U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers

Amiel Weeks  WhippleAmiel Weeks Whipple
1817 - 1863

Amiel Weeks Whipple, Union army officer and surveyor, the son of David and  Abigail (Pepper) Whipple, was born on October 21, 1817, in  Greenwich, Massachusetts. He spent part of his youth in Concord,  where his father ran an inn. In 1836 Whipple attended Amherst  College for a year before his appointment to the United States  Military Academy at West Point. He graduated fifth in his class in  1841 and was commissioned in the First Artillery. He was  transferred to the Topographical Engineers shortly afterward. During  the next three years he was engaged in hydrographic surveys of the  Patapsco River in Maryland, the approaches to New Orleans, and  the harbor at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. At Portsmouth he met  Eleanor Mary Sherburne, whom he married on September 12, 1843.  They had four children, one of whom died in infancy. From 1844 to  1849 Whipple handled the instrumental work for a survey of the  northeast boundary of the United States. As an assistant with the  United States Boundary Commission, he helped survey the new  boundary with Mexico west from El Paso and along the Gila River to  the Pacific. Whipple worked closely with commissioner John R.  Bartlett, whom he accompanied across Texas from Indianola  through San Antonio to El Paso in the fall of 1850. Along the way he  made several astronomic and magnetic observations, and he erected  an observatory at San Elizario in December and another at Rancho  Fronteras, eight miles from El Paso, the following February. He acted  as the project's chief surveyor for a time before Col. William H.  Emory's appointment to that position. Whipple was promoted to  first lieutenant on April 24, 1851, and completed his boundary survey  report by spring 1853.

 Since he had experienced firsthand the frequent dangers and  privations of the desert Southwest, Whipple was chosen by the War  Department to direct the survey of a possible transcontinental  railroad route along the thirty-fifth parallel from Fort Smith,  Arkansas, to Los Angeles (see Whipple Expedition). With  him were eleven civilian scientists, including J. M. Bigelow, surgeon  and botanist; Jules Marcou, Swiss geologist and mining engineer; and  Heinrich Balduin Möllhausen, German artist and student of  Alexander von Humboldt. Whipple and his command left Fort Smith  on July 14, 1853, worked their way up the Canadian River, and on  September 6 camped at the Antelope Hills in what is now  Shackelford County. In the Panhandle Whipple followed trails  marked by Josiah Gregg in 1840, James W. Abert in 1845, and  Randolph B. Marcy and James H. Simpson in 1849. The  expedition was briefly guided by Comancheros and Pueblo Indians  from New Mexico who happened to be in the area. Whipple had  frequent contacts with roving bands of Comanches and Kiowas, with  whom he exchanged presents and whose behavior was  unpredictable. At one point he peacefully but unsuccessfully sought to  ransom some Mexican captives. On September 11 he passed by the  ruins of Bent's Fort Adobe, or Adobe Walls in what is now Brewster  County. Near the site of present-day Sanford, the expedition left the  Canadian and ventured over Marcy's route across the Llano  Estacado to Anton Chico, New Mexico, before pushing on to  Arizona and California. At Los Angeles the expedition disbanded,  and Whipple and several others sailed back to New York City. In  his report Whipple confirmed the feasibility of the thirty-fifth parallel  route for a railroad. Bigelow, Marcou, and the other scientists had  collected specimens and geological data. Möllhausen's paintings and  reports sparked interest throughout Europe and led to lengthy  correspondence between Whipple and Humboldt. Except for the  Civil War and Reconstruction politics, the Canadian valley might  have been included in the first transcontinental railroad. Whipple was  the last of the antebellum pathmarkers to venture across the  Panhandle, though he incorrectly identified some of the creeks  Simpson had labeled, thus misleading many later historians who used  his itinerary.

 When the Civil War broke out Whipple drew the Union Army's first  maps of the northern Virginia theater of war and was appointed chief  topographical engineer on the staff of Gen. Irvin McDowell. He  participated in the first battle of Bull Run (Manassas) on July 21,  1861, and became friends with President Lincoln. In September  1862 Whipple was assigned to the Third Army Corps, and on  December 13-15 participated in the battle of Fredericksburg,  Virginia. At the battle of Chancellorsville, which started on May 2,  1863, the Third Corps, commanded by Gen. Daniel E. Sickles,  advanced into an exposed position between Robert E. Lee's and  Stonewall Jackson's Confederate forces. Whipple was shot in the  stomach by a Confederate sniper while supervising construction of  some earthworks near a battery on May 4. He was taken back to  Washington, where he died on May 7, 1863. Just before Whipple's  death President Lincoln signed his promotion to major general of  volunteers. Whipple was posthumously awarded more brevets for his  wartime services, and both of his sons received presidential  appointments to the military academy of their choice. Fort Whipple,  now part of the Fort Myer reservation near Alexandria, Virginia, is  named in his honor.

 BIBLIOGRAPHY: Ernest R. Archambeau, ed., "Lieutenant A. W.  Whipple's Railroad Reconnaissance Across the Panhandle of Texas  in 1853," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 44 (1971). David E.  Conrad, "The Whipple Expedition on the Great Plains," Great Plains  Journal 2 (Spring 1963). W. H. GoetzmannArmy Exploration in  the American West, 1803-1863 (New Haven: Yale University Press,  1959; 2d ed., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979; rpt.,  Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1991). Francis R.  Stoddard, "Amiel Weeks Whipple," Chronicles of Oklahoma 28  (Autumn 1950). Amiel Weeks Whipple, A Pathfinder in the  Southwest, ed. Grant Foreman (Norman: University of Oklahoma  Press, 1941). Taken from H. Allen Anderson, The Handbook of Texas.

 

 

 

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