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Washington Roebling's Civil War

Washington Roebling's Civil War

Washington Roebling of Trenton, son of engineer John A. Roebling and future builder of the Brooklyn Bridge, enlisted as a private in Company A of the New Jersey State Militia in April 1861, resigning a few months later to enlist in the Sixth New York Independent Battery. He was later promoted to the rank of sergeant, and then to second lieutenant in January 1862. During the war, he built suspension bridges, made maps, and did reconnaissance from a hot-air balloon. He saw action at the battles of Second Bull Run, Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg, where he helped to secure Little Round Top, as well as the Battle of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, and the Crater. In 1865, he was commissioned Colonel, U.S. Volunteers, by brevet for "gallant and meritorious services during the war."


Map of the Battle of Antietam drawn by Washington Roebling, September 18, 1862.

After the defeat at Second Bull Run, it was clear that the war would not end quickly. Lee’s daring move into Maryland and Pennsylvania led to the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, the single bloodiest day in United States military history. The Thirteenth New Jersey regiment and the First Artillery Battery engaged in the worst of the fighting at the Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland. Washington Roebling served as an engineer officer on General Hooker's staff during this battle. The following day, he drew this map, which shows landmarks, residences, roads, and fords across Antietam Creek, movements of Hooker's advance, and placement of Union forces. Notations in Washington's handwriting read "cornfield," and "place where Hooker was shot in the foot."

Letter, Washington Roebling to His Father, John A. Roebling, December 30, 1862.

Writing to his father from Harper's Ferry, Washington complains: "This General [John Reese Kenly] has very queer ideas about bridges, considering that they are merely avenues by which the Rebels might get after him and are, therefore, very dangerous structures."

Washington A. Roebling. Reconnaissance Notebook, ca. November 1863 - April 1864.

This notebook includes Washington's notes on enemy strengths and movements, prisoner interrogations, and several hand-drawn maps, such as this untitled sketch showing the road to Warrenton, Virginia.

Portrait of Emily Roebling. Photograph.

In February 1864, Washington Roebling met his future bride, Emily Warren of Cold Spring, New York, at a military ball given by General Gouverneur Warren, her elder brother and Washington’s commanding officer. After an intense courtship, the couple married in Cold Spring on January 18, 1865.

Letter, Washington Roebling to Wife, Emily Warren, June 23, 1864

Washington Roebling's mood approached despair during the seemingly endless siege of Petersburg. As he wrote to his wife Emily: "People talk about getting used to fighting and to battles, but I don't see it in that light, and the more experience I have the worse it gets....They must put fresh steam on the man factories up North; the demand down here for killing purposes is far ahead of the supply; thank God however for this consolation that when the last man is killed the war will be over."

Photograph of Fort Hell.

Washington Roebling helped build Fort Sedgwick, popularly known as "Fort Hell," which was occupied by Union soldiers during the siege of Petersburg, Virginia. The fort was named in memory of General John Sedgwick, who was killed while commanding New Jerseyans in the Battle of the Wilderness.