Commodore Joel Abbot, Camp No. 21

Brevet Brigadier General Henry Brewerton

Brevet Brigadier General Henry Brewerton was born, September 25th, 1801, in the City of New York, where he resided during his schoolboy days. Having lost his father before attaining the age of two years, Daniel D. Tompkins, of Staten Island, was appointed his guardian. Chief Magistrate of the State of New York from 1807 to 1817, Governor Tompkins lent the force of his resolute character and his high position to the vigorous prosecution of the war with Great Britain, [1812-15]. His interest in the military progress and success of the country, at that time paramount to all others, probably induced the appointment of his protege to the West Point Military Academy.

Henry Brewerton entered the Academy June, 1813, at the age of eleven years and nine months. Though but a lad, he performed all his military duties, taking his turn on guard with his older classmates. He was furloughed, probably on account of his youth, from February 1st, 1815, to September of the same year, when he reached the then official age for appointment to the Academy. His furlough was passed principally on Staten Island, at the homestead of Governor Tompkins.

During his cadetship, young Brewerton witnessed the reorganization of the Academy, under the masterly hand of Brevet Major Sylvanus Thayer, of the Corps of Engineers, appointed its Superintendent July 28th, 1817. A graduate of Dartmouth College, as well as of the Military Institution assigned to his charge; an officer who had served with distinction during the then recent war; well-informed, by personal inspection and examination, as to the systems of military education practiced in Western Europe; Major Thayer brought to his new office the learning of a classical scholar and the military bearing of a soldier trained in peace and war accomplishments which, added to his natural endowments in that common sense which is wisdom, and that rare force of character which seldom fails to produce men of mark, eminently fitted him to give shapeliness to this then crude Institution, and to raise it to an honorable rank with the military schools of the old world. The marked improvement of the Corps of Cadets in discipline, in soldierly bearing and educational proficiency, and the rapid rise of the Academy as a seminary of learning after his assumption of command, attested fully the wisdom of the selection. The graduates of the past six decades owe their practical and scientific training, their development as soldiers, and whatever success they may have attained during the wars in which they have borne part, to the system inaugurated, and, we may add, well nigh made perfect by him; and it has been quite a distinction to succeeding superintendents, to be able to maintain the Academy, under their administrations, up to the standard to which he had raised it.

Cadet Brewerton was graduated with honors July 1st, 1819, at the early age of 17 years and 9 months, and was appointed a Brevet 2nd Lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. His course at the Academy had been very creditable, and his high position in his class, in spite of his youth, attested his ability and application qualities which did not fail him to the end of his useful career. If we except a visit to Europe for his health, in 1859-60, his service was continuous up to the date of his retirement, March 7th, 1867, a period of nearly fifty years. His professional experience was varied, for every kind of duty to which an officer of engineers was liable, fell to his lot. Early in his career (1832), after serving on Astronomical duty at Rouse's Point, as Assistant Professor of Engineering at the Military Academy, and in the construction of our sea-coast defenses, he was assigned to the full charge of that part of the Great National Road, then under construction by the Government, situated within the limits of the State of Ohio. From that time forth, no officer of the Corps was intrusted with more important duties. Besides serving on many Boards of Engineers connected with our sea-coast defenses, and with River and Harbor Improvements, he was made a member of the Special Board for projecting a light-house at Flynn's Knoll (1839); of the Board of Visitors to the West Point Military Academy in 1843, of which Institution, two years later, he became Superintendent, holding the position for seven years; and of a Commission to digest a Code of Regulations for the U. S. Naval Academy (1849). Among his many works may be enumerated the Improvement of the Hudson River, of which he had the charge from 1836 to 1842; of the mouth of the Susquehanna River, and of the Harbor of Baltimore (1852-64); of the Brewerton Channel in the Patapsco, named in his honor; the superintendence as constructing officer of the permanent defenses of Charleston (1828-32); of Fort Montgomery, at Rouse's Point, to defend the passage from the St. John's into Lake Champlain (1841-45); of Port Carroll, entrance' to Baltimore Harbor (1852-64), and of Forts Monroe and Wool, entrance to Hampton Roads (1864-67). During the war the defenses of Baltimore, of Delaware River and Bay, and those at Point Lockout, on the Potomac, were committed to his charge.

To say that Gen. Brewerton was an efficient officer does not express a full sense of his worth to the country, for he was more than that. He devoted to his duties all his skill and energy, with a patient application, which neither fatigue nor even indisposition could arrest. What he could accomplish himself was never imposed upon others-a self-sacrificing habit that did not fail to bring over-work, resulting ultimately in physical ailment. By nature robust, temperate and prudent in his habits, he attained a ripe old age in spite of the severe tests to which he had subjected his capacity for endurance. In fact, he was one of those men who scarcely thought he could do enough, and never too much, for the country that had generously educated him and opened up to him an honorable profession. Influenced by sentiments so creditable, sound in physique, thoroughly educated, with great powers of continued mental application, he could not fail to leave the impress of an honorable and successful record upon the corps and army to which he belonged. The Corps of Engineers was in its infancy when he entered it. Its numbers were small, but its duties were coextensive with the country. Such officers as Totten, Thayer, Bernard, and others-of a later date nearer his own age, were laboring with great zeal and assiduity to give to it character and reputation, and a representation among similar corps of the old world, as well as practical usefulness at home, commensurate with the wants of the young republic, whose defenseless condition had as yet received from the art and science of the engineer little aid. The then recent war, while revealing the latent energies and courage of the people, had demonstrated the necessity for frontier and coastwise defense, and the Engineers of the army, men of mark, some of whom had served with honorable distinction in the recent struggle, were working out and elaborating a system of fortifications for that end. Among the younger officers taking part in the important duties thus devolving upon the Corps, no one brought to their execution greater zeal or more intelligent application than Lieut. Brewerton. His vigorous health, however, could not withstand continuous exposure in the malarial regions of the Mississippi Delta, which seldom spares the unacclimated. After about three years service there, prostrated by what was then known as the black plague, he was compelled to return to the more genial climate of the North for recuperation. After a short service at Newport, he passed from the sphere of the assistant to the full charge of the works under construction in Charleston Harbor, S. C., a position to which his experience and his merit fully entitled him. The experience of three summers in this new field of duty again prostrated him, and he barely escaped with life an attack of the fever of the rice plantations, almost always fatal to strangers. Henceforth, in a more healthy portion of the country, assigned to the charge of various important constructions, he adapted himself to each with facility and a versatility that attested his preparation and his aptitude for his profession.

In his seven years' service as Superintendent of the Military Academy, his Alma Mater, he could do little more than maintain its prestige as established by the "Father" of the Institution. That he held it to a standard so high demonstrated his fitness for the command-well understood by graduates to exact qualifications of no ordinary character. Watchful over its every interest, whether pertaining to its scientific teachings, its military discipline or the manly development of the Corps of Cadets; never flagging in his important trust, he examined personally, with patient deliberation, every question that came up for solution, allowing no details of administration, however minute, to escape his attention. Though kind and considerate to the cadets, upon whom he was obliged to enforce a rigid discipline, he won their affections and esteem by a strictly just and impartial treatment, rather than by leniency. Those who were educated at the Academy during his administration will recollect him, living, as a courtly gentleman of high tone and fine personal presence-a type of the genial, refined soldier, worthy of imitation. Dead, they will recall his memory as a kind friend who watched over their youth with fatherly affection.

Gen. Brewerton was no exception to the rule, that the strongest physical constitution will yield when overtasked. Though he served faithfully and efficiently, filling important trusts for fifteen years after leaving West Point in 1852, it was evident that his health was much impaired, though not to prevent his performance of duty up to the date of his retirement, in 1867, after forty-eight years of service.

A representative officer of his day, whose sense of duty was ever foremost in thought and act-one of the pioneers in the Corps of Engineers-his life service illustrated and was a part of its history; while personally he was esteemed and beloved as one of its most useful, able and worthy members.

During the years 1859 and 1860, General Brewerton visited various portions of the Old World, for the benefit of his health in part, but more as a release from care and work, from which there had been scarcely a respite since boyhood. It was an entire change of life to him, bringing freedom and mental rest, and most thoroughly did he enjoy it. In utter contrast to his hitherto professional labors, new trains of thought and emotion occupied him as new scenes and strange peoples came before him in his journeyings. Not content with seeing the attractive places of Europe, he visited Egypt and the Holy Land, returning by the way of Constantinople and Athens.

Thus had he gratified his desire to see those countries so interesting and famous in the world's history-Egypt, Palestine and Greece; countries identified with the dawn of learning, of the Jewish and Christian religions, and of art.

General Brewerton and myself were companions in these Eastern travels, and it gives me pleasure to say of him that he was an agreeable associate, gentle and considerate to all, yet never wanting in that quiet dignity which commands esteem and respect. His gentlemanly bearing and polished manners impressed very favorably those casual acquaintances incident to traveling, and, as an American abroad, he was a most creditable and honorable representative of his country.

Returning from Europe in the autumn of 1861, Gen. Brewerton resumed his duties at Baltimore. Though he did not participate in the war for the Union actively in the field, it was not age, nor the waning of the spirit and fire of youth that prevented it, for he was "every inch a soldier," devoted to his country, but rather a physical infirmity which troubled him more or less for the last twenty five years of his life.

While Superintendent of the Military Academy, the honorary degree of L.L.D. was conferred on him (July 8, 1847) by Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa. His Brevet of Brigadier General was given March 13th, 1865, for "Long, Faithful And Meritorious Services."

After his retirement, General Brewerton remained for several years at Fort Monroe, until, admonished by frequent recurrence of fever and ague attacks, he removed to Wilmington, Deleware, making it his home for the remainder of his days, though passing yearly a portion of the summer in a cooler climate, usually near the sea-shore. He had noticeably failed in strength during the past year, but was able to undergo the fatigue of his favorite exercise and pastime, walking in the open air and sunshine nearly up to life's end. Thus, happily, was he spared the pains and suffering of a long illness prior to his decease.

General Brewerton was twice married. He had three children by his first wife, Caroline Knight of Newport, RI. His second wife, who survived him, was a daughter of his early friend, Professor Edward H. Courtenay, one of the most learned and distinguished graduates of the Military Academy.

(Z. B. Tower, Bvt. Maj-Gen. U. S. A.)


Source: United States Military Academy Association of Graduates' Annual Report of 1879.

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