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John Newton

Soldier and engineer, b. at Norfolk, Virginia, August 24, 1823; d. in New York City, May 1, 1895

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Soldier and engineer, b. at Norfolk, Virginia, August 24, 1823; d. in New York City, May 1, 1895. He was the son of General Thomas Newton and Margaret Jordan. In 1838 he was appointed from Virginia a cadet in the U.S. Military Academy, and graduated in 1842, standing second in a class that included Rosencrans, Pope, and Longstreet. Commissioned second lieutenant of engineers, he was engaged as assistant professor of engineering at West Point, and later in the construction of fortifications and other engineering projects along the coasts of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Commissioned first lieutenant in 1852 and promoted captain in 1856, he was appointed chief engineer of the Utah Expedition in 1858. At the opening of the Civil War he was chief engineer of the Department of Pennsylvania, and afterwards held a similar position in the Department of the Shenandoah. Commissioned major on August 6, 1861, he worked on the construction of the defenses of Washington until March, 1862. He was commissioned on September 23, 1861, brigadier-general of volunteers, and received command of a brigade engaged in the defense of the city. He served in the army of the Potomac under McClellan during the Peninsular Campaign, and distinguished himself by his heroic conduct in the actions of West Point, Gaines Mills, and Glendale. He led his brigade in the Maryland campaign, taking part in the forcing of Crampton Gap and in the battle of Antietam, and was for his gallant services brevetted lieutenant-colonel of regulars. He led a division at Fredericksburg in the storming of Marye Heights, and was rewarded on March 20, 1863, with the rank of major-general of volunteers. He commanded divisions at Chancellorsville and Salem Heights, and, at the death of Reynolds on July 2, 1863, was given command of the First Army Corps, which he led on the last two days of the battle of Gettysburg. On July 3, 1863, for gallant service at Gettysburg, he was brevetted colonel of regulars. He engaged in the pursuit of the Confederate forces to Warrenton, Virginia, and towards the end of 1863 was active in the Rapidan Campaign. In May, 1864, he was transferred to the Army of the Cumberland, and commanded under General Thomas the Second Division, Fourth Corps. He fought in all the actions during the invasion of Georgia up to the capture of Atlanta. For his gallantry in this campaign, especially in the battle of Peach Tree Creek, he was brevetted on March 13, 1865, major-general of volunteers and brigadier-general and major-general of regulars. He then took command of various districts in Florida until, in January, 1866, he was mustered out of the volunteer service.

Commissioned lieutenant-colonel of engineers in the regular service on December 28, 1865, Newton was ordered in April, 1866, to New York City, where he thenceforth resided, engaged on the engineering labors that made his name famous. He was superintendent engineer of the construction of the defenses on the Long Island side of the Narrows, of the improvements of the Hudson River, and of the fortifications at Sandy Hook. He was also one of the board of engineers deputed to carry out the modifications of the defenses around New York City. The proposed enlargement of the Harlem River, and the improvements of the Hudson from Troy to New York, of the channel between New Jersey and Staten Island, and of the harbors on Lake Champlain were put under his charge. On June 30, 1879, he was named colonel, and on March 6, 1884, chief of engineers in the regular service with the rank of brigadier-general. Among Newton’s achievements, the most notable was the removal of the dangerous rocks in Hell Gate, the principal waterway between Long Island Sound and the East River. To accomplish this task successfully, required the solution of difficult engineering problems never before attempted, and the invention of new apparatus, notably a steam drilling machine, which has since been in general use. Newton carefully studied the problem, and the accuracy of his conclusions was shown by the exact correspondence of the results with the objects sought. Hallett’s Reef and Flood Rock, having been carefully mined under his directions, were destroyed by two great explosions (September 24, 1876; October 10, 1885). This engineering feat excited the universal admiration of engineers, and many honors were conferred upon him. On Newton’s voluntary retirement from the service in 1886, Mayor Grace of New York, recognizing his superior skill, appointed him commissioner of public works on August 28 This post he voluntarily resigned on November 24, 1888. On April 2, 1888, he accepted the presidency of the Panama Railroad Company, which position he filled until his death. In 1848 General Newton married Anna M. Starr of New London, Connecticut. In his early manhood he became, and until his death remained, an earnest and devout member of the Catholic Church.

JOHN G. EWING


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