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 [decorative delimiter] Class of 1818

Vol. I

(Born N. Y.)

Richard Delafield

(Ap'd N. Y.)


Born Sep. 1, 1798, New York, NY.

Military History. — Cadet at the Military Academy, May 10, 1814, to July 24, 1818, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to

Second Lieut., Corps of Engineers, July 24, 1818.

 p181  Served: as Astronomical and Topographical Draughtsman to the American Commission, under the Treaty of Ghent, for running the Northern Boundary of the United States, 1818; as Assistant Engineer

(First Lieut., Corps of Engineers, Aug. 29, 1820)

in the construction of the defenses of Hampton Roads, Va., 1819‑24; as Superintending Engineer of the Fortifications at Plaquemine Bend of the Mississippi River, 1824‑32; in charge of Survey of the mouths of the

(Captain, Corps of Engineers, May 24, 1828)

Mississippi, 1829; as Engineer of the New Orleans Canal and Banking Company, 1831‑32; in general supervision of Improvement of Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, 1831‑32; as Superintending Engineer of the Cumberland Road east of the Ohio, — of the construction of Ft. Delaware, Del., — repairs of Ft. Mifflin, Pa., — and of the Improvement of Harbors in Delaware River, and of the Breakwater at the Mouth of Delaware Bay, 1832‑38; as Superintendent of the U. S. Military Academy, Sep. 1, 1838,

(Major, Corps of Engineers, July 7, 1838)

to Aug. 15, 1845; as Superintending Engineer of the defenses of New York harbor, 1846‑55, — and of Hudson River Improvement, 1852‑55; as Lighthouse Engineer of the New York District, 1853; as Chief Engineer of the Department of Texas, Aug. 4, 1853, to Mar. 31, 1854; as Member of the Board of Engineers for the Atlantic Coast Defenses of the United States, Sep. 8, 1845, to Apr. 2, 1855, and for Harbor and River Improvements, Sep. 2, 1854, to Nov. 20, 1855, — of Board for the Armament of Fortifications, Nov. 4, 1854, to Apr. 2, 1855, — and of Military Commission to the Crimea and theatre of war in Europe, 1855‑56, his observations, entitled "Report on the Art of War in Europe, in 1854, 1855, and 1856," being published by order of Congress, in 1860; as Superintendent of the U. S. Military Academy, Sep. 8, 1856, to Mar. 1, 1861,​1 with the rank of Colonel (ex officio) from June 12, 1858; and as President of the Board to revise the Programme of Instruction at the Military Academy, Jan. 12 to Apr. 24, 1860.

Served during the Rebellion of the Seceding States, 1861‑66: on the Staff of Gov. Morgan, to re-organize and equip the New York State forces for the field, and to supply ordnance stores for the Atlantic and Lake

(Lieut.‑Colonel, Corps of Engineers, Aug. 6, 1861)

Defenses, 1861‑63; as Superintending Engineer of the defenses at the Narrows entrance to New York harbor, July 5, 1861, to May 19, 1864, — of the Fortifications at Governor's Island, N. Y., July 5, 1861, to Jan., 1863, — and of Fort at Sandy Hook, N. J., Nov. 12, 1861, to Mar. 19,

(Colonel, Corps of Engineers, June 1, 1863)

1864; as Member of Commission to examine Stevens' submerging iron Steam Battery, 1862; in command of the Corps of Engineers, and in

(Brig.‑General, and Chief of Engineers of the U. S. Army, Apr. 22, 1864)

charge of the Engineer Bureau at Washington, D. C., May 18, 1864, to Aug. 8, 1866; as Inspector (ex officio) of the Military Academy, Apr. 22, 1864, to July 30, 1866; as Member of a Commission on Encroachments of the Ocean at Sandy Hook, N. J., Feb. 20, 1864, to June 30, 1867, —

(Bvt. Maj.‑General, U. S. Army, Mar. 13, 1865, for Faithful, Meritorious, and Distinguished Services in the Engineer Department during the Rebellion)

and of the Lighthouse Board, July 11, 1864, to Feb. 20, 1870.

Retired from Active Service, Aug. 8, 1866, under the Law of July 17, 1862,
"having been borne on the Army Register over 45 Years."

 p182  Civil History. — Member of Commission for the Improvement of the Harbor of Boston, Mas., July 15, 1864, to Aug. 8, 1866. Regent of the Smithsonian Institution at Washington, D. C., Feb. 14, 1865, to Jan. 26, 1871.

Died, Nov. 5, 1873, at Washington, D. C.: Aged 75.

Buried, Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY.

Biographical Sketch.

Bvt. Major-General Richard Delafield was born Sep. 1, 1798, in New York city, and died, Nov. 5, 1873, at Washington, D. C., after a long and useful life of seventy-five years. His father was an Englishman, who emigrated to the country at the close of the American Revolution, and left a large, excellent, and intelligent family. Three of the sons, who were men of note in various spheres, survived Richard, died almost simultaneously, and were borne together to a common grave.

After thorough preparatory training, Richard Delafield entered the Military Academy, May 10, 1814, and was graduated, July 24, 1818, at the head of his class, he being the first Cadet to whom a standing according to merit had been assigned. Since that day, class rank has been one of the distinguishing features of the Military Academy, and has given a stimulus to exertion beyond all other appliances to attain the goal of excellence.

Upon graduation, Delafield was promoted to be a Second Lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers, and soon after was attached as Astronomical and Topographical Draughtsman to the American Commission, organized under the Treaty of Ghent, to establish the Northern Boundary of the United States. After the completion of his duties, in 1819, with the Boundary Commission, he next served for five years as Assistant Engineer in the construction of Forts Monroe and Calhoun, the works designed for the defense of Hampton Roads and the water approach to Norfolk, Va. This was an admirable school to teach the young lieutenant the difficulty of making foundations in an open sea at the Rip Raps,​a and at Old Point Comfort to exhibit fortifications on their largest scale in the United States, and with the distinguishing features of European fortresses. The latter work had been designed by General Bernard, the eminent French engineer, who had been educated in a country surrounded by power­ful nations ever ready for war, unlike our own, beyond seas with none to molest or make us afraid of prolonged sieges. The inappropriateness of Ft. Monroe to our necessities and to the character of our people was not lost upon the young lieutenant, who, while imbibing there the principles of the engineering art, did not become a convert to exaggerated ideas of coast defense exhibited in the plans of the foreign member of the first Board of Engineers. While at Hampton Roads, as assistant to Colonel Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Gratiot, subsequently Chief Engineer of the Army, Delafield was promoted, Aug. 29, 1820, to be a First Lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers.

His next field of duty, till 1832, was upon Mississippi River, in superintending the defenses of Plaquemine Bend, the surveys of the Delta, and the general charge of the improvement of the Mississippi and the Ohio rivers, all of which were works of a very difficult character; but the young engineer successfully grappled with the trembling foundations in the Louisiana swamps, and with the swollen floods of the Father of Waters.

For the next six years he was the superintending engineer of the construction of the Cumberland Road east of the Ohio River, a national highway, then being prosecuted by the General Government. At the same  p183 time he was engaged in the building and repairs of the fortifications and harbors of the Delaware River and Bay, including the great breakwater at the mouth of the latter. During this tour of duty he was promoted, May 14, 1828, to be a Captain; and July 7, 1838, a Major of the Corps of Engineers.

Having exhibited conspicuous executive abilities, Major Delafield was selected to succeed Bvt. Lieut.-Colonel Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.De Russy, Sep. 1, 1838, in the Superintendency of the U. S. Military Academy. With his accustomed energy and industry, he at once set about surveying and establishing the boundaries of the public domain, ejecting all trespassers who had settled thereon; constructing new roads, and laying out the beautiful "Chain Battery" walk, since such a romantic feature of West Point; enlarging the Library with many scientific and military books; making new acquisitions to the Drawing Department, and greatly improving the Chemical Laboratory. In a few years, with very restricted means, he added new quarters, contributing much to the comfort of both officers and men. Under special appropriations he erected a new Artillery Laboratory, and the spacious and beautiful Observatory, with its ample halls for philosophical apparatus, lecture and recitation rooms, three elevated towers for the transit instrument, equatorial telescope, and mural circle, and in its eastern wing accommodations for the fine Library of the Academy, containing over 20,000 volumes. But by far the most important addition made during Major Delafield's administration was, under the authority of Secretary Poinsett, the introduction of horses for the Artillery and Cavalry instruction of Cadets. This timely addition, since 1839, has infused new life into the Light Artillery and Cavalry arms of service. Not only have these equestrian exercises given health as well as instruction to Cadets, but every battlefield proclaims their inestimable value. Major Delafield carried out many other salutary reforms, improved the discipline of the institution, and materially increased its reputation both at home and abroad. Major Delafield, however, was not a popular superintendent. The young are ever restive under restraint, and even the elder members of his command, while freely admitting his superior administrative abilities, did not take kindly to the iron rule of his arbitrary will.

Upon being relieved, Aug. 15, 1845, from the Military Academy, he became, for the next ten years, the superintending engineer of the fortifications of New York harbor, particularly of the defenses of the Narrows, where, on the Staten Island side, he built Fort Richmond (now Wadsworth), one of the finest works on the Atlantic Coast. During this same period he was one of the Board of Engineers. As a member of this board, in 1851, he, with other officers of rank and long experience, was requested to submit his views to the House of Representatives upon the questions: "How far the invention and extension of railroads had superseded or diminished the necessity of fortifications on the seaboard;" "In what manner, or to what extent, the navigation of the ocean by steamers, and particularly the application of steam to vessels of war, and recent improvements in artillery and other military inventions and discoveries, affect the question;" and "How far vessels of war, steam batteries, ordinary merchant ships and steamers, and other temporary expedients, can be relied upon as substitutes for permanent fortifications for the defense of large seaports." Major Delafield's reply ably defended the existing system of seacoast defenses, and in some forcible remarks predicted the important part which submarine warfare by torpedoes was destined to assume in future conflicts.

From 1852 to 1855, Major Delafield had charge of the Hudson River improvement; in 1853, was the Lighthouse Engineer of the New York district; in 1853‑54, performed the duties of Chief Engineer of the Department  p184 of Texas; and, in 1854‑55, was a member of the Board for Harbor and River Improvements, and also of the Board for the Armament of Fortifications.

During the Crimean War, in 1855‑56, acting under the orders of the Secretary of War, Major Delafield, with Major Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Mordecai and Captain (subsequently Maj.‑General) Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.George B. McClellan, as a Commission, proceeded to the theatre of war in Europe to obtain information in regard to the military service in general, and the changes which had been made in modern warfare. Delafield prepared an elaborate report, with numerous maps and illustrations, giving an account of the siege operations at Sebastopol; descriptions of several great modern fortifications of Continental Europe; detailed statements of the many improvements in the engineer, artillery, and administrative branches of the military service; and the various changes necessitated by the introduction of steam and armor plating in naval warfare. This report, which made a large quarto volume, was published by order of Congress. Though somewhat of a compilation, it contained a mass of valuable matter, showed untiring industry, exhibited his exhaustive mastery of details, and evinced a comprehensive view of the great principles of war. In transmitting his report to the Government, he took occasion to expose the popular fallacy that the art of war had been materially modified since the French Revolution, and that new principles had been introduced in the construction of the Russian land and sea forts, and new modes of attack adopted by the Allies in reducing them. He says: "On examination, this change will be found mainly in the increased magnitude of the engines of war, and the perfection to which they have been brought by the increasing application of talent and skill to their improvement, accomplished by the accuracy and rapidity of workman­ship, by the machinery of the arsenals of the present day, and that few new principles have been introduced with much success in the late contest" in the Crimea.

Major Delafield was re-appointed, Sep. 8, 1856, Superintendent of the U. S. Military Academy, a position which, except for five days, he continued to hold till Mar. 1, 1861, when he was relieved at his own request. During this second tour of duty at West Point, he completed the gas-works for lighting the public buildings; restored Fort Clinton, a relic of the Revolution; built additional accommodations for the officers at the Academy; was President of a Board to revise the Programme of Instruction at the institution; and in various ways demonstrated the same energy and ability he had previously shown in this command. In the period of nearly twelve years of his Superintendency of the Military Academy its reputation as a disciplinary and educational establishment continued to advance in popular estimation, and amply proved its value during the Civil War, which immediately followed his last tour of duty at West Point.

Soon after his retirement from the Military Academy he was placed upon the staff of the Governor of the State of New York, to whom he rendered important and valuable assistance in organizing and equipping the state forces for the field, and in supplying ordnance stores for the defenses of her lake and sea coasts. In addition to his duties on the staff of Governor Morgan, he had charge of the fortifications of New York harbor, and was a member of various boards called into existence by the exigencies of our great civil conflict. In these varied duties his long experience, excellent judgment, and professional familiarity with the duties of an engineer inspired great confidence, and most materially aided both the state and general governments. While thus engaged he was promoted, Aug. 6, 1861, to be Lieut.‑Colonel, and June 1, 1863, to be Colonel in the Corps of Engineers.

Upon the death of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Totten, Colonel Delafield was appointed  p185 Chief of Engineers of the Army, with the rank of Brigadier-General, to rank from Apr. 22, 1864. He continued in command of the Corps of Engineers, performing at his headquarters at Washington the arduous, varied, and responsible duties of his position, till Aug. 8, 1866, when he was retired from active service under the Law of July 17, 1862, "having been borne on the Army Register over forty-five years." During this period he was also Inspector (ex officio) of the Military Academy; member of a Commission on Encroachments of the Ocean at Sandy Hook, N. J.; one of the U. S. Lighthouse Board; Regent of the Smithsonian Institution at Washington, D. C.; and Member of the Commission for the Improvement of the Harbor of Boston, Mas.

For his "faithful, meritorious, and distinguished services in the Engineer Department during the Rebellion," he was brevetted, March 13, 1865, a Major-General in the United States Army.

Upon his retirement he spent his summers in New York city, and his winters in Washington, where he died, Nov. 5, 1873, at the ripe age of seventy-five years, over two thirds of which he had spent in the military service.

The following obituary order, issued Nov. 6, 1873, from the War Department, shows the Government's appreciation of this valued veteran, who had given the most of a long life to her service, and who had died with a reputation adding distinction to the important branch of the Army to which he belonged:—

"The Secretary of War is pained to announce to the Army the death of Brigadier-General Richard Delafield, (retired) Bvt. Major-General, U. S. Army, and formerly Chief of the Corps of Engineers, which occurred at Washington, D. C., Nov. 5, 1873.

"General Delafield's active services in the Army covered a period of forty-eight years. He graduated at the Military Academy, July 24, 1818, with the highest honors of his class, and was appointed to the Corps of Engineers. From that time until his retirement, Aug. 8, 1866, he was continuously engaged upon the duties of his Corps.

"In the construction of fortifications, his skill and careful attention to detail may be seen in the works for the defense of Hampton Roads, Va., New Orleans, Philadelphia, and New York city.

"As a member of the Board of Engineers for Fortifications, his counsels evinced a sound judgment, and a mind well stored with precedents.

"In various surveys and works for the improvement of communications, navigation, and facilities for commerce, his field of labors extended from our northern boundaries to the Gulf coast.

"He was twice the Superintendent of the Military Academy at West Point, serving in that office a period of nearly twelve years. In that capacity he assisted materially in the enforcement and improvement of the system of discipline and instruction which has raised that institution to its present high reputation.

"As a member of the Commission sent by his Government to Europe during the Crimean war; of the Lighthouse Board; of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution; and of various other Commissions, he brought to the discharge of his duties the same intelligent counsel, zealous spirit, and efficient service; always betraying a strong characteristic of his mind, — the desire to thoroughly elucidate every point of the subject before him.

"General Delafield rose steadily through all the successive grades of his Corps to that of Brigadier-General and Chief of Engineers, and received the brevet of Major-General in the Army for his 'faithful, meritorious, and distinguished service in the Engineer Department during the Rebellion.'

"As a tribute to his memory, the officers of the Corps of Engineers will  p186 wear the usual badge of mourning for thirty days; and the day after the receipt of this order, at West Point and Willet's Point, N. Y. (an Engineer depot established by him), thirteen minute-guns will be fired, beginning at noon, the national flag being displayed at half-staff during that time."

The Author's Note:

1 Colonel Delafield was relieved of the Superintendency of the Military Academy, Jan. 23, 1861, but resumed the command, Jan. 28, 1861.

Thayer's Note:

a The Rip Raps continued to subside into the ocean as late as 1835; see Freeman, R. E. LeeI.127 n.

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