|Charles Delucena Meigs|
|Jefferson Medical College |
His paternal grandfather, Josiah Meigs, graduated from Yale University and later was president of the University of Georgia.
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|
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|
|Fort Wayne on the Detroit River|
|Robert E. Lee and Son, 1845|
|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|
|Fort Montgomery on Lake Champlain in New York|
|The Washington Aqueduct|
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|
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|
|Fort in the Tortugas, Gulf of Mexico|
|Meigs in 1861|
|Meigs Staff During the War|
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|
|Grave of William Christman|
|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|
|Edwin Stanton and Son|
|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."
|Meigs Home in Washington, D.C.|
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.
|The Civil War Unkowns Monument, 1866|
|The Civil War Unkowns Monument, 2011|
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).
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."
|Meigs Family Gravesite|
|Columns in Pension Office Building, now home to the National Building Museum|
|Pension Building / National Building Museum|
with Capitol Building in background
|Sculptured Fieze by Caspar Buberl|
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"|
|Meigs Family Gravesite|
|Sculpture of John Meigs at Meigs Gravesite|