coast defense

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Abbot at Houghton: Visit of May 27, 2011

On May 27th, I spent about 6 hours reviewing a series of boxes, skimming through a good deal of material, and photographing some article drafts. I also requested 5 high-res image copies of photos of some Willets Point mine test explosions, before and after photos of the huge explosion at Flood Rock (in the Harlem R. I believe), and a photo of a gun being winched into a "Potomac River battery."

Slides 1 and 2 at left show the contents of the two "letter books" referred to in Item 14 of Series I of the Abbot papers Guide. Slide 3 shows a sample of the results of making a "research quality" photo of a page from Book "A" in the reading room.

I tried cross-checking the Book "A" texts of the 1887 War College lectures against the 1988 Van Nostrand text I had downloaded from the web. At times, the "Book A" texts looked like first drafts, with hand-written corrections included in the later (published) versions. At other points, corrections indicated on the earlier texts had not been made on the later ones.

The "unpublished" 1988 lectures (from the War College) were very interesting. I photographed the Boston portion of the Third Lecture, and found Abbot's vision/plan for types and locations of Boston guns, mines. and mortars quite interesting. The Hampton Roads, NY and SF plans are probably also worth reading.

The "never printed" Final Supplement to Report on Submarine Researches (to Gen. Casey, Chf of Engineers) is probably also a winner--I noted that it had two original drawings of fuze circuits in his own hand and was I believe 32 pp. long. It was dated June 30, 1892. Abbot says that his work was incorporated into the March, 1887 "Materiel and Manual for Submarine Mining," which was perhaps the first Army mining manual (?). Apparently Abbot did a fair amount of experimenting with the auto-mobile or "fish" torpedo as well. I didn't focus on this, but there's a lot more material related to it in his papers.

Elsewhere in the papers, I saw a lot of material dealing with his long-running series of mine explosion tests at WIllets Point, many time-series photos of same, and a lot of discussion of powder and storage battery types, as well as mine mooring options. He seems to have considered himself a submarine mine expert first, an artillerist second, and a hydrologist third.

Box 9 has a volume of typed letters Dec. 1889-Dec. 1892 that is some 500 pp. long.

Box 11 has a poignant set of letters (perhaps 100 or more) concerning Abbot's pursuit of a promotion to Brig. General (I believe) and appointment as Chief of Engineers when Gen. Casey retired. It seems Abbot had been receiving Colonel's pay since the Civil War and wanted to increase his pension upon his mandatory retirement, in1895, at the age of 64. He asked to help in many quarters, and even had a private bill submitted in his name (HR 1497 54th Cong. 1st Sess.), but apparently all failed. There seems to have been a general promotion of breveted officers like Abbot in 1904, but this was not retroactive to Abbot's retirement date, so did not help him. Letters on this point are stitched together and lying loose in the box. The U.S. seemes to have gotten quite a deal on Abbot, compensation-wise, over almost all of his Army career!

The last two slides in the gallery at left show a beautiful linen map Abbot drew of the Confederate emplacements at Yorktown in 1862 and a copy of his original sketchbook drawing for this map. I am not a Civil War person, but these look to me like they could be definitive layouts of the fortifications and their arnament.





Image Gallery

  • Abbot-Book-A-TOC
    This table of contents is glued to the cover of the book, which consists of flimsy tissue copies, typed, and is about 500 pp. in length.
  • Abbot-Book-B-TOC
    This listing is also glued to the cover of its book, which is like Book "A" (see Slide 1), but is only some 75 pp. long.
  • Book-A-Sample-Page
    This photo was taken under the library's ceiling lights at ASA 400, 1/100 sec. f3.2 with a Canon Powershot S5IS. It has been adjusted slightly but not sharpened. The library allows limited digital photography of pages as a note-taking device. Publication quality images can be made for a price by the Harvard Library graphics unit.
  • Abbot-Yorktown-Linen-Map
    The map is severely creased, so it stood up like a tent as this hand-held photo was taken. This is only meant to give a general idea of this marvelous item.
  • Abbot-Yorktown-Sketchbook
    This photo shows almost the entire left and right side pages of Abbot's oblong personal sketchbook, with an ink wash drawing of Yorktown, made the day after the Confederates' withdrawal from their fortifications. The penciled columns at lower right are Abbot's "tallying up" of the various types of guns in the fortifications, which I'm assuming were left behind by the Confederates. The original drawing is a thing of beauty.