Gridley, Richard

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Gridley, Richard

GRIDLEY, RICHARD. (1710–1796). First American chief engineer. Massachusetts. Born on 3 January 1711 at Boston, Gridley was apprenticed to a merchant but developed his talent for mathematics and became a surveyor and civil engineer. He studied under John Henry Bastide, a British military engineer who was planning the fortifications of Boston and vicinity. In 1745 he was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the artillery train in the expedition against Louisburg, became chief bombardier during the siege, and supervised the erection of the siege batteries. He was rewarded with a commission as captain in one of the British army regiments that garrisoned Louisburg; he retired on half pay when Louisburg was returned to the French in 1749 and his regiment was disbanded. He was a skilled draughtsman, as seen in his Plan of the City and Fortress of Louisburg, published at Boston in 1746 and republished at London in 1758. He was Governor William Shirley's engineer on the Kennebec expedition in 1752 and built Fort Western (Augusta, Maine) and Fort Halifax. He was the chief artillery officer during William Johnson's 1755 expedition against Crown Point and, as chief engineer, built Fort William Henry at the head of Lake George. He served at Louisburg under Jeffrey Amherst in 1758 and at Quebec under James Wolfe in 1759. After the French and Indian War, he again retired on half pay and was granted fishing rights in the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence as well as three thousand acres in New Hampshire. In 1770 he and Edmund Quincy began smelting iron ore in Stoughtonham (later Sharon), Massachusetts.

When the Massachusetts Provincial Congress organized the provincial army for the siege of Boston in late April 1775, it appointed this distinguished veteran, the most experienced military engineer in the province, as chief engineer, although he was already in his sixty-sixth year, and it also gave him the additional task of organizing a train of artillery. He directed the engineering work at Bunker Hill and was wounded in the battle on 17 June. Six days later, the Massachusetts Congress gave him the provincial rank of major general. The Continental Congress appointed him colonel and chief of Continental artillery on 20 September (dropping his provincial rank), but because of his advanced age and querulous nature he was replaced on 17 November 1775 by Henry Knox. He remained the Continental chief engineer, with the rank of colonel, and planned the field works on Dorchester Heights that helped to force the British from Boston. While many officers had a low opinion of his ability, and on 28 April 1776 Washington reprimanded him about his "shameful neglect" of duty, Gridley deserves much credit for successful artillery and engineering work at the siege of Boston. He was succeeded on 5 August 1776 by Rufus Putnam and served thereafter as "Colonel and Engineer," working on the defenses of Boston as engineer general of the Eastern Department from 1 January 1777 until his retirement from the Continental army on 1 January 1781. During 1777 he had some success manufacturing mortars and howitzers for the Continental army at his furnace at Stoughtonham. He died at Canton, Massachusetts, on 21 June 1796.

His brother Jeremiah (1702–1767) was a lawyer who became attorney general of Massachusetts, and in defending writs of assistance in 1761 he became an opponent of a former pupil, James Otis.

SEE ALSO Bunker Hill, Massachusetts.


Massachusetts, Secretary of the Commonwealth. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War: A Compilation from the Archives. 17 vols. Boston: Wright and Potter Printing Company, State Printerts, 1896–1908.

Walker, Paul K. Engineers of Independence: A Documentary History of the Army Engineers in the American Revolution, 1775–1783. Washington, DC: Historical Division, Office of the Chief of Engineers, 1981.

                          revised by Harold E. Selesky