To the Point: The United States Military Academy, 1802-1902

By George S. Pappas | Go to book overview

13
A Firm Hand Is Needed

Selection of Major Rene DeRussy to succeed Thayer was a surprise. He was the last man to graduate in the Class of 1812, not because he had the lowest grades but because class rank during the Partridge period was based only upon the date of commissioning. He had served with distinction in the War of 1812 and was promoted to brevet captain. After the war, he continued the building of fortifications in New York Harbor, first as Assistant Engineer and then as Supervising Engineer from 1818 to 1821. After working on fortifications on the Gulf of Mexico, he returned to New York for a second tour from 1825 to 1833.

It has been alleged that he was appointed by President Jackson because he graduated before Thayer became superintendent and had no direct contact with Thayer or the Academy. This contention ignores several facts. Both Thayer and DeRussy were appointed cadets on March 20, 1807, and were together until Thayer graduated in February 1808. Thayer returned as an instructor during DeRussy's last year as a cadet. DeRussy and Thayer probably met often during DeRussy's service in New York because contact between the Academy faculty and Engineer officers supervising New York fortifications was routine.

There are other reasons for questioning the allegation. It was mandatory that the superintendent be a senior Engineer officer. There were only four Engineer officers senior to DeRussy. Joseph Totten, an 1805 Academy graduate, senior to DeRussy, had won two brevet promotions during the War of 1812, had supervised the construction of many fortifications, had been a member of several Boards of Visitors, and had far more administrative experience than DeRussy. Many thought that he would be selected, but his seniority as brevet colonel and the importance of his duties in Boston may have eliminated him from consideration. Charles Gratiot, a brigadier general and Chief of Engineers, obviously

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