U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers

John James AbertJohn James Abert
1788 - 1863

John James Abert was born in Shepherdstown, Virginia, 17 September 1788, and died in Washington. District of Columbia, 27 September 1863. He was the son of John Abert, who came to this country with Rochambeau in 1780. Young Abert was graduated at West Point in 1811, but at once resigned, and was then employed in the War Office. Meanwhile he studied law, and was admitted to the bar in the District of Columbia in 1813. in the War of 1812 he volunteered as a private soldier for the defense of the capital. He was reappointed to the army in 1814 as topographical engineer, with the rank of major. In 1829 he became Chief of the Topographical Bureau at Washington, and in 1838 became colonel in command of that branch of the engineers. He was retired in 1861 after "long and faithful service." Col. Abert was associated in the supervision of many of the earlier national works of engineering, and his reports prepared for the government are standards of authority. He was a member of several scientific societies, and was one of the organizers of the national institute of science, which was subsequently merged into the Smithsonian Institute. His son, James W. Abert, served with distinction in the Corps of Topographical Engineers from 1843 through the Civil War.

adapted from Appletons Encyclopedia


71 (Born Md.) JOHN J. ABERT (Ap'd Va.)

Military History. --Cadet of the Military Academy, Jan. 18, 1808, to Apr. 1, 1811, when he was graduated, and

RESIGNED, APR. 1, 1811.

Civil History. -Counselor at Law, District of Columbia, 1813, and in Ohio, 1814. Served as a private soldier in the District of Columbia Militia, in the War of 1812-15 with Great Britain, being engaged in the Battle of Bladensburg, Md., Aug. 24, 1814.

Military History. -Re-appointed in the U. S Army with the rank of



Served: as Assistant in the Geodetic Survey of the Atlantic Coast, 1816-18; in making Reconnoissance of East River, N. Y., 1818; as Superintending Top. Engineer of Surveys in Chesapeake Bay, 1818, - of Dutch Island, etc., western entrance to Narragansett Bay, R. I., 1819, -of East River, N. Y., 1819, -of FaIl River, Mas., 1819,-Louisville Canal, Ky., 1819, -of Mount Hope Bay, Newport Neck, etc., Narragansett Roads, R. I., 1819, -of Cox's Head, 1821, -of Chesapeake and



Ohio Canal, 1824-25, -of Patuxent River, Md., 1824. and in Maine, 1826-27; in charge of Topographical Bureau at Washington, D. C., Mar. 19, 1829, to Apr. 11, 1861; and in command of Corps of Topographical Engineers,



July 7,1838, to Apr. 11,.1861; as U. S. Commissioner to conduct Indian emigration to the Missouri Frontier, 1832, -and to the Creek Indians (twice), and Wyandottes, of Ohio, 1833--34; and as Member of the Board of Visitors to the U. S. Military Academy, 1842.



Civil History. -Member of several Scientific and Historical Associations, and of the Geographical Society of Paris, France.




COLONEL JOHN J. ABERT was born, Sep. 17, 1788, at Frederick City, Md. Upon his death, Jan. 27, 1863, the following obituary order was issued by the War Department:

The Secretary of War with great regret announces the decease of another veteran officer, Colonel John J. Abert, late Chief of the United States Corps of Topographical Engineers, who died at his residence in this city, the 27th instant, at an advanced age.

Colonel Abert entered as a Cadet of the Military Academy in the year 1808, only six years after its first establishment by law. Leaving the Academy in 1811, he was from then until November, 1814, employed in the War Office. While thus engaged, he volunteered as a private soldier for the defense of the Capital; and his services on that occasion were acknowledged by conferring upon him a land warrant, under the existing laws. He was appointed Topographical Engineer, with rank of Major, Nov. 22, 1814. At that time there was no organized corps of those officers, but they formed a part of the General Staff and served with generals in the field. After the close of the war they were employed in surveys of the seacoast and inland frontiers, reporting to the Chief of Engineers and the results of their labors were collected in a Topographical Bureau, established in the War Department May 5, 1820, as a part of the Engineer Department, under charge of Major Roberdeau. On the reorganization of the Army in 1816, Major Abert was retained. In 1824 he was brevetted Lieut.-Colonel for ten years' faithful service in one grade; and at the death of Colonel Roberdeau, Feb. 12, 1829, he was appointed to the charge of the Topographical Bureau. As the duties of his Bureau increased in magnitude and importance, Colonel Abert exerted himself to cause it to be made a distinct branch of the War Department, which he effected June 22,1831. At this time his corps consisted of six majors and four captains by brevet, and six civil engineers; besides which some twenty subalterns of the line of the Army were detailed on topographical duty under his orders. At length, by act of Congress approved July 7, 1838, the present Corps of Topographical Engineers was organized, and created one of the Staff Corps of the Army, with the officer to whose fostering care and judicious management it mainly owed its existence; for its colonel and chief. Colonel Abert was, in fact, at the head of his corps for upwards of thirty-two years, until he was honorably retired from active duty the 11th of September, 1861, having become incapacitated by long and faithful service from further attendance at his office.

The Army and the country will not need to be reminded of the vast interest and value attached to the operations of this corps since its organization. The geographical and other information concerning this continent which its officers have collected and published has challenged the admiration of the scientific world, while the practical benefit of their labors has been felt in nearly every State and every Territory; the whole forming a proud monument to him who was its founder.

As a citizen and a man, Colonel Abert was remarkable for the steadfastness of his friendships, for his candor and unostentatious hospitality. Equally unostentatious, but no less sincere, was the simple piety which supported his declining years, and left behind an example which the proudest soldier may not be ashamed to follow.

from Cullum, G. W., Biographical register of the officers and graduates of the USMA at West Point, N.Y., from its establishment in 1802 to 1890, with the early history of the USMA


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