Thursday, May 23, 2013

Montgomery Meigs, born May 3, 1816

Montgomery Cunningham Meigs was born in Augusta, Georgia on May 3, 1816. He was the son of Dr. Charles Delucena Meigs and Mary Montgomery Meigs.  

Charles Delucena Meigs
His father was a nationally known obstetrician and professor of obstetrics at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.   
Jefferson Medical College
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

His paternal grandfather, Josiah Meigs, graduated from Yale University and later was president of the University of Georgia.  

Josiah Meigs
The Meigs family traced their descent from Vincent Meigs, or Meggs, who, with his sons, John and Mark, settled at New Haven, Connecticut about 1644.

His great-grandfather, Return Jonathan Meigs, served as a soldier in the Revolutionary War. He gained fame when he led a successful guerrilla raid against a British outpost at Sag Harbor on Long Island. The Meigs family had moved to the southern territory when Return Meigs was appointed to a post there. Only when Montgomery was born, around 40 years later, did his father decide to return north. Montgomery's mother had a strong aversion to slavery and Monty's father decided to move the family to Pennsylvania. Most of the Meigs family, however, remained in the South; the result would be a family divided between North and South.

Return Jonathan Meigs
Montgomery's mother, Mary, was the granddaughter of a Scottish family from Brigend which emigrated to America in 1701.  Montgomery later wrote, " She lived for her husband and children, not for herself, and all her pleasures were in their happiness and success. The longer I live the more strongly her worth and devotion are impressed upon me. I am more able as I grow older to understand and appreciate her virtues."

Montgomery's father apprenticed as a physician in Philadelphia; in 1812 he moved to Athens, Georgia.  He enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania 1815, the same year he began to practice medicine in Georgia. Charles Meigs received his M.D. from the university in 1817, and that summer he moved his family—which now included one-year-old Montgomery—to Philadelphia and established a practice there. The Meigs family was wealthy and well-connected, and Charles Meigs was a strong supporter of the Democratic Party.  

Young Monty attracted much affection, but he demanded much of other people. Even his loving mother described him, as a 6 year old, as “high-tempered, unyielding, tyrannical.”   Montgomery's father instilled in him a sense of duty and a desire to pursue honorable causes.  He received schooling at the Franklin Institute,(a preparatory school for the University of Pennsylvania.  Montgomery learned French, German, and Latin, and studied art, literature, and poetry. He enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania when he was only 15 years old. A hard worker, he was one of the top students at the university.
University of Pennsylvania
The Meigs family had extensive ties to the military and to West Point, the United States Military Academy.  Montgomery wished to serve in the army. West Point was also the only engineering school in the United States at the time. Through family connections, he won an appointment to West Point, entering in 1832 at the age of 16. He excelled in his studies at West Point, and was among the top three students in French and mathematics.  He graduated fifth out of a class of 49 in 1836.

He was 45 years old when the Civil War began.

Fort Mifflin
Meigs received a commission as a second lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Artillery, but most of his army service was with the Corps of Engineers.  In his early assignments, Meigs helped build Fort Mifflin and Fort Delaware on the Delaware River, and Fort Wayne on the Detroit River. 

Fort Wayne on the Detroit River
In 1837, the 21-year-old Meigs served under the command of Lt. Robert E. Lee to make navigational improvements on the Mississippi River. Under Lee's guidance, Meigs carried the compass and made paintings and maps of the landscape. The two shared a rough-hewn cabin on the shore. They became comrades who, according to writer Simon Schama, “shot wild turkey from horseback, Missouri-fashion, and caught whiskery catfish.”  

Robert E. Lee and Son, 1845
Meigs would recall his time with Lee as a notable point in his early career, and Lee as “the model of a soldier and the beau ideal of a Christian man.”  Lee was “one with whom nobody ever wished or ventured to take a liberty, though kind and generous to all his subordinates, admired by all women, and respected by all men.”

Louisa Rogers Meigs

In 1841, Montgomery Meigs married Louisa Rogers, daughter of Commodore John Rogers, naval hero of the Barbary war. Louisa’s social and financial connections allowed them to live in a prestigious neighborhood in Washington, D.C., and opened up many drawing rooms to the couple. Seven children were born to them, four sons and three daughters. Three died in infancy; four lived to maturity. 

Meigs Children with Donkey Cart
Beginning in 1844, Meigs was involved with the construction of  Fort Montgomery on Lake Champlain in New York.

Fort Montgomery on Lake Champlain in New York
In 1852, Meigs, his wife, Louisa, and their young family moved to the District of Columbia, a city they would call home for the rest of their lives. They found a booming place filled with great aspirations — and a lot of muck. The city’s population had soared in a half-century from 3,000 to 58,000. It had grand buildings, including the Capitol and White House. But some of the roads were occupied by pigs, cows and chickens, and some were rutted with wheel tracks or filled with mud.  The city’s water supply arrived from springs and creeks through leaky cast-iron pipes. Foul water sometimes infected people with typhoid fever and killed them. Or the water ran short, leaving firefighters in the lurch, as the city’s wooden buildings burned to the ground.

In 1852, Congress allocated $5,000 to explore new sources of water. It was a pittance, compared with the magnitude of the project. Meigs, who was asked to conduct the survey.  The Washington Aqueduct was Meigs' favorite prewar engineering project, which he supervised from 1852 to 1860. It involved the construction of the Union Arch Bridge, which for 50 years remained the longest single-span masonry arch in the world.  On a bright October day in 1853, Meigs rode to Great Falls and broke ground in a ceremonial beginning. “Thus quietly and unostentatiously was commenced this great work — which is destined I trust for the next thousand years to pour its healthful waters in to the capital of our union,” Meigs wrote in his journal that night.

The Washington Aqueduct
The pitch for the aqueduct had been so successful that Meigs’s boss, friend and mentor — Secretary of War Jefferson Davis — added on still more work. Davis made him responsible for other major projects, including the expansion of the Capitol, the Post Office building and improvements to Fort Madison in Annapolis.

Jefferson Davis
From 1853 to 1859, he also supervised the building of the wings and dome of the United States Capitol, and from 1855 to 1859, the extension of the General Post Office Building.

Meigs interpreted his mandate from Congress and Davis broadly, giving himself wide latitude to do pretty much whatever he wanted. That included taking charge of the building’s decoration. Seeing a chance for “the advancement of art in this country,” Meigs persuaded Congress to allow him to spend a near fortune on the projects. He commissioned tiles, stained glass and murals, statues and bronze doors. He had door handles cast in the form of black snakes his men found while working on the aqueduct, and railings made with images of leaping stags.

Meigs also commissioned the Capitol’s crowning motif, the Statue of Freedom. But before it could be placed atop the dome, Meigs had to solve an engineering problem: How to put the new cast-iron dome itself on the old building?

The Capitol Dome under construction
He designed a tower that rose 100 feet through the center of the Capitol Rotunda. He added a derrick made of massive timbers that stretched 160 feet across and had the whole thing anchored fast with custom-made wire rope. The derrick, powered by a steam engine on the roof of the Capitol, could lift as much as 20,000 pounds of stone, iron or other material. To save money and get rid of debris, Meigs burned the wood from the old dome to fire the steam engine.

On January 4, 1859, congressmen were in high spirits as they crowded into their new Capitol chambers. The walls of the corridor glowed with bright Renaissance colors and gilding. Outside, down the hill in the direction of the White House, sat a new fountain. The day before, Meigs had opened the valves on the unfinished aqueduct that allowed the Potomac’s water to flow into the city. Now, the water was spraying 60 feet into the air for any lawmaker to see.  Meigs seemed almost humbled by his own achievements, particularly the aqueduct. In a letter to his father, he wrote: “I wish you could see my jet d’eau in the Capitol Park. I look upon it with constant pleasure for it seems to spring rejoicing in the air & proclaiming its arrival for free use of the sick & well, rich & poor, gentle & simple, old & young for generation after generation which will have come to rise up & call me blessed.”

The aqueduct turned out to be one of the great engineering feats of the day. The system relied on gravity to carry the water more than 12 miles from Great Falls into the District. The water coursed through a 9-foot-wide conduit made of millions of bricks, over precisely designed culverts and through bridges that together descended an average 9.5 inches each mile.  At its peak, the project employed more than 50 engineers, surveyors and inspectors; 700 tradesmen; 1,100 laborers; and 60 cooks and waiters.  
The aqueduct he built still carries nearly 100 million gallons of water each day for use in the District and Northern Virginia.

Meigs’s irritability, along with his high regard for his own principles, made him a natural foe of many people in Washington who preferred to operate in a loose, genial atmosphere in which favors and cash could flow freely. He was engaged in one feud after another, over everything from corruption to artistic taste. One of Meigs’s most determined antagonists was one of his bosses, Secretary of War John B. Floyd.  Floyd was a politican from Virginia who succeeded Davis. When Floyd took office in 1857, he began distributing patronage. Meigs routinely declined Floyd’s requests, delayed or complained to Congress. He even appealed to President Buchanan. “I feel as though I was a plug which filthy rats & mice were gnawing at all the time in order to increase the flow from the Treasury — Contractors architects & Secretaries all against me,” Meigs wrote in a letter.

John B. Floyd
In the fall of 1860, as a result of a disagreement over procurement contracts, Meigs was re-assigned to the Tortugas in the Gulf of Mexico to construct fortifications there and at Key West.  Upon the resignation of Floyd a few months later, Meigs was recalled to his work in Washington.  When the Civil War began, Floyd became a general in the Confederate Army.

Fort in the Tortugas, Gulf of Mexico
In a letter to her mother in the spring of 1861, his wife, Louisa, wrote: “His soul seems on fire with indignation at the treason of those wicked men who have laid the deep plot to overthrow our government and destroy the most noble fabric of freedom the world has ever seen.”
Meigs in 1861
On May 14, 1861, Meigs was appointed colonel, 11th U.S. Infantry, and on the following day, promoted to brigadier general and Quartermaster General of the Army. The previous Quartermaster General, Joseph Johnston, had resigned and become a general in the Confederate Army. 

 Joseph Johnston
At the war’s outset, chaos and corruption dominated the mobilization of the Northern army. Speculators sold the government lame horses and leaky boats. Textile makers peddled material for uniforms called “shoddy,” redefining the meaning “poorly made.” It literally fell off soldiers in the field.

Meigs established a reputation for being efficient, hard-driving, and scrupulously honest. He molded a large department into a great tool of war. He was one of the first to fully appreciate the importance of logistical preparations in military planning, and under his leadership, supplies moved forward and troops were transported over long distances with ever-greater efficiency.  He worked tirelessly to fight fraud and spend taxpayer money wisely. He loathed slavery and saw something almost biblical in the unfolding struggle. “God for our sins leads us to [victory] through seas of blood,” he once wrote to his son, John.

Meigs and his many assistants, working with private contractors, the nation’s railroads, ship builders and others, routinely came up with innovative solutions to the logistical problems the war posed. His men bought or built almost 600 boats and ships. They made, and then laid, hundreds of miles of railroad track and ran 50 different lines. At the end of the war they owned (and sold) more than 200,000 horses and mules. They built hospitals for the wounded and then buried the dead.

Meigs Staff During the War
Meigs knew Lee was a great leader and his army formidable. “The rebels are a gallant people & will make a desperate resistance,” he wrote to William Seward, “but it is exhaustion of men and money that finally terminates all modern wars.”

William Seward
Meigs younger brother, Henry, served as a quartermaster in the Confederate Army.

In June 1862, Congress passed a law that empowered commissioners to assess and collect taxes on real estate in "insurrectionary districts." The statute was meant not only to raise revenue for the war, but also to punish rebels. If the taxes were not paid in person, commissioners were authorized to sell the land.  Authorities levied a tax of $92.07 on the Lees' estate that year: Mary Lee, in Richmond because of the fighting and her deteriorating health, dispatched her cousin Philip R. Fendall to pay the bill. But when Fendall presented himself before the commissioners in Alexandria, they said they would accept money only from Mary Lee herself. Declaring the property in default, they put it up for sale.

The auction took place on January 11, 1864, a day so cold that blocks of ice stopped boat traffic on the Potomac. The sole bid came from the federal government, which offered $26,800, well under the estate's assessed value of $34,100. According to the certificate of sale, Arlington's new owner intended to reserve the property "for Government use, for war, military, charitable and educational purposes."

Arlington House, 1864
A staunch Unionist, Meigs detested the Confederacy. His feelings led directly to the establishment of Arlington National Cemetery.  On July 16, 1862, Congress passed legislation authorizing the U.S. federal government to purchase land for national cemeteries for military dead, and put the U.S. Army Quartermaster General in charge of this program. The Soldiers' Home in Washington, D.C., and the Alexandria Cemetery were the primary burying grounds for war dead in the D.C. area, but by late 1863 both cemeteries were full.  In May 1864, Union forces suffered large numbers of dead in the Battle of the Wilderness.  Meigs ordered that an examination of eligible sites be made for the establishment for a large new national military cemetery. Within weeks, his staff reported that Arlington Estate was the most suitable property in the area.  The property was high and free from floods (which might unearth graves), it had a view of the District of Columbia, and it was aesthetically pleasing.  It was also the home of the leader of the armed forces of the Confederate States of America, and denying Robert E. Lee use of his home after the war was a valuable political consideration.  
Grave of William Christman
The first soldier laid to rest there was Pvt. William Christman, 21, of the 67th Pennsylvania Infantry, who was buried in a plot on Arlington's northeast corner on May 13, 1864. A farmer newly recruited into the Army, Christman never knew a day of combat. Like others who would join him at Arlington, he was felled by disease; he died of peritonitis in Washington's Lincoln General Hospital on May 11. His body was committed to the earth with no flags flying, no bugles playing and no family or chaplain to see him off. A simple pine headboard, painted white with black lettering, identified his grave, like the markers for Pvt. William H. McKinney and other soldiers too poor to be embalmed and sent home for burial. The indigent dead soon filled the Lower Cemetery—a name that described both its physical and social status—across the lane from a graveyard for slaves and freedmen.
Rene Edward De Russy

In mid-June 1864 Meigs ordered that burials commence immediately on the grounds of Arlington House.  General Rene Edward De Russy was living in Arlington House at the time and opposed the burial of bodies close to his quarters, forcing new interments to occur far to the west.  Meigs evicted officers from the mansion, installed a military chaplain and a loyal lieutenant to oversee cemetery operations, and proceeded with new burials, encircling Mrs. Lee's garden with the tombstones of prominent Union officers. The first of these was Capt. Albert H. Packard of the 31st Maine Infantry. Shot in the head during the Battle of the Second Wilderness, Packard had miraculously survived his journey from the Virginia front to Washington's Columbian College Hospital, only to die there. On May 17, 1864, he was laid to rest where Mary Lee had enjoyed reading in warm weather, surrounded by the scent of honeysuckle and jasmine. By the end of 1864, 44 officers' graves had joined his. By May 31, more than 2,600 burials had occurred in the cemetery, and Meigs ordered that a white picket fence be constructed around the burial grounds. 

John Rodgers Meigs
In October 1864, his son, 1st Lieutenant John Rodgers Meigs, was killed at Swift Run Gap in Virginia; he was part of a three-man patrol which ran into a three-man Confederate patrol. Lt. Meigs was killed, one man was captured, and one man escaped. To the end of his life, Meigs believed that his son had been murdered after being captured—despite evidence to the contrary.  The younger Meigs was laid to rest in Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown  in Washington, D.C.  Both Abraham Lincoln and  Secretary of War Edwin Stanton attended the burial.
Edwin Stanton and Son
Meigs' services during the Civil War included command of General Ulysses Grant's base of supplies at Fredericksburg and Belle Plain, Virginia (1864); command of a division of War Department employees in the defense of Washington at the time of Jubal Early's raid (July 11 to 14, 1864); personally supervising the refitting and supplying of General William Sherman's army at Savannah (January 5 to 29, 1865), Goldsboro, and Raleigh, North Carolina, and reopening Sherman's lines of supply (March to April 1865). 

Ulysses Grant
On Dec. 21, 1864, as William Tecumseh Sherman’s army came to the end of its devastating March to the Sea, his soldiers found a gift awaiting them in Savannah.  A flotilla of transport ships in the harbor was crammed with comforts for the more than 62,000 weary men: tens of thousands of sturdy boots and shoes, fresh shirts, socks, underwear and trousers. There were greatcoats and blankets, camp kettles and pans, axes and spades, and even needles and thread.

William Tecumseh Sherman

Upon receiving one report from Meigs, whose script was notoriously illegible, an admiring Sherman said: “The handwriting of this report is that of General Meigs, and I therefore approve of it, but I cannot read it.”

"The rebels are all murderers of my son and the sons of hundreds of thousands," Meigs exploded when he learned of Lee's surrender to Grant on April 9, 1865. "Justice seems not satisfied [if] they escape judicial trial & execution... by the government which they have betrayed [&] attacked & whose people loyal & disloyal they have slaughtered."

Abraham Lincoln
At 10:00 P.M. on the evening of April 14, 1865, Meigs heard that William Seward had been attacked by a knife-wielding assailant.  Meigs rushed to Rodgers House, Seward's home on Lafayette Square just across the street from the White House.  Shortly after arriving at Seward's home, Meigs learned of the shooting of President Lincoln. He rushed to the Petersen House across from Ford's Theatre, where Lincoln lay dying.  Meigs stood at the front door of the house for the rest of the deathwatch; he decided who was admitted to the house. When Lincoln died at 7:22 A.M. on April 15, Meigs moved into the parlor to sit with the president's body. During Lincoln's funeral procession in the city five days later, Meigs rode at the head of two battalions of quartermaster corps soldiers.

Meigs became a permanent resident of the District of Columbia after the war. He purchased a home located at 1239 Vermont Avenue NW (at the corner of Vermont Avenue and N Street).

Meigs Home in Washington, D.C.
The Lees would spend the postwar years trying to retake possession of their estate.  Mary Lee felt a growing outrage. "I cannot write with composure on my own cherished Arlington," she wrote to a friend. The graves "are planted up to the very door without any regard to common decency....If justice & law are not utterly extinct in the U.S., I will have it back."  
Her husband, however, kept his ambitions for Arlington hidden from all but a few advisers and family members. "I have not taken any steps in the matter," he cautioned a Washington lawyer who offered to take on the Arlington case for free, "under the belief that at present I could accomplish no good." But he encouraged the lawyer to research the case quietly and to coordinate his efforts with Francis L. Smith, Lee's trusted legal adviser in Alexandria. To his older brother Smith Lee, who had served as an officer in the Confederate navy, the general admitted that he wanted to "regain the possession of A." and particularly "to terminate the burial of the dead which can only be done by its restoration to the family."

To gauge whether this was possible, Smith Lee made a clandestine visit to the old estate in the autumn or winter of 1865. He concluded that the place could be made habitable again if a wall was built to screen the graves from the mansion. But Smith Lee made the mistake of sharing his views with the cemetery superintendent, who dutifully shared them with Meigs, along with the mystery visitor's identity. 
Meigs ordered that more burials be located near the house in order to make it politically impossible for disinterment to occur.

Meigs designed and implemented most of the changes at the cemetery in the 15 years after the war.  In 1865, Meigs decided to build a monument to Civil War dead in the center of a grove of trees west of the Lee's flower garden.  U.S. Army troops were dispatched to investigate every battlefield within a 35-mile (56 km) radius of the city of Washington, D.C. The bodies of 2,111 Union and Confederate dead were collected, most of them from the battlefields of First and Second Bull Run as well as the Union army's retreat alone the Rappahannock River.  Although Meigs had not intended to collect the remains of Confederate war dead, the inability to identify remains meant that both Union and Confederate dead were interred below the cenotaph. 

The Civil War Unkowns Monument, 1866
U.S. Army engineers chopped down most the trees and dug a circular pit about 20-feet wide and 20-feet deep into the earth.  The walls and floor were lined with brick, and it was segmented it into compartments with mortared brick walls. Into each compartment were placed a different body part: skulls, legs, arms, ribs, etc.  The vault was half full by the time it was ready for sealing in September 1866.  Meigs designed a 6-foot tall, 12-foot long, 4-foot wide grey granite and concrete cenotaph  to rest on top of the burial vault. The Civil War Unkowns Monument consists of two long light grey granite slabs, with the shorter ends formed by sandwiching a smaller slab between the longer two. On the west face was an inscription describing the number of dead in the vault below, and honoring the "unknowns of the Civil War".  Originally, a Rodman gun was placed on each corner, and a pyramid of shot adorned the center of the lid.  A circular walk, centered 45 feet from the center of the memorial, provided access. A walk led east to the flower garden, and another west to the road.
The Civil War Unkowns Monument, 2011
From 1866 to 1868, to recuperate from the strain of his war service, Meigs visited Europe.

As Quartermaster General after the Civil War, Meigs supervised plans for the new War Department building (constructed between 1866 and 1867), the National Museum (constructed in 1876), the extension of the Washington Aqueduct (constructed in 1876), and for a hall of records (constructed in 1878). 

McClellan Gate
In 1870, Meigs ordered that a "Sylvan Hall"—a series of three cruciform tree plantings, one inside the other—be planted in the "Field of the Dead". A year later, Meigs ordered the McClellan Gate constructed. Located just west of the intersection of what is today McClellan and Eisenhower Drives, this was originally Arlington National Cemetery's main gate. Built of red sandstone and red brick, the name "MCCLELLAN" tops the simple rectangular gate in gilt letters. But just below the name was inscribed the name "MEIGS"—a tribute to himself. Due to the growing importance of the cemetery as well as the much larger crowds attending Memorial Day observances, Meigs also decided a formal meeting space at the cemetery was needed; a grove of trees southwest of Arlington House was cut down, and an amphitheater (today known as the Old Amphitheater) was constructed in 1874.

The question of Arlington's ownership was still unresolved when Lee died, at 63, in Lexington, on October 12, 1870.  His widow continued to obsess over the loss of her home. Within weeks, Mary Lee petitioned Congress to examine the federal claim to Arlington and estimate the costs of removing the bodies buried there.  Her proposal was bitterly protested on the Senate floor and defeated, 54 to 4. It was a disaster for Mary Lee, but the debate helped to elevate Arlington's status: no longer a potter's field created in the desperation of wartime, the cemetery was becoming something far grander, a place senators referred to as hallowed ground, a shrine for "the sacred dead," "the patriot dead," "the heroic dead" and "patriotic graves."

Mary Lee managed a farewell visit to Arlington in June 1873. Accompanied by a friend, she rode in a carriage for three hours through a landscape utterly transformed, filled with old memories and new graves. "My visit produced one good effect," she wrote later that week. "The change is so entire that I have not the yearning to go back there & shall be more content to resign all my right in it." She died in Lexington five months later, at age 65.  With her death, her hopes for Arlington lived on in her eldest son, George Washington Custis Lee, known as Custis. For him, regaining the estate was a matter of both filial obligation and self-interest: he had no inheritance beyond the Arlington property.  On April 6, 1874, within months of his mother's funeral, Custis went to Congress with a new petition. Avoiding her inflammatory suggestion that Arlington be cleared of graves, he asked instead for an admission that the property had been taken unlawfully and requested compensation for it. He argued that his mother's good-faith attempt to pay the "insurrectionary tax" of $92.07 on Arlington was the same as if she had paid it.  A few weeks later, the petition died quietly in committee, attended by no debate and scant notice.

In 1877, Lee asked the Circuit Court of Alexandria, Virginia, to evict all trespassers occupying it as a result of the 1864 auction. As soon as U.S. Attorney General Charles Devens heard about the suit, he asked that the case be shifted to federal court, where he felt the government would get a fairer hearing.  In 1882, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in United States v. Lee  that the seizure of the Arlington estate at a tax sale by the United States was illegal, and returned the estate to George Washington Custis Lee, General Lee's oldest son.  He, in turn, sold the estate back to the U.S. government for $150,000 in 1883. 

To commemorate the retention of the estate, Meigs ordered that a Temple of Fame be erected in the Lee flower garden. The  U.S. Patent Office building had suffered a massive fire in 1877. It was torn down and rebuilt in 1879, but the work went very slowly. Meigs ordered that stone columns and pediments which had been saved from the Patent Office be used to construct the Temple of Fame. The Temple was a round, Greek Revival structure with Doric columns supporting a central dome. Inscribed on the pediment supporting the dome were the names of George Washington, Ulysses Grant, Abraham Lincoln, and David Farragut.  A year after it was built, the names of Union Civil War generals were carved into its columns.  Since there wasn't enough marble to rebuild the dome, a tin dome (molded and painted to look like marble) was installed instead.

Meigs was a frequent visitor to Arlington, where he had buried his wife, Louisa, in 1879.  The burials of other family members followed—among them his father, numerous in-laws and his son, John, reburied from Georgetown. 

Meigs Family Gravesite
After his retirement on February 6, 1882, he was a regent of the Smithsonian Institution, a member of the American Philosophical Society, and one of the earliest members of the National Academy of Sciences. 

Columns in Pension Office Building, now home to the National Building Museum
He became the architect of the Pension Office Building, now home to the National Building Museum.  Following the end of the Civil War, the United States Congress passed legislation that greatly extended the scope of pension coverage for both veterans and for their survivors and dependents, notably their widows and orphans. This greatly increased the number of staff needed to administer the new benefits system. 

Pension Building / National Building Museum
with Capitol Building in background
More than 1,500 clerks were required, and a new building needed to house them. Meigs was chosen to design and construct the new building. He broke away from the established Greco-Roman models that had been the basis of government buildings in Washington, D.C., up until then, and based his design on Italian Renaissance precedents.  

Sculptured Fieze by Caspar Buberl
Included in his design was a 1,200-foot long sculptured frieze executed by Caspar Buberl.  Since creating a work of sculpture of that size was well out of Meigs' budget, he had Buberl create 28 different scenes which were then mixed and slightly modified to create the continuous 1,200-foot long parade that includes over 1,300 figures. Because of the way that the 28 sections are modified and mixed up, it is only by somewhat careful examination that the frieze reveals itself to be the same figures repeated over and over. 

The sculpture includes infantry, navy, artillery, cavalry, and medical components as well as a good deal of the supply and quartermaster functions. Meigs's correspondence with Buberl reveals that Meigs insisted that one teamster, "must be a negro, a plantation slave, freed by war," be included in the Quartermaster panel. This figure was ultimately to assume a position in the center, over the west entrance to the building.

One teamster, "must be a negro, a plantation slave, freed by war" 
When Philip Sheridan was asked to comment on the building, his reply echoed the sentiment of much of the Washington establishment of the day, that the only thing that he could find wrong with the building was that it was fireproof.  

Meigs contracted a cold on December 27, 1891. Within a few days, it turned into pneumonia.    Meigs died at home at 5:00 P.M. on January 2, 1892, at the age of 75.

His body was buried with high military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. General orders issued at the time of his death declared that "the Army has rarely possessed an officer ... who was entrusted by the government with a great variety of weighty responsibilities, or who proved himself more worthy of confidence."

Meigs Family Gravesite

Sculpture of John Meigs at Meigs Gravesite

Meigs Grave

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