Monday, March 21, 2011

A Quirk of Fate Led This Yankee to the South Where He Fought for the Confederacy

Henry probably had the picture on this page taken when he was visiting Hockanum, now part of Hadley, Massachusetts, in the Spring of 1859.  He had stopped there for a few weeks to help with the heavy spring workload on his uncle William Richardson's farm.  He would then go on to Boston to find work in his chosen profession, civil engineering.


At that time, he could not yet claim to be a fully qualified engineer.  He had never taken any courses at the university level.  He may have studied the rudiments of surveying in secondary school, but he had gained most of his professional knowledge in the school of hard knocks by working as an assistant to experienced civil engineers. In fact, States did not enact requirements for professional licensure in the U.S. until early in the 20th century. Membership in the American Society of Civil Engineers (founded in 1852) could provide assurance of professional qualification, but the Society’s influence did not become widespread until some years later. Henry did not become a member until 1879. In any case, in July 1859 his experience enabled him to find employment with an engineering firm in Boston.


One year earlier, he had missed an opportunity to become a U.S. Navy engineer. He had applied for and been accepted to sit for the qualifying examination in New York, but due to his employer’s insolvency after the financial panic of 1857, Henry could not collect his back salary and was unable to pay his way from Milwaukee to the East. But for this twist of fate, Henry would probably have been a loyal Yankee in the United States Navy, when the Civil War broke out two years later.


As Henry’s Puritan ancestors might have said, Providence would have it otherwise. In the winter of 1860, Henry became pessimistic about his career prospects in Boston, and decided to seek his fortune elsewhere. An opportunity to work on a Mississippi River levee project led him to St. Joseph, Louisiana where he found himself when war broke out in 1861. 


But that will be the subject of a later installment.


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