Montgomery C. Meigs


Montgomery C. Meigs
Montgomery Cunningham Meigs
New-Meigs.jpg
Montgomery C. Meigs
Born May 3, 1816(1816-05-03)
Augusta, Georgia
Died January 2, 1892(1892-01-02) (aged 75)
Washington, D.C.
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance United States of America
Union
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1836-1882
Rank Brigadier General, Brevet Major General
Commands held Quartermaster General
Battles/wars American Civil War
Other work Smithsonian Institution regent
National Academy of Sciences, member

Montgomery Cunningham Meigs (play /ˈmɛɡz/; May 3, 1816 – January 2, 1892) was a career United States Army officer, civil engineer, construction engineer for a number of facilities in Washington, D.C., and Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army during and after the American Civil War.

Contents

Early life and engineering projects

Meigs was born in Augusta, Georgia, a son of Dr. Charles Delucena Meigs and a grandson of the academic Josiah Meigs. While a boy, he moved with his family to Pennsylvania, and he initially attended the University of Pennsylvania, but was appointed to the United States Military Academy and graduated in 1836. He received a commission as a second lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Artillery, but most of his army service was with the Corps of Engineers, in which he worked on important engineering projects.

In his early assignments, Meigs helped build Fort Mifflin on the Delaware River and Fort Wayne on the Detroit River. He also served under the command of then-Lt. Robert E. Lee to make navigational improvements on the Mississippi River.[1] Beginning in 1844, Meigs also was involved with the construction of Fort Montgomery on Lake Champlain in upstate New York.

His favorite prewar engineering project was the Washington Aqueduct, which he supervised from 1852 to 1860. It involved the construction of the monumental Union Arch Bridge across Cabin John Creek, designed by Alfred Rives, which for 50 years remained the longest single-span masonry arch in the world.[2] From 1853 to 1859, he also supervised the building of the wings and dome of the United States Capitol and, from 1855 to 1859, the extension of the General Post Office Building.

Montgomery C. Meigs

In the fall of 1860, as a result of a disagreement over procurement contracts, Meigs "incurred the ill will" of the Secretary of War, John B. Floyd, and was "banished to Tortugas in the Gulf of Mexico to construct fortifications at that place and at Key West." Upon the resignation of Floyd a few months later, Meigs was recalled to his work on the aqueduct at Washington.

Civil War

Just before the outbreak of the Civil War, Meigs and Lt. Col. Erasmus D. Keyes were quietly charged by President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward with drawing up a plan for the relief of Fort Pickens, Florida, by means of a secret expedition. In April 1861, together with Lieutenant David D. Porter of the Navy, they carried out the expedition, embarking under orders from the President without the knowledge of either the Secretary of the Navy or the Secretary of War.

On May 14, 1861, Meigs was appointed colonel, 11th U.S. Infantry, and on the following day, promoted to brigadier general and Quartermaster General of the Army. The previous Quartermaster General, Joseph Johnston, had resigned and become a general in the Confederate Army. Meigs established a reputation for being efficient, hard-driving, and scrupulously honest. He molded a large and somewhat diffuse department into a great tool of war. He was one of the first to fully appreciate the importance of logistical preparations in military planning, and under his leadership, supplies moved forward and troops were transported over long distances with ever-greater efficiency.

Of his work in the quartermaster's office, James G. Blaine remarked, "Montgomery C. Meigs, one of the ablest graduates of the Military Academy, was kept from the command of troops by the inestimably important services he performed as Quartermaster General. Perhaps in the military history of the world there never was so large an amount of money disbursed upon the order of a single man ... The aggregate sum could not have been less during the war than fifteen hundred million dollars, accurately vouched and accounted for to the last cent." Secretary of State William H. Seward's estimate was "that without the services of this eminent soldier the national cause must have been lost or deeply imperiled."

Montgomery C. Meigs

Meigs' services during the Civil War included command of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's base of supplies at Fredericksburg and Belle Plain, Virginia (1864), command of a division of War Department employees in the defenses of Washington at the time of Jubal A. Early's raid (July 11–14, 1864), personally supervising the refitting and supplying of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's army at Savannah (January 5–29, 1865), and at Goldbrick and Raleigh, North Carolina, reopening Sherman's lines of supply (March–April 1865). He was brevetted to major general on July 5, 1864.

A staunch Unionist despite his Southern roots, Meigs detested the Confederacy. He recommended that the historic Custis Mansion in Arlington, Virginia, owned by Mary Anna Custis Lee, the wife of Robert E. Lee, be used as a military burial ground. Based on this recommendation, Arlington National Cemetery was created in 1864. In October of that same year, his son, First Lieutenant John Rodgers Meigs, was killed at Swift Run Gap in Virginia and was buried at a Georgetown Cemetery.[3] Lt. Meigs was part of a 3-man patrol which ran into a 3-man Confederate patrol; Lt. Meigs was killed; one was captured and one escaped. Meigs to the end of his life believed that his son had been murdered after being captured—despite evidence to the contrary.[4] In 1882 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in United States v. Lee that the recommendation made by Meigs and confirmed by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton was illegal and returned the estate to George Washington Custis Lee, Gen. Lee's oldest son. He, in turn, sold the part of the estate that was used as a cemetery to the U.S. Government for $150,000, considered the fair market value of the property. This decision had a profound adverse impact on Meigs.

Postbellum career

In 1865, Meigs was in the honor guard at Abraham Lincoln's funeral.

As Quartermaster General after the Civil War, Meigs supervised plans for the new War Department building (1866–67), the National Museum (1876), the extension of the Washington Aqueduct (1876), and for a hall of records (1878). Along with fellow quartermaster Brig. Gen. Roeliff Brinkerhoff, Meigs edited a volume entitled, The Volunteer Quartermaster, a treatise which was considered the standard guide for the officers and employees of the quartermaster's department up until the First World War.[5]

In 1866–68, to recuperate from the strain of his war service, Meigs visited Europe, and from 1875 to 1876 made another visit to study the organization of European armies. After his retirement on February 6, 1882, he became architect of the Pension Office Building, now home to the National Building Museum. He was a regent of the Smithsonian Institution, a member of the American Philosophical Society, and one of the earliest members of the National Academy of Sciences.

Meigs died in Washington after a short illness and his body was interred with high military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. The General Orders (January 4, 1892) issued at the time of his death declared that "the Army has rarely possessed an officer ... who was entrusted by the government with a great variety of weighty responsibilities, or who proved himself more worthy of confidence."

Pension Building (1882–87)

Following the end of the Civil War, the United States Congress passed legislation that greatly extended the scope of pension coverage for both veterans and for their survivors and dependents, notably their widows and orphans. This ballooned the number of staff that was needed to implement and administer the new benefits system to over 1,500 and quickly required a new building to house them all. Meigs was chosen to design and construct the new building, now the National Building Museum. He broke away from the established Greco-Roman models that had been the basis of government buildings in Washington, D.C., up until then, and was to continue following the completion of the Pension Building. Meigs based his design on Italian Renaissance precedents, notably Rome's Palazzo Farnese and Plazzo della Cancelleria.

Included in his design was a 1,200-foot (370 m) long sculptured frieze executed by Caspar Buberl. Since creating a work of sculpture of that size was well out of Meigs's budget, he had Buberl create 28 different scenes (totaling 69 feet (21 m) in length), which were then mixed and slightly modified to create the continuous 1,200-foot (370 m) long parade that includes over 1,300 figures. Because of the way that the 28 sections are modified and mixed up, it is only by somewhat careful examination that the frieze reveals itself to be the same figures repeated over and over. The sculpture includes infantry, navy, artillery, cavalry, and medical components as well as a good deal of the supply and quartermaster functions.

Meigs's correspondence with Buberl reveals that Meigs insisted that one teamster, "must be a negro, a plantation slave, freed by war," be included in the Quartermaster panel.[6] This figure was ultimately to assume a position in the center, over the west entrance to the building.

When Philip Sheridan was asked to comment on the building, his reply echoed the sentiment of much of the Washington establishment of the day, that the only thing that he could find wrong with the building was that it was fireproof. (A similar quote is also attributed to William T. Sherman, so the story might well be apocryphal.)

The completed building, sometimes referred to as "Meigs's Old Red Barn", was created by using more than 15,000,000 bricks,[7] which, according to the wits of the day, were all counted by the parsimonious Meigs.

Honors

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Ulbrich, p. 1312; Freeman, vol. 1, pp. 140-47.
  2. ^ "Md. bridge history includes breach that couldn't be spanned", Washington Post, John Kelly, Wednesday, April 21, 2010
  3. ^ Poole, p. 64.
  4. ^ Miller, Second Only to Grant: Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs, pp. 241-2.
  5. ^ General Roeliff Brinkerhoff. Ohio History: The Scholarly Journal of the Ohio Historical Society. Volume 20.
  6. ^ McDaniel, Collected Works.
  7. ^ Building Museum Website retrieved 27 June 2010

References

  • Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Freeman, Douglas S., R. E. Lee, A Biography (4 volumes), Scribners, 1934.
  • McDaniel, Joyce L., The Collected Works of Caspar Buberl: An Analysis of a Nineteenth Century American Sculptor, Master's Thesis, Wellesley University, 1976.
  • Miller, David W., Second Only to Grant: Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania: White Maine Books, 2000.
  • Poole, Robert M., On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery, Walker, New York, 2009.
  • Scott, Pamela & Antoinette J. Lee, Buildings of the District of Columbia, Oxford University Press, New York, 1993.
  • Ulbrich, David, "Montgomery Cunningham Meigs", Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, Heidler, David S., and Heidler, Jeanne T., eds., W. W. Norton & Company, 2000, ISBN 0-393-04758-X.
  • Weigley, Russell F., Quartermaster General of the Union Army: A Biography of M.C. Meigs (1959)
  • Wolff, Wendy, ed., Capitol Builder: The Shorthand Journals of Montgomery C. Meigs, U.S. Government Printing Office (2001)
  • Online biography

External links


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