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W. A. Roebling

W. A. Roebling

Federal (USV)


Washington Augustus Roebling

(1837 - 1926)

Home State: Pennsylvania

Education: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Class of 1857

Command Billet: Asst to Chief Engineer

Branch of Service: Engineers

Unit: Army of the Potomac

Before Antietam

After graduation from RPI he worked with his father as an engineer in the family business, making wire rope and building bridges.

In June 1861 he enlisted as Private in the 83rd NY Infantry, and was Sergeant by January 1862. He then was appointed 2nd Lieutenant in the 6th New York Artillery, but soon became an engineer officer on the staff of Gen McDowell. He was at Bull Run and on the Valley Campaign of 1862. Between May and September, he was assigned "for the purpose of building military suspension bridges".

On the Campaign

At Antietam he was assistant to Gen McClellan's Chief Engineer, Capt. Duane. He is found as member of teams that created several topographic maps of the battlefield and surrounding area.

The rest of the War

Later in the War he was on the staff of Gen Gouverneur Warren, and served with distinction at Gettysburg and in other actions as engineer and reconaissance officer. During the War he directed construction of suspension bridges across the Rappahanock and Shenandoah Rivers, and was credited with being the first to observe the approach of Lee's army to Gettysburg in 1863 - from a hot-air balloon. In November 1863 he was a Captain, and by (appt. 20 Apr 64) May 1864, at the Wilderness, he was a Major on Gen Warren's staff. He was referred to as "Colonel" and ADC, 5th Army Corps, in December 1864. He was awarded two brevets for bravery during the War - to Lt Colonel (2 Dec 64) for "gallant service" on the Richmond Campaign, and Colonel (13 Mar 65) for War service. He resigned from the Army 21 January 1865.

After the War

He married Gen Warren's sister Emily (d. 1903) in 1865, and returned to work with his father. In 1867 they began design and construction of the Brooklyn Bridge - the achievement for which he is most famous. Although eventually bedridden by injury and illness, Washington took over the direction of the Bridge project in July 1869, at the death of his father, and took it to successful completion in 1883.

References & notes

See several good biographies online - souce of much detail above - the best of them Invention Factory and from Civil War Studies from the Smithsonian. The picture of Roebling, above, is from RPI. Documentation of his progress in rank and duties during the War are scattered throughout the OR, and listed in Heitman's Historical Register.

More on the Web

See an image of one of his maps from an online seller. See an excellent piece about Emily from Sharon Workman.


5/26/1837; Saxonburg, PA


7/21/1926; Trenton, NJ; burial in Cold Spring Cemetery, Cold Spring, Putnam Cty, NY