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Civil War Civil Engineering

Compared with generals or even foot soldiers, relatively little is known about the role played by Engineers during the Civil War. However, insight into both the professional accomplishments and personal tragedy of Capt. John Morris Wampler is given in the book Confederate Engineer by George G. Kundahl (Copyright 2000 by the University of Tennessee Press). Author Kundahl is a retired major general in the U.S. Army Reserve and a former executive director of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Factual information about these times are available from a treasured collection of eight of Wampler's 1861-63 hand-written journals that were retained by his descendants, as well as over a hundred contemporaneous personal letters. Additionally, two personal dairies of Wampler's wife Kate (the first of which ends abruptly upon learning of her husband's death) compliment Wampler's very disciplined and factual engineering writings with Kate's feelings and impressions. Relying on these sources, the author never loses sight of the human dimension of an ordinary man confronting the challenges of extraordinary times.

Wampler's experiences spanned the range of activities undertaken by an engineer during the mid-1800's as well as the Civil War period. A product of West Point (then the leading American engineering school) Wampler was trained as a "topographical engineer"; a respected profession of the day. One early project in his career included mapping 166 miles of the coastline of Galveston Bay during one summer in 1850. Problems included traversing a tidal marshland that was so mushy (being described as "without bottom") that his crew could not stand on it; overcoming impaired visibility due to grass and reed heights being 8-12 feet; and further compounded by the presence of alligators and snakes. These conditions apparently created another problem in the life of such an engineer . . . . . . a labor "strike" by his crew!

Later, immediately prior to the war, Wampler pursued a career in private practice. However, after the war started he patriotically left his wife and children behind in the east to work on both offensive and defensive fortification projects in more than eight states. While specifically written about the life of an engineer, this biography is also the story of many accomplished men who tied their fates to the uncertainty of a new nation.

- John P. Wier, P.E., R.P.L.S., Historical Chair, Fort Worth Branch ASCE, December 2001

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