Defensive breastworks dug by Army Corps of Engineers outside of Petersburg, Virginia during the Civil War – probably using Ames shovels
1852 Tuesday Sewed on my waist very quietly
with Amelia this forenoon and this afternoon
have been into Edwins Julia Pool came
there & tomorrow is going into Boston Mrs S
Ames was there and this evening Mrs Witherell
Amelia is in fine spirits and am having
a very pleasant visit from her.
A quiet day was this, and “not verry cold.”* Evelina and her sister-in-law, Amelia Gilmore, sat and sewed for hours and visited with Augusta Pool Gilmore, Sarah Lothrop Ames and Sarah Ames Witherell. The reconstruction of the shovel shops continued.
Although Evelina was unlikely to have known it, today happened to be the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Army Corps of Engineers. Officially organized by President Thomas Jefferson on this date in 1802, the Corps was headquartered at West Point, where it established and led the military academy until after the Civil War. For many years, West Point was the major engineering school in the country.
In addition to its oversight of West Point, the Corps was tasked for much of the 19th century with exploration of America’s vast lands and waterways. As the country moved westward, the Corps surveyed road and canal routes. During the Civil War, it built bridges, railways, forts, batteries and roads – often using Ames shovels.
In 1852, in particular, the Corps was focused on waterways. In Detroit, one group of engineers conducted and published a survey of the Great Lakes. In Utah, an engineer named Lieutenant James W. Gunnison, for whom the Gunnison River is named, explored the Salt Lake area and spent time with the Mormons. He published a report entitled, “The Mormons or Latter-Day Saints, in the Valley of The Great Salt Lake. A History of their Rise and Progress, Peculiar Doctrines, Present Condition, and Prospects, Derived from Personal Observation During a Residence Among Them.”
A year later, Gunnison and several members of his team would be massacred by Indians from the Pahvant Ute tribe. Gunnison’s widow, Martha, always believed that the Mormons were the actual perpetrators. The Army Corps of Engineers kept right on going, continuing its work and eventually expanding its original mission to include flood control, dam construction, and environmental cleanup.
* Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archives, Arnold Tofias Collection