Friday, March 31, 2017

Colonel William McRee and the West Point Library

As I was doing research on my book, Preparing for Disunion, I learned about Lieutenant Colonel William McRee.

Mission to Europe

According to Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh in his book West Pointers and the Civil War:

In the spring of 1815, Chief Engineer Joseph G. Swift ordered two West Point graduates, Capt. Sylvanus Thayer and Lt. Col. William McRee, to travel to Europe for the purpose of "an examination of the military establishments,' 'Fortifications,' 'Schools,' 'Work-shops,' and Libraries in France, Germany & England - particularly the first and last named nations, - to collect Books, Maps and Instruments."  
Sylvanus Thayer
Swift intended to add the acquired books and military material to the West Point Library. McRee demonstrated a clear understanding of literature when he reported, "among the military books there must inevitably be found a considerable amount of trash." He used the reputation of the book's author as the "rule by which we could regulate our choice."

McRee aimed to collect military writings "upon these subjects that had formerly excited great interest and continued to divide opinions" in order "to have all the evidence upon questions that concern us, and that we shall have to decide on in our turn."

McRee summed up his mission with Thayer when he remarked "upon the whole, we are too little pleased with our work to ask for it, entire approbation - But, we have one consolation in common with all that have no excuse ... We might have done worse."[1]

[1] Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh, West Pointers and the Civil War (Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina, 2009 ), 19-21.

West Point Library (1842-1861)

Military and Civilian History

McRee graduated from West Point in 1805 and the Army commissioned him as a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. He served as an assistant engineering in "surveying sites of fortifications on the Southern Coast"... "and in the construction of the defenses of Charleston   Harbor." 

He served as Chief of Artillery in the War of 1812 and fought in the capture of Fort Erie, Battle of Chippewa, Battle of Niagara, and the defense of Fort Erie.

Following the war, he was on the mission described above in Europe from 1815-1816. He was a member of the Board of Engineers for designing a system of Atlantic Coast Defenses from November 1816 to March 1819.

In bitter protest to the appointment of the foreign officer General Simon Bernard as the assistant to the chief of engineers, McRee resigned his officer's commission and was discharged from the military on March 31, 1819.
From February 1825 until July 1832, McRee served as Surveyor General of the United States for the territories of Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas.

McRee died on 15 May 1833 in St. Louis, Missouri.

Fort McRee

Fort McRee was one of three major installations constructed by the United States to strengthen defenses at Pensacola Bay following the War of 1812. Its construction lasted from 1834 and 1839; the facility was a three-tiered fort and a detached water battery close to sea level. It was located on the eastern tip of Perdido Key on a stretch of beach known as Foster's Bank. It had a highly unusual shape because of its position on a small, narrow barrier island.
Although the fort was completed in 1839, its 122 guns were not installed until sometime between 1843 and 1845. It is likely that many of these guns were not in place for some time due to several issues, the most important of which was a problem with rot beginning in the second tier wooden decking.
Fort McRee was named in April 1840 for Army engineer Colonel William McRee.
After the Mexican-American War, the Army built  barracks near Fort Barrancas on the mainland. Once these were completed, Fort McRee was manned only during drills, maneuvers and target practice. 
Map Showing Fort McRee
Troops Drilling Outside of Fort

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