Andrew Talcott

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Andrew Talcott
Born(1797-04-27)April 27, 1797
DiedApril 22, 1883(1883-04-22) (aged 85)
Richmond, Virginia
OccupationCivil Engineer

Andrew Talcott (1797–1883) was an American civil engineer and close friend of Civil War General Robert E. Lee. He did not serve during the Civil War, as he could not fight against the Union, nor fight against his brothers in the South. He traveled to Veracruz to work on the Railroad. Coming back with the President to New York for supplies he was arrested and placed at Fort Layfayette accused of being a spy for the Confederate States of America. He was moved to Fort Adams in Boston under orders of General John E Wool. General John A Dix was placed in the command of the Eastern Military Department. Knowing Captain Andrew well and believing his loyalty to the Union he was released.

Early life[edit]

Talcott was born on April 20, 1797 in Glastonbury, Connecticut.[1] He attended West Point, 1818, graduating second in class. In the Engineers, he was garrisoned at Fort Atkinson and explored the passage to Fort Snelling in 1820.[2] His brother was General George Talcott, Chief of the Ordnance Corps,.[3] His granddaughter Lucia Beverly Talcott (born 1865) married the famous statistician and inventor Herman Hollerith in 1890. He is a descendant of Joseph Talcott, Colony of Connecticut Governor from 1724-1741, and John Talcott, one of the founders of Hartford, Connecticut.


Talcott's career was as a military and civil engineer building forts, roads and railroads both in the States and Mexico. He started the 1824 construction of Fort Adams, at Rhode Island.[4] In 1833 he extended a previously invented method of finding latitudinal direction. He rediscovered the method to determine a place's latitude from the stars, a method originally invented by the Danish astronomer Peder Horrebow. On further developing Horrebow's method, it subsequently came to be known as the Horrebow-Talcott Method.[5] The so-called Horrebow-Talcott method fixed latitude "by observing differences of zenith distances of stars culminating within a short time of each other, and at nearly the same altitude, on opposite sides of the zenith."[5]

He was hired as superintending engineer for construction on the Hampton Roads at Fort Calhoun and Fort Monroe becoming a superior and friend to the future general, Robert E. Lee and married Harriet Randolph Hackley at Norfolk, Virginia, in 1832. (His wife was also to become a close platonic companion to General Lee.) Talcott surveyed the Ohio-Michigan border with Lee in the spring of 1835.[6] With the rank of Captain, he resigned his commission in 1836 and by 1839 he was a civil engineer and surveyor of the Mississippi river delta together with a young A. B. (Andrew) Gray.[7]

Talcott was considered for the post of Superintendent of the Coast Survey which was subsequently filled by Alexander Bache in 1843, but he went on to supervise construction of the Richmond and Danville Railroad in 1849, where he was later appointed general manager. Talcott became chief engineer and superintendent of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad and later appeared as a consultant at the Coroner's jury for the disaster at Desjardins Canal Bridge, Hamilton, Ontario, 1857.[8]

Mexican Railroad[edit]

He was engaged as an engineer late in 1857 by A. Escandon who, with English financing, planned to connect Veracruz with Mexico City by rail via Cordova and Orizaba, supervising W. W. Finney of the Pony Express. When Escandon purchased the fourth concession from Mosso brothers in 1856, two routes were considered and Talcott was assigned the far more difficult southern passage probably due financial stakes held near Orizaba by the project's investors. The Northern passage was explored by Pascual Almazán). It was supposed to be the steepest railway undertaken up to that time, rising 211 feet per mile (40.0 m/km) in a distance of 23 miles (37 km) and to span the Metlac River was an English-made iron bridge 380 feet (120 m) high.[9][10]

Civil War[edit]

At the request of Lee, Talcott accepted the positions of Colonel and State Engineer of Virginia in 1861. Talcott was charged with the coastal defense of Richmond and James river.[11] After rearming the star-shaped Fort Boykin, the fort was later crippled by the ironclad corvette USS Galena's escort.[12] Talcott was arrested in New York, March 1863, only to be held at Fort Warren in Massachusetts as a Mexican citizen.[13] He returned to a French-reorganized Mexican project in the late 1860s under a new concession where he remained until Juárez defeated Maximilian's conservative regime in 1867.

Personal life[edit]

As a co-claimant he filed an unsuccessful suit before the Supreme Court in 1853, regarding Florida land deeded to his father-in-law Richard S. Hackley by the Duke of Alagon in 1819. In his later years, along with his son, Thomas Mann Randolph Talcott, Talcott invested in development in Bon Air, VA.


Talcott died on Sunday 22 April 1883 at his residence, 519 East Leigh Street in Richmond, Virginia, aged 87, remembered for building the Richmond and Danville Railroad.[14]


  1. ^ Wilson, James Grand and John Fiske, ed. (1889) "Andrew Talcott" Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography vol. vi, D. Appleton and Company, New York. p.24.
  2. ^ Watkins, Albert (1919). "Three Military Heroes of Nebraska". Nebraska History and Record of Pioneer Days V.2 nr.4. Nebraska State Historical Society
  3. ^ Stiles, Henry R (1904) The History of Ancient Wethersfield Connecticut, v 2. p 696
  4. ^ "The History of Fort Adams" Archived March 11, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ a b Captain Albert E. Theberge, Albert. (2001) The Coast Survey 1807-1867 Archived December 15, 2005, at the Wayback Machine National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Library.
  6. ^ Price, Andrew "Robert E. Lee: The Engineer" Archived October 29, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Reconnaissance of the Passes of the Delta of the Mississippi, Louisiana U.S. Coast Survey map (1852)
  8. ^ "The Desjardins Bridge Catastrophe". (1857) Scientific American. May 2. pp. 265-272
  9. ^ García Dávila, Carlos. "The Mexican Railways" Archived May 16, 2006, at the Wayback Machine"A Great Railway Enterprise" (1866) Scientific American. July 7)
  10. ^ Burgess, Jack. (1934) "Pony Express Was Idea of Virginian" Archived December 17, 2005, at the Wayback Machine. Richmond Times-Dispatch, December 2
  11. ^ Official correspondence. The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. (1880) p.781-783, p791, p851, p864
  12. ^ Guttman, Jon. "Rebel's Stand at Drewry's Bluff" Archived November 27, 2005, at the Wayback Machine. America's Civil War Magazine
  13. ^ The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. (1899) p135
  14. ^ Daily Dispatch (Richmond, Va.). Biography (p. 1, c. 3). Obituary. "Died at his residence, 519 East Leigh Street, on Sunday the 22d instant, Colonel Andrew Talcott, in the eighty - seventh year of his age. (He built the Richmond & Danville Railroad)". (p. 2, c. 4 ). Publication Tuesday, April 24, 1883.