Saturday, January 23, 2010

"ORLANDO M. POE: Civil War General and Great Lakes Engineer"

During the Civil War, engineer officers rarely received laurels and promotions to match their indispensable contributions to operations in the field. Recently, historian Earl Hess's wonderful series on field fortifications in the eastern theater brought some needed attention to the efforts of obscure engineers from both sides. Now, continuing on in the same spirit, author Paul Taylor's new book Orlando M. Poe: Civil War General and Great Lakes Engineer [(Kent State University Press, 2009). Cloth, maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. 364 pages. ISBN: 978-1-60635-040-9] brings to light the life and career of Ohioan and West Point-trained engineer Orlando Metcalfe Poe.

Poe performed well in both staff and line officer capacities during the early Civil War campaigns in Virginia. His reward, a promotion to brigadier general, however, was not confirmed by the Senate, and he reverted back to his regular army rank of captain. To have his talents better appreciated, he would have to go west. As corps and then army level chief engineer in the western theater, Poe played an important role in the East Tennessee (Knoxville), Atlanta, March to the Sea, and Carolinas campaigns, all of which posed significant military engineering challenges. These events from Poe's Civil War career are ably covered by Taylor in his narrative. Another section is devoted to Poe's post-war employment designing and building lighthouses (and numerous other transportation and harbor facilities) in the Great Lakes region.

Taylor's research reaches wide and deep, to include unpublished manuscripts, government documents [undoubtedly rich material given his long public service career], newspapers, theses, dissertations, and published primary and secondary sources. The book's cloth binding and overall presentation certainly measure up to KSU Press's lofty reputation.

Paul Taylor's Orlando M. Poe: Civil War General and Great Lakes Engineer is a fine biography of a soldier and public servant richly deserving of one. Recommended.

[The book was recently selected by the Library of Michigan as a recipient of their 2010 Michigan Notable Books Award]


  1. Hi Drew -

    Thank You for the kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed the book.


    Paul Taylor

  2. thanks for the review, I will have to check this out. One area of interest for me is that Poe was a topog, and my impression is that there was a bit of "pecking order" / seniority battle when they were incorporated into the "regular" engineers. Of course, numerous topogs had already made the jump to volunteer commissions at much higher rank.

    scott s.


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