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John James Abert

John James Abert



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Vanity case and desk

Vanity case

City of Santa Fe engraving

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Sylvanus Thayer (1785–1872)
CLASS OF 1811

Abert’s name is almost synonymous with the army’s Corps of Topographical Engineers that he headed for 32 years. He left the army upon graduation from West Point and the next year married Ellen Matlack Stretch, who often accompanied him in his later travels. One of their six children followed his father to West Point, James William (Class of 1842).

The War of 1812 brought Abert back to the army in 1814 as a topographical engineer, and fifteen years later he headed the corps. Under his leadership, the corps’ 36 officers, most of them also West Pointers, furthered American science with data from their western expeditions. They also helped turn a relatively unknown wilderness west of the Mississippi into an extensively surveyed, well-mapped, built-up, interconnected, and increasingly settled landscape. Abert retired in 1861 and the corps was abolished in 1863, mission accomplished.


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Engineering for a New Nation




Key Figures






Sylvanus Thayer
G. K. Warren
1830–1882
Class of 1850



John James Abert
John James Abert
1788–1863
Class of 1811





Smithsonian National Museum of American History


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West Point in History Introduction 1802–1860 1861–1870 1866–1914 1914–1918 Epilogue Introduction 1802–1860 1861–1870 1866–1914 1914–1918 Epilogue The Western Reconnaissance Engineering for a New Nation Wars of Expansion