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CDV, Lieutenant Colonel, Barton S. Alexander

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Chief Engineer of the defenses of Washington, D.C., in 1861

Photograph taken by Alexander Gardner, Washington, D.C.


(1819-78) Born in Nicholas County, Kentucky, he graduated #7 in the West Point class of 1842, and was commissioned into the elite U.S. Engineers Corps. He served in the Mexican War, as an engineer officer building fortifications to protect the supply lines of the U.S. Army during their advance upon Mexico City. After the war, he was stationed in Washington, D.C., where he served as architect for the Scott Building of the U.S. Soldiers' Home, now known as the Armed Forces Retirement Home. The building was named for General Winfield Scott, and he took over the completion of the Smithsonian Institution building after the first architect was dismissed. Alexander worked on several fortification projects along the East Coast of the United States, including Forts Pulaski, Jackson, and the defenses of New York City. Afterwards he traveled to New England, where he supervised the rebuilding of the Minot's Ledge Lighthouse, a project widely considered to be one of the most difficult to be attempted by the U.S. Government up to that time. On September 28, 1861, he was commissioned lieutenant colonel and he served as an advisor to the Engineering Brigade of the Army of the Potomac, and became Chief Engineer of the defenses of Washington, D.C. Alexander put his skills to military use for the first time since the Mexican War, when on May 24, 1861, he was among several hundred engineers who marched into Virginia to begin building fortifications to protect Washington, D.C. In July 1861, the force that had marched into northern Virginia on May 24th found itself opposed by a large Confederate Army force that had marched up from the south. In the haste to meet the Confederates in battle, Alexander found himself serving as an infantry officer and was assigned to the 1st Division of the Army of Northeastern Virginia, under the command of General Daniel Tyler. It was a situation common to the young Union Army soldier, which found itself short of experienced officers. Many engineer officers building defenses south of Washington were assigned to a regiment or division during the First Battle of Bull Run. Alexander received a brevet to major in the regular army for his service during the battle. He was cited for gallantry and meritorious service at 1st Bull Run, and Yorktown, and was promoted to brevet brigadier general, on March 13, 1865. He later served as chief engineer of the Military Division of the Pacific, making him the head engineer for every military construction project on the West Coast. In later years, he persuaded the U.S. government to acquire Pearl Harbor from the Kingdom of Hawaii and supervised numerous irrigation and land reclamation projects in California's central valley. He died on December 15, 1878, in San Francisco, California. He is buried in San Francisco National Cemetery.

Wet plate, albumen carte de visite photograph, mounted to 2 3/8 x 3 3/4 card. Bust view in uniform with shoulder strap visible. Back mark: Alex. Gardner Galleries, Photographer to the Army of the Potomac, 511 Seventh Street and 332 Pennsylvania Av., Washington, D.C., with vignette of the U.S. Capitol, and a 3 cents green Internal Revenue Proprietary tax stamp with stamped date Aug. 28 on the reverse. Card mount is trimmed. Scarce.



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