Last updated: June 21, 2016
John Gross Barnard
- Chief Engineer of the Civil War Defenses of Washington
- Place of Birth:
- Sheffield, Massachusetts
- Date of Birth:
- May 19, 1815
- Place of Death:
- Detroit, Michigan
- Date of Death:
- May 14, 1882
- Place of Burial:
- Sheffield, Massachusetts
- Cemetery Name:
- Center Cemetery
John Gross Barnard was born in Sheffield, Massachusetts, on May 19, 1815. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1833. He was second in a class of forty-three members. As one of the top graduating cadets of his class, he was posted as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers, embarking on a 48-year career in that branch.
Throughout his career he served on many garrison and fortification details, most notably participating in the construction for defenses in New York City, New Orleans, and Pensacola. During the Mexican War, he led the construction of United States Defenses at Tampico.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, General Barnard served as Chief Engineer to General Mcdowell in the Firt Bull Run Campaign. Next, with the rank of Brigadier-General, he acted as the Chief Engineer to the Army of the Potomac in the Virginia peninsular, serving Major General George B. McCellan. When the confederate army advanced into Virginia, he was appointed Chief Engineer of the Civil War Defenses of Washington, and was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel of Engineers in March 1863.
In Barnard's A Report on the Defenses of Washington, published after the Civil War, he commented on the complexity and everchanging nature of the project:
"From a few isolated works covering bridges or commanding a few especially important points, was developed a connected system of fortification by which every prominent point, at intervals of 800 to 1,000 yards, was occupied by an inclosed field-fort every important approach or depression of ground, unseen from the forts, swept by a battery for field-guns, and the whole connected by rifle-trenches which were in fact lines of infantry parapet, furnishing emplacement for two ranks of men and affording covered communication along the line, while roads were opened wherever necessary, so that troops and artillery could be moved rapidly from one point of the immense periphery to another, or under cover, from point to point along the line."
In 1864, he was appointed Chief Engineer, and was on the staff of General Grant in the Richmond campaign. He was made Major General at the end of the Civil War for "gallant and meritorious services in the field," and was promoted to Chief Engineer of the Corps of Engineers December 28, 1865. Although he was promoted to full rank Colonel of Engineers, upon General Totten's death, he asked that the nomination be withdrawn. He served out his career as Chief Regular Army Engineer until his retirement in 1881.
Brevat Major General Barnard died in Detroit, Michigan on May 14, 1882.