obtaining and maintaining a depth of water sufficient for the purpose of commerce at the entrance to the Mississippi River. For the study of this important problem, the Board visited Europe, and examined its great hydraulic works, particularly that of the Sulina mouth of the mighty Danube.

General Alexander was a man of massive stature, with a head and heart in full proportion to his big body. Major Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Handbury, who was his assistant in California, so graphically depicts him that I submit his summary of his characteristics in preference to what I had prepared myself.

"Gifted," says he, "with one of those rare minds which Nature is occasionally pleased to bestow, he could brush away from subjects that claimed his attention all mere side issues and technicalities, and with a clear insight take comprehensive views of their merits, and arrive at conclusions that invariably carried weight with them. . . .

"Pervading his official career the welfare of the Government as a perpetuity seemed to be the most prominent idea that he had in view. His plans were for the future more than the present. Temporary expedients were his abomination. Nothing short of solid, lasting work would satisfy his mind. In this he was often accused of being lavish with public money. His economy was not of that kind that saves in little for popular approval to lose in great things. There was nothing small or ungenerous in his nature. Little thoughts never entered his mind. . . .

"So pure and upright was he in the discharge of his duties that no man ever for a moment thought of impugning his motives. . . . He was not what would be called, in the usual sense of the term, a studious man; that is, one who spent his midnight oil with books, and stored his mind with the ideas of others. He was of a social, observant, and reflective nature. His ideas were his own, and his conclusions were generally drawn from his own observations and reflections. I do not mean by this that he was not well read in the literature of his profession. The idea that I wish to convey is, that he depended little upon books. His strong points were:  p121 the abundance of good common-sense with which Nature had endowed him, his long and varied experience, his habit of reflection and observation, — for nothing, however trivial, escaped him, — the tenacity of his memory, and his sound and unerring judgment. These qualities, united to an honesty that no man ever for a moment thought of doubting, made him one of the most competent and reliable officers that ever served the Government. . . . In his home he was loving, genial, and kind, and no one enjoyed its pleasures more than he. The delight of his heart seemed to be to surround himself with his children and their companions, and be the 'biggest boy' among them. Their pleasures he entered into with as much zeal and childlike interest as they. Besides his own children, there are many others, who have lived in his neighborhood, that will long remember the pleasures of an evening at his house when the 'General' was at home."

This self-reliant man, skillful engineer, bold officer, and zealous public servant died Dec. 15, 1878, at San Francisco, Cal., at the early age of 59.

Thayer's Note:

a He was the father of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Walter Stone Alexander, Class of 1879.

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Page updated: 13 Aug 23