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Bill Thayer

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 [decorative delimiter] Class of May 6, 1861

Vol. II

(Born Vt.)

Orville E. Babcock

(Ap'd Vt.)


Orville Elias Babcock: Born Dec. 25, 1835, Franklin, VT.

Military History. — Cadet at the Military Academy, July 1, 1856, to May 6, 1861, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to

Bvt. Second Lieut., Corps of Engineers, May 6, 1861.

Second Lieut., Corps of Engineers, May 6, 1861.

Served during the Rebellion of the Seceding States, 1861‑66: in drilling Volunteers at Washington, D. C., May 8‑25, 1861; as Asst. Engineer in the construction of the Defenses of Washington, D. C., May 25 to June 16, 1861, — on the Upper Potomac and Shenandoah Valley, June 16 to Aug. 25, 1861 (acting as Aide-de‑Camp to Major-General Banks, July‑Aug., 1861), — in the construction of the Defenses of Washington, D. C., Aug. 27 to Nov. 23, 1861, — on Special duty at the headquarters

(First Lieut., Corps of Engineers, Nov. 17, 1861)

of the Army of the Potomac, Nov. 23, 1861, to Feb. 24, 1862, — and at Harper's Ferry, constructing and guarding Ponton Bridge across the Potomac for General Banks's movement to Winchester, Feb. 24 to Mar. 4, 1862; in the Virginia Peninsular Campaign, attached to Engineer Battalion (Army of the Potomac), Mar. 10 to July 19, 1862, being engaged in the Siege of Yorktown, Apr. 12 to May 4, 1862, — and during

(Bvt. Captain, May 4, 1862, for Gallant and Meritorious Services during the Siege of Yorktown, Va.)

the subsequent Operations of the Campaign, in making reconnoissances and constructing bridges, roads, and field-works, particularly the "New Bridge" over the Chickahominy; on sick leave of absence, July 19 to Sep., 1862; in command of an Engineer Company on the March to Warrenton, Va., Oct. to Nov. 16, 1862; as Chief Engineer of the Left Grand Division, Nov. 16 to Dec. 18, 1862, and Asst. Inspector-General, 6th Corps, Jan. 1 to Feb. 6, 1863 (Army of the Potomac), in the Rappahannock

(Lieut.‑Colonel, Staff, U. S. Volunteers,
Jan. 1, 1863, to Mar. 29, 1864)

Campaign; as Assistant in the Engineer Bureau at Washington, D. C., Dec. 18‑31, 1862; as Asst. Inspector-General and Chief Engineer, 9th Army Corps, Feb. 6 to Apr. 10, 1863, being engaged in making survey and project for Defensive Works at Louisville, Mar.‑Apr., 1863; as Chief Engineer of the Central District of Kentucky, Apr. 10 to June 9,

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

1863; with 9th Corps en route to the Siege of Vicksburg, being present at its Surrender, July 4, 1863, — and Re‑occupation of Jackson, Mis., July 16, 1863; in East Tennessee Campaign, being engaged in the Action of Blue Lick Springs, Oct. 10, 1863, — Skirmish at Hough Ferry, Nov. 14, 1863, — Combat of Campbell's Station, Nov. 16, 1863, — and Defense of Knoxville, as Engineer of the line occupied by the 9th Corps, Nov. 17 to

(Bvt. Major, Nov. 29, 1863,
for Gallant and Meritorious Services during the Siege of Knoxville, Ten.)

Dec. 4, 1863; as Chief Engineer of the Department of the Ohio, Jan. 23 to Mar. 20, 1864; as Aide-de‑Camp to Lieut.‑General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant in the Richmond

(Lieut.‑Colonel, Staff —
Aide-de‑Camp to the General-in‑Chief, Mar. 29, 1864)

 p771  Campaign, May 4 to Dec., 1864, being engaged in the Battle of the Wilderness, May 5‑6, 1864, — Battles of Spottsylvania, May 9‑20, 1864,

(Bvt. Lieut.‑Colonel, May 6, 1864, for Gallant and Meritorious Services at the Battle of the Wilderness, Va.)

— Battles of Cold Harbor, June 1‑3, 1864, — and Operations about Petersburg, June to Dec., 1864; as Bearer of Dispatches from General Grant to General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Sherman when moving upon Savannah, Dec., 1864, — and to General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Schofield, Feb., 1865, being present at the Capture of Wilmington, N. C., Feb. 22, 1865; and in the Siege of Petersburg, Mar. to Apr. 2, 1865, — and Pursuit of the Rebel Army under General

(Bvt. Colonel, Mar. 13, 1865, for Gallant and Meritorious Services during the Rebellion)

(Bvt. Brig.‑General, Mar. 13, 1865, for Gallant and Meritorious Services in the Field during the Rebellion)

Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Lee, terminating with the Capitulation at Appomattox C. H., Apr. 9, 1865, the place of the Meeting of the contending Generals being selected by him.

Colonel, Staff — Aide-de‑Camp to the General-in‑Chief, July 25, 1866.

Major, Corps of Engineers, Mar. 21, 1867.

Served: at the Headquarters of the General Commanding the Armies of the United States, Apr. 9, 1866, to Mar. 4, 1869, and, under the orders of the President of the United States, at the Executive Mansion, till Mar. 3, 1877; as Superintending Engineer of Public Buildings and Grounds, and certain Public works in the District of Columbia, June 1, 1871, to Mar. 3, 1877, — of Washington Aqueduct, Oct. 13, 1871, to Mar. 3, 1877, — of Chain Bridge over the Potomac River, June 25, 1872,

(Colonel, ex officio, by Act of Congress,
Mar. 3, 1873, to Mar. 3, 1877)

to Mar. 3, 1877, — of Anacostia Bridge across the Eastern Branch of the Potomac, July 21, 1874, to Mar. 3, 1877, — of the construction of the East Wing of the Building for the State, War, and Navy Departments, Mar. 25, 1875, to Mar. 3, 1877, — of the Fifth Light-house District, Mar. 12, 1877, to June 2, 1884, — and of the Sixth Light-house District, Aug. 26, 1882, to June 2, 1884; and as Member of Commission to determine location of General Scott's Statue, June, 1871, — and of Board for Improvement of Washington and Georgetown Harbors, Mar. 5, 1872, to Mar. 3, 1877.

Drowned, June 2, 1884, in Mosquito Inlet, Fla.: Aged 48.​a

Buried, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA.​b

Thayer's Notes:

a The account of his death and obituary notice, in The New York Times, June 4, 1884, reads:

Gen. Babcock Drowned

Lost with two Friends and a Sailor in Florida.

The accident occurring in an attempt to cross Mosquito Inlet Bar in a small boat during a high wind.

Jacksonville, Fla., June 3. — Gen. O. E. Babcock, Levi P. Luckey, of Baltimore; B. F. Sutter, of Washington, and one seaman, were drowned at 2:30 o'clock yesterday afternoon while trying to cross Mosquito Inlet Bar in a small boat during a high wind. So far only the body of Gen. Babcock has been recovered. A special to the Times-Union from Daytona, which gives the above news, says the following details of the accident are all that can be obtained at present:

Gen. Babcock and party left Baltimore at noon of May 19 on the light-house tender Pharos, a two-masted schooner, bound for Mosquito Inlet, 20 miles below the mouth of the St. John's River, on the Florida coast, where the Government is building a light-house. The Pharos put into Charleston and left there on May 28, having encountered adverse winds all the way. A heavy north-east gale began on the 29th, in the midst of which the Pharos made St. John's light and came to anchor off the bar with two cables out. A pilot was signaled for, and although the sea was running half-mast high one reached the Pharos, and Gen. Babcock sent the following message to Dr. J. C. Lengle, of this city, proprietor of the steam towing tugs on the river:

St. John's Bar, via Pilot Town, May 30.

J. C. Lengle, Jacksonville, Fla.:

The Pharos sails from here this morning. Please have the Seth Low or the Maybie to tow her over Mosquito Inlet Bar. Let her take the Pharos in tow if overtaken.

O. E. Babcock,

Light-house Engineer.

The sea ran so high that the tug could not get out and had not gone down this morning. The next news received was the dispatch from Daytona to the Times-Union announcing the sad catastrophe. When the tug comes back from Mosquito Inlet full particulars will be known. The probability is that the Pharos anchored off the inlet, and the General and his party undertook to go ashore in a small boat, which was swamped in the breakers. The only way to communicate with the scene of the disaster is by telegraph to Daytona, several miles from there, on the Halifax River, by way of Astor.

Three other citizens of Washington were to have accompanied Gen. Babcock on this tour, one of whom, W. H. Bailey, did go as far as Charleston, but becoming belated by adverse winds and calms, left the party at that place and returned home. The others, J. D. Franzoni and F. W. Royce, personal friends of Gen. Babcock and Mr. Luckey, were prevented by business engagements from leaving the city.

Washington, June 3. Beyond a brief telegram, received this morning by a friend of Mr. Sutter, no information has been received in this city regarding the drowning in Florida of Gen. O. E. Babcock and Messrs. Sutter and Luckey. The dispatch referred to contained only the statement that the party had been drowned at Mosquito Inlet, and that Gen. Babcock's body had been recovered. No message regarding the matter has been received at the Treasury Department, nor by the family or friends of Messrs. Babcock and Sutter. It is understood that a dispatch confirming the reported drowning was received at Baltimore, and that it also gave no particulars. W. H. Bailey, who accompanied Gen. Babcock part of the way to Florida and then returned to Washington, says that the distance from Mosquito Inlet to the nearest telegraph office is such that he thinks the particulars could not reach here before to‑morrow. All the persons connected with the unfortunate affair are well known in Washington, and inquiries for news of the drowning are constantly being made of any person likely to receive any dispatches. Mr. Benjamin, who sent the telegram, is Superintendent of Construction at Mosquito Inlet, and the information is regarded as authentic, but surprise is expressed that he did not at once make an official communication.

A short time ago the President nominated Gen. Babcock to be Lieutenant-Colonel of Engineers, and the matter is now pending in the Senate. Gen. Babcock was the Engineer in charge of the Fifth and Sixth Light-house Districts, and his trip to Florida was on business connected with his office. Mr. Luckey was his chief clerk. Mr. Sutter was a clerk in a Washington drug store, who went with Gen. Babcock for a pleasure trip.

Gen. Orville E. Babcock was born in Vermont, and was about 44 years of age. When 16 years old he was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, from where he was graduated, standing third in his class, on May 6, 1861. The same day he was promoted to Brevet Second Lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers, and was at once assigned to duty in Washington. He acted as Assistant Engineer in the construction of the defenses of that city, and from June to August held the same position on the Upper Potomac and in the Shenandoah Valley, acting as aide-de‑camp to Major-Gen. Banks. From August to November he again looked after the construction of defenses around Washington, considered necessary when there were grave apprehensions that the Confederates would capture the capital. On Nov. 17, 1861, he was promoted to First Lieutenant, Corps of Engineers, and a week later was assigned to special duty at the head-quarters of the Army of the Potomac. In Gen. Banks's movement to Winchester in February and March, 1862, Lieut. Babcock was constructing works at Harper's Ferry and guarding the ponton bridges across the Potomac. He was next attached to the Engineer Battalion of the Army of the Potomac, serving through the Peninsular campaign. For gallant service at the siege of Yorktown the young engineer was made Brevet Captain on May 4, 1862. The construction of bridges, roads, and field works occupied his time until November, when he was promoted to Chief Engineer of the left division of the Army of the Potomac, and to Assistant Inspector-General Sixth Corps in January, 1863, when he was commissioned Lieutenant-Colonel of Staff. As such he served in the Rappahannock campaign, and as Chief Engineer of the Ninth Corps he was engaged in surveying and projecting the defensive works at Louisville and in Central Kentucky.

In June, 1863, he was further promoted to Captain, Corps of Engineers. He was present at the surrender of Vicksburg, the reoccupation of Jackson, and in the East Tennessee campaign. For gallant and meritorious service during the siege of Knoxville he was made Brevet Major on Nov. 29, serving as Chief Engineer of the Department of the Ohio. He was with Gen. Grant in the Richmond campaign, receiving his commission as Lieutenant-Colonel of Staff March 29, 1864. He bore dispatches between Grant and Sherman when the latter was on his March to the sea in December, 1864, having previously, on May 6, 1864, by gallant service at the battle of the Wilderness, again earned promotion, this time to Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel. He remained with Gen. Grant until the war was ended, taking part in all the important engagements and proving himself of great value to the Commander-in‑Chief. On March 13, 1865, he was made Brevet Colonel for gallant and meritorious service during the rebellion, and on March 13, for gallant and meritorious service in the field, was commissioned Brevet Brigadier-General. At Appomattox, the place of meeting of the contending Generals, was selected by Gen. Babcock, and he was present when the Confederates laid down their arms. As Colonel of Staff and aide-de‑camp to the General-in‑Chief he received his commission on July 25, 1866, and a commission as Major, Corps of Engineers, March 21, 1867.

When Gen. Grant was elected President Gen. Babcock was chosen private secretary and confidential adviser, a place he held until March 4, 1876.º He also served as Commissioner of Public Buildings for the District of Columbia, which bore with it a commission as Major of Engineers. He remained under orders the next year. He was Superintending Engineer of the Washington Aqueduct, of the chain bridge over the Potomac, of the construction of the east wing of the building for the State, War, and Navy Departments, and served on several commissions to determine sites for monuments and public buildings. He was widely known while in Washington, relieving the President of many social duties. In November, 1875, during the trial of McDonald for complicity in the great whisky ring frauds, testimony was introduce showing that dispatches signed "Bab" had been shown by John A. Joyce to Bevis and Ulrich, who said they were from Orville E. Babcock. Gen. Babcock at once wired the United States District Attorney, declaring his innocence of any complicity, and asking when a hearing would be given him. The evidence was closed in the McDonald case that day, and the next case was not set down until Dec. 15. Gen. Babcock asked for a court of inquiry, which was granted. Before any evidence was heard, however, the Grand Jury of the United States District Court at St. Louis found an indictment against Orville E. Babcock and John A. Joyce for conspiring to defraud the Government, and in the face of this the court was dismissed. It was two months from the finding of the indictment to the opening of the case. The trial occupied 14 days, when Gen. Babcock was acquitted. The verdict was considered a complete exoneration from the charge of conspiracy. Joyce and McDonald had the confidence of Gen. Babcock until their exposure came, and his dispatches to them were satisfactorily explained.

"Gen. Babcock," said Gen. Grant, in speaking of his faithful aide-de‑camp and secretary yesterday, "was a very able man, and a brave and good soldier." Gen. Babcock was married to a Miss Campbell, of Galena, Ill., about the close of the war. She survives him, as do three young sons. She has been in poor health for some time. After his retirement from the White House Gen. Babcock was appointed, on March 12, 1877, Light-house Inspector of the Fifth District, a position he held at the time of his death. He was a very genial, hospitable man, and was generally well liked wherever known.

Col. Levi P. Luckey resided at No. 137 Edmondson-avenue, in Baltimore, and was chief clerk to Gen. Babcock, whose office was at No. 1 Courtland-street. He was about 43 years of age, and was born in New‑York State. During the Administration of Gen. Grant he acted as his private secretary, and was subsequently appointed private secretary to the Governor of Utah Territory. During 1880 he was appointed chief clerk to Gen. Babcock and has resided in Baltimore ever since. Mr. Luckey married Miss Benjamin, of Dixon, Ill., who survives him, together with four children — three boys and one daughter. The news of the drowning was received with much regret by his fellow-clerks at the district office, Baltimore, and information was immediately communicated to one of his sons, who is attending school. Mr. Luckey was a member of the Masonic fraternity, and also attended Bethany Methodist Church.

Benjamin F. Sutter was young gentleman of great promise and was formerly of Mount Holly, N. J., where he now has a brother. He was well known in Masonic circles, in which order he had filled exalted positions.

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b A much fuller, more balanced, and more interesting outline of his career than that in the Register is given in the Find-a‑Grave page linked here.

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Page updated: 5 Oct 13