Joseph Gilbert Totten

Joseph Gilbert Totten, the tenth graduate of the U. S. Military Academy, was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on April 17, 1788. (His uncle Jared Mansfield was the first professor of mathematics at West Point.) Young Totten entered the Academy almost as soon as its doors were open and was commissioned second lieutenant, Corps of Engineers, on July 1, 1805. Including his attendance at West Point, his military career spanned sixty-two years, for the last twenty-six of which he was chief engineer of the army. This period of service was interrupted only once, from 1806 to 1808, when he acted as his uncle's secretary while Mansfield made the first formal survey of the newly admitted states of the Northwest Territory. Totten was a captain of engineers before most of the Civil War generals were born. During the War of 1812, he won the brevets of major and lieutenant colonel for services on the Canadian frontier and in 1818 became major of engineers. After a score of years of distinguished engineering service in many areas and fields, he became chief engineer of the army and also inspector of the Military Academy. In the Mexican War he operated as Winfield Scott's chief engineer during the siege of Vera Cruz and was brevetted brigadier general, U. S. Army for gallant and meritorious conduct on March 29, 1847. During the years before the Civil War, Totten was a prominent contributor to a number of areas of scientific advancement, including the lighting of the navigational hazards of the eastern seaboard, the investigation of the effect of the firing of newly perfected heavy ordnance in outmoded gun positions, and the study of the New York, Boston, and San Francisco harbors. Meanwhile he wrote a number of reports bearing on the country's defenses. He continued as chief engineer of the army after the outbreak of the Civil War; in 1863 was elevated to the grade of brigadier general, U. S. Army; and following his sudden death from pneumonia in Washington on April 22, 1864, was posthumously brevetted major general. General Totten was buried in the Congressional Cemetery.

Previous Page

Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.