A Civil War Biography

Sylvanus Thayer

Thayer was born 9 June 1785 in Braintree, Massachusetts, then a farming community on Boston's South Shore. Following graduation from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1807 he entered West Point and was commissioned 3rd in the class of 1808 after meeting the requirements for graduation in just 14 months. Official class standing for the cadets was not begun until 1818 after Thayer had become superintendent. The class of 1808 was only the second to graduate from the academy. Thayer was the 33rd officer commissioned.

He was initially assigned as an engineer then served as an assistant professor of mathematics at West Point from 1809 until 1811. He served during the War of 1812 on the Niagara frontier under Henry Dearborn on Lake Champlain in Wade Hampton's division then with Moses Porter in the defense of Norfolk, Virginia. Wade Hampton in this case was the father of the Confederate lieutenant general. Following the War of 1812 Thayer was sent to Europe to study the military schools of France and England. He was in Europe from 1815 until 1817 where he shaped his views of how a military academy should operate.

On 28 July 1817 President James Monroe named Thayer, then a lieutenant colonel, superintendent of West Point. He would remain in that post until 1833 when he resigned after being subjected to what seemed to him to be unwarranted political interference in academy affairs by President Andrew Jackson. While superintendent, Thayer built the academy into one of the world's leading military-engineering schools. He is credited with originating technical education in America and establishing the educational philosophy and discipline still followed at the academy. Recognizing the expanding country's need for engineers he made civil engineering the core of the curriculum.

After being relieved as superintendent Thayer remained in the army in the Corps of Engineers. He is credited with designing the fortifications in Boston Harbor that were part of the system of Coastal fortifications built in the middle of the 19th century. He was promoted to colonel on 3 March 1863 then brevetted brigadier general US Army on 31 May 1863. He retired the next day, 1 June 1863. Always interested in furthering academics, Thayer, in 1867, endowed Dartmouth with $40,000 for the establishment of what became known as the Thayer School of Architecture and Civil Engineering. He also endowed a scientific academy which was established in Braintree in 1877, 5 years after his death, as the Thayer Academy. The Thayer Academy, an independent day school, is currently marking its 125th year of existence. Sylvanus Thayer died on 7 September 1872.

Return to Biography Index



  home · Today's News · Civil War Trivia · Civil War Cookbook · Discussion Board · links · Advertising · Biographies
Civil War Interactive
11378 Purdy Rd.
Huntingdon, TN 38344

CWi is pleased to be hosted by Data 1 Systems