The Papers of Brevet Major General John Gross Barnard

03/16/2017     Books & Autographs


Doyle is honored to auction the important, career-spanning papers of Brevet Major General John Gross Barnard. During the American Civil War, he served as Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac responsible for the defense of Washington, DC and subsequently as General Grant's Chief Engineer of Armies in the Field. The Collection comprises hundreds of private letters, maps, photographs and more. It is likely the largest such group of papers of a high-ranking Civil War General to be offered at auction.


The Papers of Brevet Major General John Gross Barnard (1815-1882)

Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac, then Chief Engineer of the Department of Washington, and finally Chief Engineer of Armies in the Field during the American Civil War. West Point graduate 1833; Superintendent of the Academy 1855-56; Army Corp of Engineers from the Mexican War through 1882 with pre-War service in Louisiana, San Francisco, and New York.

A remarkable, largely unpublished career-spanning group of papers chronicling each phase of Barnard’s professional life including his service in the American Civil War. The papers comprising several hundred personal and private autograph letters received by Barnard and copious drafts of his letters (many signed), diaries and copybooks, signed photographs, manuscript and printed maps, drawings, books, military appointments, documents, newspaper scrapbooks and more all chronologically organized at an early date and housed in several old file and newer archival boxes. Sizes vary from large folding maps to carte-de-visite sized photographs, the correspondence on a variety of stationery and found paper, many original stamped envelopes present. Usual folds and wear commensurate with age, use, and handling, occasional stains, tears or small losses, very few letters with clipped signatures or disbound from albums, in sound condition overall with most items in fine condition. A chronological inventory and descriptive essay available by request.


Highlights of the papers include:

Approximately Forty Autograph Letters Signed From Pierre G.T. Beauregard. Various places but mostly New Orleans, and West Point: 1835-1861, and 1876-79. Comprising mostly four page letters on single folded sheets.

Barnard first encountered the Louisiana born future Confederate Major General at West Point and the two solidified a close friendship while working on engineering projects in New Orleans in the 1830s. The correspondence was abruptly halted during the Civil War and includes the poignant final letter between them before the War, an important letter from Beauregard written just weeks before Fort Sumter in which Beauregard illuminates his political stance and that his state “has called upon me for my services, and I have given them not a false ambition or desire to see my name (badly spelt) in print, but because I considered it my solemn duty to obey her mandates … only so long as my state forms a part of the Confederacy. But I suppose after all that I am speaking Greek to you, and you, Latin to me ... But whether the revolution results in peace or war, I will take as my only guide, a clear conscience and a fearless heart.” The correspondence resumed after the War, and in one letter Beauregard provides a description of the Confederate defense of Petersburg, and there is much else of interest in this voluminous and unpublished correspondence.

Approximately Fifty Autograph Letters Signed from William Tecumseh Sherman, with some related material bearing signatures. Mostly San Francisco, Lancaster, OH and elsewhere: 1853-60, 1863, and 1866-69. Mostly several page letters on the stationery of the “Banking House of Lucas Turner & Co, San Francisco,” the later letters on Sherman’s Army Headquarters stationery.

In the mid-1850s Sherman opened and managed the San Francisco branch of the above mentioned bank. Barnard was in the area working on an engineering project at Fort Point, and made investments in railroad stock regarding which he and Sherman corresponded heavily during the crisis of 1855 and while Sherman was commander of the Committee of Vigilance in 1865: “Affairs here seem to be worse and worse all the time and now we in a state of Civil War or indeed under the Government of a Vigilance Committee the end of which no man can foretell…” A remarkable record of Sherman’s time in Gold Rush San Francisco. In the post-War letters there is some remembrance of the War such as: “ I suppose you were so engrossed with the grand problem of making forts adapted to the defenses of harbors against the new Monitor and Iron Clads.” A large, unpublished group of letters.


The Civil War (1861-1865)

Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, Barnard was immediately assigned to the Department of Washington and made Chief Engineer of the Department under General Mansfield. Present from throughout the War are each of his transfers and appointments including his 1863 Abraham Lincoln signed appointment as Lieutenant Colonel in the Corps of Engineers. Barnard’s papers from early in the war include pre-attack notes on the defenses at Fort Sumter, taken by the Confederates in the opening actions of the War in April 1861. But Barnard’s colossal assignment was the defense of Washington, D.C. and Georgetown, vulnerably located just miles from the Confederate line in Virginia, and he immediately set out recommending bridge patrols and securing waterways. Despite his varied services during the War, Barnard is best remembered for overseeing the gargantuan engineering effort of arming, manning, and creating a communication system between the ring of dozens of Union forts surrounding the capital, and there is much present of engineering interest such as the manuscript and printed plans of the forts which were published in his post-War A Report on the Defenses of Washington.

In the summer of 1861, Barnard worked side by side with General McDowell on the plan for what became the First Battle of Bull Run, the first major engagement of the War, a defeat for the Union which caused much controversy. Throughout the War, Barnard endeavored to set the record straight and present is much on the battle and the immediate aftermath including a sixteen page draft of his report on the Battle. Promoted to Brigadier General, and due to his previous service in the U.S. Coast Survey, Barnard was assigned to the Navy’s Blockade Strategy Board and present are rare papers on the desire to recapture the U.S.S. Merrimac currently being refitted by the Confederates into the C.S.S. Virginia and in 1862 a plan of attack on Norfolk in advance of the Battle of Hampton Roads. Among other important associated items is a rare first hand account of the 1862 Battle of Shiloh from the controversial Colonel Thomas Worthington.

Barnard accompanied General McClellan on portions of the Peninsula Campaign and present are drawings showing positions along the Chickahominy and James rivers. In early 1863, Barnard is critical of McClellan, writing in a letter: “By his mismanagement of the campaign on the peninsula, the first great failures ensued from which the subsequent disasters have been, to a certain extent, the inevitable consequences.” Barnard’s copybooks and diaries provide indelible insights to and a valuable day by day account of the War as it was fought. In 1864, Barnard was ordered to immediately report to General Grant and he was appointed Chief Engineer to the Armies in the Field for the remainder of the War. Barnard participated in Grant’s Overland Campaign, and maps from this period show Confederate positions at Petersburg and much else.

Finally, Barnard was one of the few men present at the infamous surrender of General Lee on April 9th 1865, which is recorded in Barnard’s diary with a drawing of the McLean House where the event took place. After the War Barnard remained with the Army Corp of Engineers until the end of his life in 1882. These papers are a proud testament to a life of service.

Long before the War divided them, Barnard was 2nd in the 1833 graduating class at West Point, where he was a member of an elusive group known as The Carroll Club, named for the recently deceased longest living of signer of the Declaration of Independence. The group was made up of the precocious members of the class which contained several notable and eventual Union and Confederate engineers and soldiers such as Henry Du Pont; Abraham Myers (Confederate, Fort Myers named for him); Daniel Ruggles (Confederate General); George Washington Cullum (Engineer & Brigadier General); Rufus King; William H. Sidell; and others. Barnard also succeeded Robert E. Lee as Superintendent of the Academy from 1855-56 and his papers are loaded with correspondence regarding the Academy from Lee, Beauregard, Jefferson Davis, the Academy’s first graduate John Gardner Swift, and many other superintendents such as Richard Delafield, Sylvanus Thayer, and G.W. Cullum.


Auction April 26, 2017 at 10am

This superb group of papers will be offered as one lot in the sale of Rare Books, Autographs, Photographs & Maps on April 26, 2017 at 10am. A public exhibition will precede the auction. Private appointments are available upon request.

Peter Costanzo
SVP/Executive Director
Books, Autographs & Photographs
212-427-4141, ext 248


VIew a PDF survey of the Collection.