User:Pgrig/Henry Larcom Abbot

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Henry Larcom Abbot
Henry Larcom Abbot.jpg
Henry Larcom Abbot
Born August 13, 1831 [1]
Beverly, Massachusetts [1]
Died October 1, 1927
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Occupation Military engineer

Henry Larcom Abbot (August 13, 1831 – October 1, 1927) was a military engineer and officer in the United States Army.


Early life[edit]

Henry Larcom Abbot was born in Beverly, Massachusetts.[2] Abbot attended West Point and graduated second in his class (which included Jeb Stuart and G. W. Custis Lee) with a degree in military engineering in 1854. Initially he had wanted to join the Artillery, but shortly after graduation, a classmate convinced him to choose the Engineers instead. Selecting the Topographical Engineers, he then began his service in the U.S. Army.

In 1855, Abbot was assigned to work with Lieutenant Robert Williamson's Pacific Railroad Survey in California and Oregon. To honor his work on this survey, the California Geological Survey named Mount Abbot in the Sierra Nevada after him in 1873.[1]

While serving in the Army, Lieutenant Abbot and Captain Andrew Humphreys conducted several scientific studies of the Mississippi River. They most notably studied the Mississippi river's flow starting at the Ohio River and going southward down to its base level at the Gulf of Mexico. They attempted to use several European formulas for stream discharge they had learned at West Point, but came to discover that they were all flawed. They then developed their own formula which ultimately also proved to be faulty, most notably because it neglected to account for the roughness of slopes in river canals. Although not without flaw, this formula influenced the evolution of hydrology.

Civil War[edit]

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Lt. Abbot was assigned to Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell's forces and was wounded at the First Battle of Bull Run. He later became a Topographical Engineer in the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula Campaign. During this campaign he was brevetted major for his service at the siege of Yorktown. During the later part of 1862 he served on the staff of John G. Barnard and briefly as a Topographical Engineer in the Department of the Gulf. On January 19, 1863 he was appointed colonel of the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery Regiment but was soon after transferred to the Washington Defenses where he commanded a brigade.

A battery of 13-inch mortars at Yorktown in 1862. Abbot commanded these and other siege mortars at Yorktown and at the 1864 siege of Petersburg.

During the war, Abbot ordered his artillery officers to carry out an extensive data collection effort regarding the effectiveness of their fire, recording the details of types of powder and fuzes employed and the accuracy of shots fired.[3] Abbot also was one of the first to recommend that optical telescopes be placed on the largest guns (just as they were on sharpshooters' rifles), an advance later applied to artillery worldwide. He experimented with ricocheting fire from water-level batteries, and found it both ineffective and outmoded. He pointed out that plunging fire was needed to penetrate the decks of the new monitor-type naval craft. He also studied different designs for incendiary cannon shells and documented Confederate techniques for attaining rifled motion on their artillery projectiles (by picking up used shells that had been fired at Union positions and studying these).

In May 1864 he was transferred to command the Artillery during the siege of Petersburg. On August 1, 1864 Abbot was brevetted to brigadier general of volunteers. In December 1864 he was placed in command of all siege artillery in the Army of the Potomac and Army of the James that were besieging Petersburg. Here, in the only really heavy use of mortar fire during the Civil War, Abbot's troops fired over 40,000 mortar rounds[4] and he became familiar with the use of the 13-inch (sea-coast) mortar (see image at right) and others of smaller caliber. This lead to his design for applying large mortars to American coast defense (see below). In January 1865 General Alfred H. Terry requested General Abbot accompany his expeditionary force to Fort Fisher. Abbot commanded a provisional brigade of siege artillery during the successful Second Battle of Fort Fisher.

Abbot received a brevet to brigadier general in the Regular Army and was mustered out of the volunteer service in September 1865.

1866-1886: The Engineer School of Application at Willets Point, NY[edit]

Immediately after the war, Abbot became the first Commander of the newly established Engineer School of Application[5][6], created to provide practical education and experience to West Point graduates who elected a career in the U.S. Engineers. Abbot formed the curriculum of this school[7] and developed a wide-reaching program of research involving explosives, underwater mines, and artillery, particularly coast defense mortars. After designing new apparatus to measure the force of underwater explosions, he spent ten years providing the experimental underpinnings for the deployment of submarine mines in U.S. coast defense[8]. He also set up (at Willets Point) the first experimental coast defense mortar battery, and directed the construction of the new fort (later to be named Fort Totten) there. Abbot's pioneering tests with the 13-inch, smooth-bore breach-loading mortar at the Willets Point battery led him to prescribe a standard layout for a 16-mortar battery with in 4 sets of 4 mortars arranged in a rectangular array.[9] This design, in which all 16 mortars would fire simultaneously at enemy warships in huge shotgun-like salvos, became known as the "Abbot Quad", and was the template for the construction of the earliest batteries of 12-inch rifled mortars under the Endicott Program of coast defense that was soon to be implemented nation-wide (see below).

1885-1888: The Endicott Board and A New Design for U.S. Coast Defense[edit]

1888-1895: The U.S. Army Board of Engineers[edit]

continued to serve in the U.S. Army Engineers. He was assigned to the command of the engineer battalion at Willet's Point, NY. He created the army's Engineer School of Application there, and served on numerous boards, including the Board on the Use of Iron in Permanent Defenses, the Board of Engineers for Fortifications, the Gun Foundry Board, the Board on Fortifications and Other Defenses, and the Board of Ordnance and Fortifications.

Abbot's influence can be seen in many facets of the coast defense systems of the United States of that period—in particular, in the submarine mine system, and in the use of seacoast mortars. Abbot advocated the massing of 16 mortars

Abbot was retired (for age) as a Colonel in 1895.[10]

After his retirement from the army he continued to work as a civil engineer and was employed as a consultant for the locks on the Panama Canal.


Abbot was elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1863.[11]


  1. ^ a b c Farquhar, Francis P. (1926). Place Names of the High Sierra. San Francisco: Sierra Club. Retrieved 2009-02-15. 
  2. ^ Abbot, Charles Greeley (1929). "Biographical Memoir of Henry Larcom Abbot, 1831–1927" (PDF). National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 2011-06-01. 
  3. ^ See Abbot, Henry L., Siege Artillery in the Campaigns Against Richmond," Professional Papers Corps of Engineers No. 14, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1867.
  4. ^ Ibid., pp. 17-18.
  5. ^ See Abbot, Brig Gen., U.S. Army, Retired, "Early Days of the Engineer School of Application," Engineer School of Application, Washington Barracks, Washington, D.C., 1904.
  6. ^ Abbot took command of the school on June 12, 1868, after supervising the construction of nearby Ft. Schuyler and examining levees in Mississippi. See Cullum, George W., "Biographical Register of Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy," Vol. 2, Pt 4, pp. 572-574.
  7. ^ The curriculum included two years of instruction and practice in submarine mining, military engineering, military photography, practical astronomy, and civil engineering. See "Appendix No. 1, Report of the Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army, [Concerning the] Post of Willets Point and [the] Engineer School of Application," in the "Annual Report of the Secretary of War for The Year 1886," Vol. II, Part 1, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1886, p. 471ff.
  8. ^ Abbot reported his painstaking research in a 444-page volume: Abbot, Lieut. Col. Henry L., "report Upon Experiments and Investigations to Develop a System of Submarine Mines for Defending the Harbors of the United States," Professional Papers of the [U.S.] Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army, No. 23, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1881.
  9. ^ Abbot's "test" battery was designed to have 4 pits of 4 mortars each. All four pits were dug, but only the northwesterly one was actually armed, in 1873. In 1898, the two easterly pits of Abbot's battery were redesigned and fitted out with new 12-inch coast defense mortars and were renamed Battery King. All four mortar pits were later disarmed and filled in in the mid-1930s.
  10. ^ Just before his retirement, Abbot carried out an extensive letter-writing campaign seeking the support of Congress and senior military personnel for his request to be retired on a General's pension, but was denied. The collection of his papers at Harvard's Houghton Library contains a good deal of this correspondence.
  11. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 18 March 2011. 

External links[edit]

External links[edit]

Category:1831 births Category:1927 deaths Category:United States Military Academy alumni Category:United States Army officers Category:American civil engineers Category:Union Army officers Category:Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences