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 [decorative delimiter] Class of 1831

Vol. I

(Born Ct.)

Charles Whittlesey

(Ap'd O.)


Military History. — Cadet at the Military Academy, July 1, 1827, to July 1, 1831, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to

Bvt. Second Lieut., 6th Infantry, July 1, 1831.

Transferred to 5th Infantry, Oct. 20, 1831.

Served on frontier duty, at Ft. Howard, Wis., 1832.

Resigned, Sep. 30, 1832.

Civil History. — Counselor at Law, Cleveland, O., 1835. Editor of "Cleveland Herald," 1836‑37. Major, Staff (Brigade Inspector), Ohio Militia, 1836, — and Col., Staff (Aide-de‑Camp to the Governor of Ohio), 1837. Civil Engineer and Geologist, employed on Geological Survey of Ohio, 1837‑38, — on Mineral Surveys in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, 1848‑50, — as Mining Engineer, Lake Superior, 1853‑56, — and on Geological Survey of Wisconsin, 1858‑60. Author of "Life of John Fitch," in Sparks's American Biography, 1845.

Military History. — Served during the Rebellion of the Seceding States, 1861‑62: as Asst. Quartermaster-General of Ohio, Apr., 1861; in Western Virginia Campaign, July‑Aug., 1861, as Chief Engineer of Ohio Volunteers, being engaged in the Action at Scary Run, July 17, 1861; as Chief Engineer of the Department of Ohio, on the Defenses of Cincinnati, O., Sep. 23 to Dec. 5, 1861; in the Campaign of 1861‑62,

(Colonel, 20th Ohio Volunteers, Aug. 15, 1861)

in Kentucky and Tennessee, being engaged in the Attack and Capture of Ft. Donelson, Ten., Feb. 13‑16, 1862, — and Battle of Shiloh, Ten., Apr. 6‑7, 1862, commanding brigade.

Resigned (sick), Apr. 19, 1862.

Civil History. — Author of "Ancient Mining on Lake Superior," 1862, and of the "Glacial Drift of the Northwestern States," 1866, in the Smithsonian Contributions; and of the "Early History of Cleveland and Vicinity," 1867. President of the Western Reserve and Northern Ohio Historical Society, 1867‑86.

Died, Oct. 18, 1886, at Cleveland, O.: Aged 78.

 p496  Biographical Sketch.

Colonel Charles Whittlesey was born Oct. 4, 1808, in Southington, Ct., and when but seven years old went to reside in Ohio. He was the nephew of the distinguished Elisha Whittlesey, eight times elected to Congress, and for a long period subsequently the First Comptroller in the United States Treasury.

Young Whittlesey, living a frontier life amid primeval forests and wild savages, had few advantages of education, except in the study of nature. In his nineteenth year he became a Cadet in the Military Academy, from which he was graduated and promoted July 1, 1831, to the United States Fifth Infantry, then stationed on the Northern Lakes. In the spring of 1832 Lieutenant Whittlesey was assigned to the company of which the famous Martin Scott was Captain, and, at the close of the "Black Hawk" War, he resigned, Sep. 30, 1832, from the military service.

Whittlesey's varied experience, as a boy in wilds of Ohio and in his manhood as an officer of the Army, was an excellent sort of apprentice­ship for his subsequent useful career. After a short trial of the law and editor­ship, he was appointed, in 1837, Assistant Geologist of the State of Ohio, another graduate of the Military Academy — Professor Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.William W. Mather — being the Chief. To Whittlesey were assigned the topographical and mathematical parts of this survey, which disclosed the rich coal and iron deposits of Eastern Ohio, the foundation of its vast manufacturing industries. Whittlesey also examined and carefully measured some of the works of the Mound Builders, which operations, with the aid of a friend, were continued in 1839‑40. His drawings and notes of twenty of these ancient remains, including the extensive Mounds of Newark and Marietta, were embodied in Squier's and Davis's great work, published in the "Smithsonian Contributions," 1841‑46, to which Whittlesey made important additions in 1850.

An account of the wonder­ful productions of the rich copper mines of Michigan, explored by Whittlesey in 1844, was published by him in 1846.

From 1847 to 1851, Whittlesey was employed by the United States Government to make a mineralogical and geological survey of the region about Lake Superior and the Upper Mississippi, which was productive of great value to the country. This gave him such a high reputation that he was appointed by the Governor of Wisconsin to make a geological survey of that State, in which he was occupied till the outbreak of the Rebellion.

Foreseeing that the South would resist the declared wish of the nation in the election of Lincoln, Whittlesey promptly enrolled himself in the body-guard which was to escort the President-elect to Washington. At the same time he urged the State authorities to make immediate preparations for hostilities; hence Ohio's readiness for the fray. Two days after the President's proclamation of April 15, 1861, for three months' volunteers, Whittlesey joined the Governor's staff as Assistant Quartermaster-General, and performed the duties of Ohio's Chief Engineer in the Western Virginia campaign, where he was engaged, July 17, 1861, in the severe action of Scary Run, in which his horse was shot under him.

At the expiration of his three months' service, Whittlesey was appointed, Aug. 15, 1861, Colonel of the Twentieth Ohio Volunteers, and detailed by General Mitchell as Chief Engineer of the Department of Ohio, being engaged, from Sep. 23 to Dec. 5, 1861, in planning and constructing the defenses of Cincinnati. From this city he was ordered, with four companies of infantry, to Warsaw, Ky., to protect Union citizens, and to prevent Rebel enlistments, in both of which duties he was eminently success­ful. Then he joined in the advance upon Fort Donelson, where he led his  p497 regiment, and after the battle was sent North with over ten thousand prisoners.

On Apr. 7, 1862, Whittlesey commanded the Third Brigade of Wallace's division in the Battle of Shiloh. "It was against the line of that brigade that General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Beauregard attempted to through the whole weight of his force for a last desperate charge; but he was driven back by the terrible fire, that his men were unable to face." Colonel Whittlesey was fortunate in escaping, with his life in constant peril from the Rebel sharpshooters.

This great battle terminated Whittlesey's military career, for he was too sick to keep the field, and therefore tendered his resignation, which was endorsed by General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant: "We cannot afford to lose so good an officer." Though his whole command and associates were grieved to part with him, he was compelled, from extreme debility, to leave them, Apr. 19, 1862.

From the field, where he had won golden opinions, Whittlesey, so soon as able, resumed his geological explorations in the Lake Superior and Upper Mississippi basin, and was untiring, to the day of his death, in his endeavors to develop the resources of the Great West.

Colonel Whittlesey, though so distinguished in his field-work, will be longest remembered and most highly appreciated for his deep interest and untiring efforts to rescue from oblivion the pioneer history of his adopted State,​a which culminated, in 1867, in the establishment of the "Western Reserve and Northern Ohio Historical Society." He became its first President, and until his death was its honored chief, its ever active leader, and its hard-working master spirit. The most valuable publications of the society were his, and to his indefatigable zeal is due its eminent prosperity and usefulness.

For over half a century Whittlesey was a conspicuous author, his prolific pen having produced about two hundred works, from large quartos to small pamphlets, on historical, archaeological, geological, biographical, scientific, religious, and miscellaneous subjects.

At the ripe age of seventy-eight, Oct. 18, 1886, he died, at his home in Cleveland, O., where the great geologist's grave will be marked by a curious conglomerate boulder of the glacial period, which he had brought from the head of the Sault Ste. Marie. It was his oft-expressed wish that, when he should have drifted into the unknown future, this memorial, which had drifted from the unknown past, should mark his last earthly resting place.

At a special meeting of the Western Reserve and Northern Ohio Historical Society, held Oct. 23, 1886, the following just tribute was paid to the memory of the departed scientist and scholar:—

"The recent death of Colonel Charles Whittlesey calls forth heartfelt expressions of sorrow from our citizens, and all unite in honorable mention of his name, but to this society his loss is an event of no ordinary character. From the organization of the Western Reserve and Northern Ohio Historical Society till the hour of his departure he had been its President, and during all these years its success and permanency had been objects nearest and dearest to his heart, and it was specially gratifying to him, as his life approached its completion, to know that his labor had not been in vain, and that length of days had been given him to see it established on a permanent basis as one of the honored and useful institutions of the land.

"For the duties of his position he was eminently fitted. The scientific training at West Point, the active duties of an Indian campaign, the years spent in the wilds of the Northwest in land surveys and in mineralogical and geological investigations, developed and strengthened his natural love for the useful sciences, for historical research, and for archaeological investigation,  p498 and gave him such an extended and practical knowledge of men and things as is seldom granted to scientific men. His studious habits, retentive memory, and facile pen were invaluable aids in making available to the public the treasures of his mind; and his love for the truth, plain and simple, and his hatred to fraud, combined with an energetic honesty of purpose, gave special weight to his published opinions and statements in all matters of history, archaeology, and science."

Thayer's Note:

a His The Early History of Cleveland (1867) is online, in full, at the Cleveland Memory Project. Many of his articles, published by him as Tracts of the Western Reserve and Northern Ohio Historical Society, are online in a manner of speaking — on various sites restricted to subscribers. Among his contributions to the history of Ohio was his debunking of the "Grave Creek Stone": see J. Huston McCulloch's excellent page.

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