U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers

Nathaniel MichlerNathaniel Michler
1827 - 1881

Nathaniel Michler, army  officer and geographer, the son of Peter S. and Elizabeth (Hart)  Michler, was born on September 13, 1827, at Easton, Pennsylvania.  He attended Lafayette College before his appointment to the United  States Military Academy, West Point, New York, on July 1, 1844.  He graduated seventh in his class in 1848, and was brevetted second  lieutenant, Topographical Engineers, on July 1, 1848, and assigned to  Corpus Christi, Texas. He established a camp on the Mission River  near Refugio, where he trained his men in surveying and tactics to  employ against the Indians. His reconnaissance of the country  between Corpus Christi and Uvalde was considered a model of  geographic exploration on its issue in 1849. From 1851 to 1857 he  worked on the Mexican boundary survey; his reports on that work  may be found in William H. Emory's Report on the United States  and Mexican Boundary Survey (1857, 1859).

Michler was  promoted to second lieutenant in 1854 and first lieutenant in 1856,  and from 1857 to 1860 he served as chief topographical engineer in  surveys for a canal from the Gulf of Darien to the Pacific Ocean. He  was recalled in 1858 to establish the boundary between Maryland  and Virginia, but returned to Panama in 1859 to complete the canal  project. He was made captain in 1861 and served with the armies of  the Ohio and Cumberland, 1861-63. At the specific request of the  commanding general, he was transferred to the Army of the Potomac  in order to resurvey Harper's Ferry. He and his men prepared  detailed reconnaissances and built defensive works in the battles of  the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg. He  became a major of the Corps of Engineers in 1864, then on August  1, 1864, was brevetted lieutenant colonel for "faithful and meritorious  service in the field." On April 2, 1865, he was brevetted colonel for  his service during the siege of Petersburg, Virginia, and brigadier  general for his services during the Civil War.

 Michler was chosen in 1866 to select a site for a presidential mansion  and public park in Washington. From 1866 to 1871 he helped  prepare plans for a new War Department building. He was  superintendent of public buildings and grounds in the District of  Columbia until 1871 and also during this time was in charge of  surveying the Potomac River and making repairs on Fort Foote,  Maryland. In 1871-72 he was chief engineer with the General  Commanding Division of the Pacific. From 1872 to 1875 he was  engineer for several lighthouse districts and supervisor of a number of  harbor and river improvement projects. Around this time he elicited  great interest in his proposal for a canal between Coos Bay, Oregon,  and the Coquille River. He superintended river and harbor  improvements on Lake Erie, 1876-78, and from 1878 to 1880  served as military attaché for the United States Legation in Vienna,  Austria. He was superintending engineer for river and harbor  improvements for the states of New York, New Jersey, and  Vermont in 1880 and 1881.

 He was married to Fannie Kirkland shortly after graduating from  West Point. Fannie died in 1857, and Michler married Sallie A.  Hollingsworth in San Francisco on February 12, 1861; Sallie  survived him. Michler died of Bright's disease on July 17, 1881, at  Saratoga Springs, New York, and was buried at Easton,  Pennsylvania. Some of his surveying equipment is on display at the  Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso.

 BIBLIOGRAPHY: George W. CullumBiographical Register of  the Officers and Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West  Point, New York (8 vols., New York [etc.]: D. Van Nostrand [etc.],  1868-1940). Dictionary of American BiographyWilliam Hemsley  EmoryReport on the United States and Mexican Boundary  Survey (2 vols., Washington: Nicholson, 1857, 1859; rpt., Austin:  Texas State Historical Association, 1987). Francis B. Heitman,  Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army (2  vols., Washington: GPO, 1903; rpt., Urbana: University of Illinois  Press, 1965). Vertical Files, Barker Texas History Center, University  of Texas at Austin. Taken partly from Frank Wagner, The Handbook of Texas.

 

 

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