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Meigs, Montgomery

Meigs, Montgomery (1816–1892), military engineer and quartermaster general of the U.S. Army.Born into a distinguished family, Meigs graduated near the top of his West Point class in 1836 and was appointed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Though only a lieutenant, Meigs's natural ability won him sufficient notice to become chief engineer for the expansion of the U.S. Capitol and construction of its dome. More important was his brilliant work on the twelve‐mile‐long Washington aqueduct. Part of this structure, the Cabin John Bridge, remained the longest masonry arch in the world until the twentieth century. To both these projects Meigs brought speed, efficiency, and frugality. Indeed, his unwillingness to tolerate political appointees on the aqueduct's construction led to his brief “administrative exile” to positions in the Dry Tortugas, in the Florida keys.

When the Civil War began, Meigs was initially appointed to a field command, for which he was not suited. In May 1861, he accepted a more appropriate commission as quartermaster general, a post he held until 1882. Meigs was responsible for supplying the Union army's entire war effort—a gargantuan task to which he successfully applied his considerable organizational talent. Not one to hold the reins of authority too tightly, Meigs divided his department into nine semiautonomous divisions in order to achieve both efficiency and cost‐effectiveness. In conjunction with Herman Haupt, head of the U.S. Military Railroad, Meigs saw to it that Union soldiers were never far from a supply depot and always well provisioned. His marshaling of the North's vast economic potential toward a single end was a major reason for Union victory. Meigs's example of wartime bureaucratic efficiency helped govern the economic expansion that followed, which was to turn the United States into a global industrial giant.
[See also Civil War: Military and Diplomatic Course.]

Bibliography

Russell F. Weigley , Quartermaster General of the Union Army: A Biography of M. C. Meigs, 1959.

T. R. Brereton

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