Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Thayer, Sylvanus

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Appletons' Thayer Sylvanus - statue.jpg

THAYER, Sylvanus, soldier, b. in Braintree, Mass., 9 June, 1785; d. in South Braintree, Mass., 7 Sept., 1872. He was graduated at Dartmouth in 1807, at the U. S. military academy in 1808, and assigned to the corps of engineers. During the next four years he was employed on engineer service on the eastern coast, and as instructor of mathematics at the academy, receiving promotion as 1st lieutenant, 1 July, 1812. Being called to the field in the latter year, he served as chief engineer under Gen. Henry Dearborn, on the Niagara frontier; in 1813 under Gen. Wade Hampton's division on Lake Champlain, receiving promotion to captain of engineers, 13 Oct., 1813, and in 1814 under Gen. Moses Porter's forces in defence of Norfolk, Va., being brevetted major, 20 Feb., 1815, for distinguished services. In 1815 he was sent to Europe to examine military works and schools, and study the operations of the allied armies before Paris, but he was recalled in 1817 to the superintendency of the academy at West Point, which he assumed on 28 July of that year, and held till his resignation, 1 July, 1833. During the sixteen years of his administration he organized the school on its present basis, and raised it from an elementary condition to the same grade with the best military schools in the world. During his term of office he was brevetted lieutenant-colonel, 3 March, 1823, made major, 24 May, 1828, and brevetted colonel, 3 March, 1833. Five years after his resignation he was again offered the charge of the academy, with almost absolute control, but he did not accept. On leaving West Point he was made a member of the board of engineers, of which he was president from 7 Dec., 1838, and for thirty years following he was engaged in the construction of defences in and about Boston harbor, which are models of his engineering skill and standards of economy and stability of construction. On 7 July, 1838, he was made lieutenant-colonel of engineers, and he became colonel, 3 March, 1863. On 1 June, 1863, he was retired from active service, after receiving the brevet of brigadier-general the day before. The degree of A. M. was conferred on him by Dartmouth in 1810, and by Harvard in 1825, and that of LL. D. by St. John's college, Md., in 1830, by Kenyon and Dartmouth in 1846, and by Harvard in 1857. He was also a member of various scientific associations. Gen. Thayer gave about $300,000 for the endowment of an academy, and $32,000 for a free library, at Braintree, and $70,000 for a school of architecture and civil engineering at Dartmouth. His body was reinterred at West Point, 8 Nov., 1877, and his statue was unveiled there, 11 June, 1883, Gen. George W. Cullum making the presentation. It bears the inscription. “Colonel Thayer, Father of the United States Military Academy,” and is represented in the accompanying illustration. A fine full-length portrait by Robert W. Weir is in the library at West Point. He was the author of “Papers on Practical Engineering” (1844). — His cousin, Martin Russell, jurist, b. in Petersburg, Va., 27 Jan., 1819, was graduated at the University of Pennsylvania in 1840, admitted to the Philadelphia bar in 1842, and began to practise in that city. In 1862-'7 he sat in congress, having been elected as a Republican, serving in the committee on the bankrupt law and as chairman of the committee on private land claims. In 1862 he was appointed a commissioner to revise the revenue laws of Pennsylvania, and in 1867, declining re-election to congress, he was appointed one of the judges of the district court of the county of Philadelphia, and he has recently been re-elected. In 1873 he was appointed on the board of visitors to West Point, and wrote the report. In the succeeding year he became president-judge of the court of common pleas of Philadelphia. He is the author of “The Duties of Citizenship” (Philadelphia, 1862); “The Great Victory: its Cost and Value” (1865); “The Law considered as a Progressive Science” (1870); “On Libraries” (1871); “The Life and Works of Francis Lieber” (1873); and “The Battle of Germantown” (1878).